The Deal With Christianity and Stonehenge

So Stonehenge was built for the communal fun of it. Maybe. Some archaeologists now wonder whether the main point of the monumental erection was the mass participation involved in getting it up. There were years of feasting and frolicking at the site’s construction, as well as lots of head scratching and mansplaining about whether wax-treated rope could produce maximum torque with minimal tension, or something. It was a cross between Glastonbury and Homebase.

Or maybe this theory says more about us than about our oldest public art work. We have a vague awareness that this is what we lack as a culture: a sense of communal religious purpose. We sense that the fullest creativity and social joy comes from doing something together that feels necessary and important, rather than just seeking personal bourgeois thrills. We get glimpses of this at Christmas and Halloween when we happily waste hours on decorations and costumes, and occasional public events to do with royalty or sport or public protest might produce the same obscure joy. Communal celebration and creativity is what makes human beings most deeply happy, but our culture doesn’t know how to maximise it, because it jars with capitalist-individualist normality.

As I explained in my recent Lent talk on the radio, this is what has deepened my interest in religion, this attraction to public ritual. Our Christian culture can only find renewal here, in the attempt to recapture the thrill of pre-modern public festivity. Religious culture as it presently exists is just too little and dull, too private and wordy. Time for a stone-age inspired revolution.

Deuteronomy 27:2-8 ESV / 3 helpful votes

And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, …

Numbers 17:1-13 ESV / 2 helpful votes

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” …

Numbers 13:1-33 ESV / 2 helpful votes

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; …

Joshua 4:9 ESV / 1 helpful vote

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.

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