Monday, March 7, 2011

Origins of Religion

I’ve had some criticism of my book from the religious community, specifically from those of the more fundamentalist tradition.  One thing I’ve been accused of is making Christianity and religion, in general, sound silly. That was not at all my intention in writing the book. What I was trying to show was that Christianity was not the originator of many of these myths – creation, the virgin birth, resurrections, the afterlife, etc. All religions have been built on preceding religions. Very little is new or unique. In the book, I explore the earliest origins and how religion could have arose among a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society. To show the similarities to modern religion, I used some poetic license and did such things as borrow from the Iroquois creation legend, modify it, and stretch it over a period of seven days to match the creation story told in the Bible.

The virgin birth is part of a number of religions leading up to Christianity. Christianity adapted this idea into their belief. Christianity also adapted the resurrection story from previous religions, one of which may have been the Egyptian belief at about the same time. The Egyptian religion that preceded Christianity had a god Osiris who was brought back to life by the female god Isis. Isis and Osiris then had a child Horus, the primary god of the Egyptians. It is not hard to imagine Christianity borrowing the resurrection story from the Egyptian religion. Resurrection is also common among the shamans of various indigenous hunter-gatherer societies, and one description of it that I came across is similar to the way I describe the resurrection of the shaman in the book.

Another thing that Christianity borrowed from previous religions was December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth. The Christian Church several centuries later adopted this date to coincide with Pagan ceremonies, thinking they could thereby more easily convert Pagans to their religion. See Origins of Religion for numerous other parallels between Christianity and other religions.

The origin of religion that I suggest in my book seems the easiest and most practical explanation. I started thinking this way after taking an anthropology class on Comparative Religion while pursuing  my Anthropology degree. To me is seems entirely possible that an early human had a dream that his dead father or another ancestor accompanied the hunting party on an important hunt for mammoth or bison. Indigenous people often believe that everything contains a spirits, and during dreams, that spirit departs the body and takes part in what is being dreamed. When a person dies, that spirit lives on. If the real hunt was successful, why wouldn’t that person hope that that ancestor would be present, in spirit, on additional hunts (kind of like a good luck charm)? That hope may have evolved into a pre-hunt ritual and finally into prayer. Religion may have started with a dream about an ancestor who was very much missed by his people; probably a former well-liked and successful hunter and leader. That ancestor was God.  

Origins of Religion?  -
Origin Of Religion - History of Belief -

1 comment:

  1. Writing about religion is like an X-game athlete attempting the riskiest trick in his arsenal. He knows if he should pull it off, he will be in the running for gold, but if he falters, his goals could be severely set back while he recovers from multiple broken bones and bruises.
    I'm anxious to see how people will respond to my interpretation of religion in my book.