Thursday, October 9, 2014

Where Does Religion Come From

What is the origin of religion? And where do particular religions come from? Do they evolve, and if so how? Now one of the problems at the outset is that "religion" is a vague, ambiguous word that lacks clear definition. But it is hard to come up with a good substitute. So I am going to look at religion in terms of what is usually called religion, without trying to be too precise.

Now the origin of religion is totally lost in antiquity. It not only goes back as far as recorded history, but there are many artifacts from before then that suggest a religious purpose. The Neanderthals put flowers on the graves of their dead. It is impossible to be absolutely certain that this was religion. But it sure looks like it. Now can primitive people show us what the earliest religions were like? But primitive people have lived as many generations as the rest of us. If they have advanced little technologically,  that does not suggest they have remained unchanged in other respects. Further, I question if most of these peoples even date from primitive times. The mountain men, cowboys, and pioneers of the American west all came from the civilized east. They adopted a more primitive lifestyle to live in a less civilized country. I suspect many of the modern primitive people left a more civilized area in search of new land, to escape overcrowding or enemies, to follow an occupation that fit the wandering life, or just out of desire to see new things. It is difficult to prove any group is truly primitive in its beliefs.

Christianity claims that God communicated to human beings from the very beginning. The other theological systems then developed from this by adding other gods and spirits. This fits with the idea found in many cultures of a primitive Father God that they had lost communication with. It also explains why many of the same ideas, such as a dying and resurrected god, are common in many cultures. But this is based on the acceptance of the truth of Christian beliefs. However, it is simply not possible to know what the origin of religion is if all the claims made by the religions themselves are rejected. We do not know if it evolved or appeared suddenly. Therefore, any argument based on the origin of religion will not stand up to examination.

As for particular religions, the key distinctions are the result of one or a small group of founders, who determine their basic beliefs. After they exist, they may develop over time. The different branches may even drift apart over minor issues. But the major new beliefs are the result of the actions of a certain individual or individuals. These have appeared very clearly in known and documented history. Any argument based on a distinct belief system growing up slowly in the community is indefensible.

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