Origins/Evolution of Religions
(Top Posts - History - 041709)

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Secular-based theories of religion:

Nobody knows with accuracy how the first religions
evolved. By the time that writing had developed, many
religions had been in place for many millennia and the
details of their origins had been forgotten.

However, there is speculation that the first religions
were a response to human fear. They were created to
give people a feeling of security in an insecure world,
and a feeling of control over the environment where
there was little control.

The developing abilities of proto-humans were a double-
edge sword:

 o On the one hand, they aided their chances of surviving
    in a cruel and unpredictable world. They helped each
    successive generation of proto-humans to build upon
    the knowledge base of their ancestors.

 o This increased mental ability led to a terrifying piece
    of knowledge: personal mortality. For the first time,
    individual animals on earth became aware that their
    life was transient; they would die at some point in
    their future. This knowledge produced an intolerable
    emotional drain.

During their evolution from proto-human to full human, they
developed questions about themselves and their environment:

 o What controlled the seasonal cycles of nature -- the daily
    motion of the sun; the motion of the stars, the passing of
    the seasons, etc.

 o What controlled their environment -- what or who caused
    floods, rains, dry spells, storms, etc?

 o What controls fertility -- of the tribe, its domesticated animals,
    and its crops.

 o What system of morality is needed to best promote the sta-
    bility of the tribe?

 o And above all: what happens to a person after they die?

Living in a pre-scientific society, people had no way to resolve
these questions. Even today, with all of our scientific advances,
we still debate about the second last question, and still have no
way of reaching an consensus on the last.

But the need for answers (particularly to the last question) were
so important that some response was required, even if they were
merely based on hunches. Some people within the tribe started
to invent answers based on their personal guesses.

Thus developed:

 o The first religious belief system,
 o The first priesthood,
 o The first set of rituals to appease the Goddess,
 o Other rituals to control fertility and other aspects of the environ-
 o A set of behavioral expectations for members of the tribe, and
 o A set of moral truths to govern human behavior.

These formed an oral tradition which was disseminated among the
members of the tribe and was taught to each new generation. Much
later, when writing was developed, the beliefs were generally record-
ed in written form. A major loss of flexibility resulted. Oral traditions
can evolve over time; written documents tend to be more permanent.

Unfortunately, because these belief systems were based on hunches,
the various religions which developed in different areas of the world
were all different. Their teachings were in conflict with each other.
Because the followers of most religions considered their beliefs to
be derived directly from God, they cannot be easily changed.

Thus, inter-religious compromise is difficult or impossible. Also,
because religious texts are often ambiguous, divisions developed
within religions. Different denominations, schools, or traditions have
derived different meanings from the same religious texts. Thus were
laid the foundations for millennia of inter-religious and intra-religious

Evolution of religion:

The first organized religions appear to have been based on fertility.
They were focused on the worship of the great Earth Goddess. Reli-
gion evolved to include male Gods who were gradually given increased
importance by the priests. This development may have been caused by
developing knowledge of the male's involvement in the process of repro-

Today, most people follow either:

 o A monotheistic religion, in which a single male god is worshipped, or
 o A henotheistic religion -- a religion which recognizes a single main deity,
    but which recognizes other gods and goddesses, heroes, or saints as
    facets or manifestations or aspects of that supreme God.

Most religions teach that they were directly revealed by their deity/deities
to humanity, and are unrelated to other world religions. However there is
considerable historical evidence from ancient times that religions in the
area from India to the Middle East shared many religious beliefs. One
example of this are:

 o The many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which contain concepts
    or passages taken from Egyptian, Babylonian and other nearby Pagan

 o Many of the events in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Christian
    Scriptures (New Testament) appear to have been derived from earlier
    Hinduism and  Pagan religious sources.

Religions were originally based on the particular beliefs of their founders
and prophets.  Thus, there were few points of similarity among the various
spiritual paths:

 o In terms of their belief about supernatural being(s), various faith tradi-
    tions have taught Agnosticism, Animism, Atheism, Deism, Duotheism,
    Henotheism, Monism, Monotheism, Panentheism, Pantheism, Poly-
    theism, Trinitarianism, and probably a few that we have missed. It is
    obvious from these conflicting ideas about deities that almost all reli-
    gions are just plain wrong.

 o Few agreements exist among the world's religions about religious
    beliefs, sacred ritual, organizational structure, optimum family structure,
    limits on sexual behavior, sexual orientation, the roles of women and
    men, other moral topics, the afterlife, etc.

 o Religions' traditional teachings in the area of science differ greatly from
    each other and from the findings of scientists. Examples from Judaism
    and Christianity are: how the universe was formed, where rainbows
    came from; the world-wide flood; talking animals; the sun standing still
    in the sky; the cause of epilepsy, deafness, blindness, and mental illnes-
    ses; virginal conception, demonic possession, walking on water, resur-
    rection from the dead, ascension into the sky, etc.

Religions today:

Some observers believe that modern-day religions are largely a response
to human fear. Their main function is to provide their followers with a feel-
ing of security while living in a dangerous environment in which a person
can be injured, killed or murdered at any time due to natural causes, acci-
dents or human hatred and intolerance.

John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA has

     "Religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth.
      Religion is what we so often use to bank the fires of our anxiety. That
      is why religion tends toward becoming excessive, neurotic, controlling
      and even evil. That is why a religious government is always a cruel
      government. People need to understand that questioning and doubting
      are healthy, human activities to be encouraged not to be feared. Cer-
      tainty is a vice not a virtue. Insecurity is something to be grasped and
      treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of
      these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove

David C. James, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church & Diocesan Mission
Center in Olympia, WA, wrote:

      Many times when we think we are worshipping God, we are actually
      comforting our very fragile egos. I'm not so nave as to assume that
      we build temple and erect altars to ourselves, directly. But our core
      need to been safe, secure and sound mandates that we construct
      reality systems that will support us.

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Religions : Origins, Geographical
Distribution, Populations/Percentages (070400)
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