Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

The Evolution of Religion

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The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, while the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.

Yet, if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw, and could sculpture like men, then the horses would draw their gods like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own. – Xenophanes, ancient Greek philosopher.

I won’t dare to claim that I’m an expert in the field of religion. But I would just like to summarize what I have generally learnt throughout the past 4 years of the history of religion.

The most early form of religion is Animism, where the ancient people believed that everything in the world, from water to fire, tree, animals, grass, and fruits contain souls and spirits.  It is no surprise why the primitive people were so superstitious during those days. They probably just attained the ability of higher intelligence and everything around them must have looked to be super-mysterious and strange.

Why does it hurt to touch the fire? Why do I need to drink water? How does the tree grow taller and taller by itself? Why do we look so different compared to other animals? Why do fruits turn brown several days after being plucked from the tree? It is very important to understand that the root of religion’s existence is due to human’s inherent thoughts of seeking Cause and Effect. They were seeing the Effects clearly with their eyes but the origin of Causes bewildered them badly. They basically do not have any answers to mysteries.

Not knowing the answers, they concluded that if the nature is so mysterious and they do not know any answer to it, then it must be a deep mystery. There must be something controlling the nature. There must be some little souls in the fruits and trees, animals… and lightning…. and the sun and moon. Everything. Hence, ancient people worship anything which they came across to ‘appease’ these mysterious objects.

Few thousand years later, human being began the art of mastery and started to manipulate the nature to our own benefits. We learned how to light up fire to provide heat. We learned how to do farming (agricultural) and channel water to the farm. Human chopped down trees to build homes. Human starting to have grasp of the nature and utilizing it to our own benefits.

Inevitably, human doubted and questioned Animism and gradually it slowly faded away because it no longer bears any fundamental mysteries. But there were still many mysteries which were unsolved especially things on the sky such as sun, lightning, rain, wind and etc. Those people hypothesizes that Animism couldn’t be right. There must be a higher level of Gods and Deities to complement the higher level of complexities.

Hence, the rise of Polytheism took place in places like Egypt, India, Greece, Rome (Italy), Scandinavia and China. They are all identical – all these countries have became a civilized nations and they started to believed in pagan Gods. Plus, all these Polytheism religions contained stories and tales conveying the role of all the Gods and Goddess. And it is also not short of ‘Politics’ where often you will come across stories of the Good triumph over Evil, The God slaying the Devil which tried to harm humanity and a complex family tree linking all the relationship between Gods and Goddess.

(African and Mesoamerican people on the other hand, who were largely tribal, practiced shamanism which involved rituals and sacrificial).

If you notice these pagan Gods, you will realize all these Gods often represent the nature and also human emotions. Zeus, God of Lightning. Poseidon, God of Sea. Ra, God of Sun. Amun, God of Creation. Pluto, God of Death. Saturn, God of Time. Brahma, God of Creator. Krishna, God of Love. Etc.

As time goes by, scientific advancement in areas like astronomy, mathematics, physics, and philosophy especially by the Greeks shed some doubts on the concept of pagan Gods. Ancient philosophers and scientists believed that the reality ‘makes more sense’ if there’s a coherency in nature instead of looking at them separately. For instance, rain could not happen without water and heat. And without water, flowers and trees will not grow. And if flower and trees do not grow, animals will not have any food to eat. Hence, there must be a form of coherency.

This lead to the idea that, instead of multiple pagan Gods in the sky governing Earth, perhaps there’s only one God who orchestrate the design of the nature? With this, the age of monotheism gave birth to Abrahamic religions which focuses in answering the ultimate mystery that nobody could dissect until 1,800 years later, and also giving a massive improvisation to Polytheism’s version – Where do life and human being came from? 

And so, until today, we are still living in the age of monotheism. Just like polytheism, monotheism religion also tell fables. Isn’t it hypocritical to claim that the Zeus summoning lightning is a myth but the story of Noah’s Ark is the truth when both fable have the same degree of irrationality?

I live in Southeast Asia and I find it quite an amazement to see three neighboring countries – Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines have different official religions. (Malaysia – Islam, Thailand – Buddhism, Philippines – Christianity). Why such situation exist when these three neighboring countries are just few thousand kilometers away from each other? Because historically, Malaysia was once a busy trading port frequently visited by Persian and Turkish traders, while Thailand is the only country in Southeast-Asia which was never occupied by colonial rule, hence repelling the European’s cultural influence and Philippines was occupied by the Spanish.

This actually highlights several important points:

  • The belief of religion was purely spread and packed with human’s influence.
  • As Xenophanes mentioned, human being created God based on our own image. So, we need to know that every religion was raised based on specific cultural influence.
  • For instance, look at the names in the holy books/scriptures. Bible is consist purely of European names, the Quran consist purely of Arab/Middle-Eastern names, Hinduism scriptures consist purely of Indian names. Same goes for societal values.
  • You will not find out of place names like .. the Lord Meng Huo or King Murugan in the Bible – That’s because Christianity is originally an European religion, just like Islam which was largely an Arabian religion. You will not see that cow and monkey are sacred animals in the holy books. That’s because these animals are only sacred in India and not in Europe.
  • There is not even a single religion in the world which highlights the diversity of people around the world but rather, focusing only on their own people.
  • Isn’t it strange and funny that Asians are actually indulging in a religion which is only meant and written for European/Arab people (Christianity and Islam)?

Therefore, based on the trends above, I believe that monotheism religion, sooner or later, will become obsolete as the scientific area advances. Like now, there are already some branches of Christianity which has openly accepted Evolution. Don’t forget, Evolution was fiercely rejected by religion only in the last century ago.

Religion will never go away as, for the mean time, human couldn’t psychologically break away from the Cause-and-Effect-delusion – I can see the Effect but what is the Cause? If I can’t/don’t understand the Cause, therefore it must be a mystery. If it’s a mystery, it must be miraculous or magical and must be the work of divine. Hence, God must exist.

We often, without our awareness, adopt a very self-centric view in perceiving the reality. Many people will go – I’m logical, I’m rational, I’m Intelligent. I can understand this and that. If i don’t understand something, it’s not my fault but the subject’s fault because it is hard to understand. If there is something which is nearly impossible to understand, it’s not because my brain is lousy and couldn’t understand it but rather it must be magical or a miracle. It must be the work of divine power, or else why couldn’t I understand it?

We have to understand that whenever we encounter a mystery, it’s not because the thing is really a mystery. Rather, we have an ignorant mind -We simply do not know. If you could expand your mind, and see the big picture, you will realize religion which preach to believe in God actually is not significant at all to humanity. Individual human’s life span is around 70-90 years old, but compared it to the history of 10,000 years, our life span is nothing. To understand religion, we just can’t look at the history of the past 50-100 years but it is essential to understand the root of religion over several thousand of years.

Human being loves super-heroes in comics and manga. But we can worship them only in our fantasy and imagination. However, in religion, we could actually openly worship this super-hero called God without being labeled as lunatic or crazy … I will be glad to link it as psychological glitch in our mind.

Religion will continue to evolve to keep up with the progress of scientific work. Once there’s a new discovery, some theologian will alter their holy book/scripture interpretation to keep up with the reality. I will not at all be surprised if one day religion evolves to something similar as in the movie Matrix where our God is basically a computer program. Religion’s role is about coping with mysteries and uncertainties, therefore, take away mysteries and uncertainty, there’s no longer any reason for the existence of religion.

That’s why we are not worshipping fire anymore.

Beside that, we must also never forget that before the age of secularism, state religion is pretty common where a nation endorsed religious beliefs and incorporate it as law and code of ethics. What better ways are there to control the masses than rallying them with divine being as a form of motivation, albeit a delusion?

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. – Einstein

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Written by elan85

September 22, 2008 at 5:36 am

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy

2 Responses

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  1. hey ron 🙂

    just wanna say something real quick: i see what you’re talking about the “God of the Gaps”. Like some God which Christians use just because they want to explain anything. But i remember in one book I read, it said this: do you know why so many atheists seek so strongly to oppose Christianity? Or in a God? Because they don’t want to face the moral consequences of having a God. That is watching you. And can punish you. The thought makes lots of ppl uncomfortable 😛 So they fight hard to prove there is no God, and even if they can’t they just refuse to break hold of this belief. To say it rather bluntly, so they can indulge in moral sin. So even though lots of ppl say that Christians believe in a God just for their own benefit or convenience, it seems that other groups of people can also conveniently get rid of a God for their own convenience as well!

    Daniel

    May 2, 2015 at 10:01 pm

  2. And on the point of how we cant use creation to prove Christianity: well, there are other ways too. Read case for grace by lee strobel or just google: there are tons of examples of how God has touched people 🙂

    And just because some things have been explained doesnt mean all will (by natural means). In fact in Case for Creator (I think) Lee Strobel said that in fact evidence in the past has been for atheism: but as new discoveries are known, the evidence points more and more towards christianity.

    Daniel

    May 2, 2015 at 10:04 pm


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