The origins of religion have always fascinated me, not necessarily how they began more the assumptions of the early historians, on what points towards a religious inclination. You see one of the biggest mistakes they made was trying to fit the facts to their pre-conceived conclusions. Its like having a jigsaw puzzle and filling in mis-matched pieces to fit the picture on the box. If you try hard enough you can make them fit. A mistake often made by early historians and archaeologists.
You see they decided very early on that – Ritual + Morality = Religion.
But in actual fact this is not the case – Ritual + Morality = Empathy and Humanism.
One of the earliest pointers ( in their eyes) was the beginnings of ritual burials around 98,000 BCE, however, there are burial rituals in other species, this doesn’t mean religious ritual to them. These rituals have been going on for eons in the animal kingdom and seen in recent years by researches in the field.
In 2003, a female elephant died in Kenya from a fall. Researchers had been following the group and had named her Eleanor. The rest of the herd moved on after an hour or so, but Grace another female stayed with her till she died. The parade of elephants that followed paid their respects, over the course of several days five other elephant groups, including groups completely unrelated to Eleanor followed suit.
In July 2001, a dead sub-adult male dolphin was spotted on a nearby seabed wedged between two boulders, attended by at least 20 male and female dolphins, they stayed there for several hours. This is one of many instances of this grieving behaviour.
Chimpanzees maintain their routines when affected by death. When an infant chimpanzee dies, the mother carries the lifeless body around for days, sometimes for weeks and months. Infact the mother continues to groom the body until it is so decomposed it is unrecognisable.
Elephants, Dolphins and Chimpanzees all have complex social behaviours, but it cannot be said their rituals are in any way religious. So why say so of early palaeolithic burials? So you see ritual burial just shows empathy…
Our own human morality has grown out of primate society. Although moral awareness is a human trait, many social animals have been known to exhibit moral sentiments. All social animals have to restrain and alter their behaviour for group living to work. So is religion needed for morality? – no! Is morality needed for religion? – Yes!
Moral sentiments evolved as a method of restraining individuals selfishness and for building a more co-operative social group. For any social species, the benefits of being part of a group would outweigh the benefits of living alone and the dangers thereof.
All social animals have hierarchical societies in which each member knows is place. Therefore, religion occurred after morality and was built upon by expanding the social morals to include supernatural behaviour. By including ever watchful dead ancestors, spirits and gods in our society, humans discovered an effective strategy to control the population. The adapted religion would have enhanced group survival. Giving us a sense of inclusion and the beginning of religious superiority i.e. our god is better than yours…….
Another universal phenomenon would be the use of symbolism. It is common in religion to involve the creation of images and symbols to represent supernatural beings, because the supernatural goes against the laws of nature, this problem is overcome by anchoring supernatural beings in material form through art.
Due to the association of art with religion, evidence of symbolism is indicative with a mind capable of religious thought. Art and symbolism demonstrates a capacity for the ABSTRACT THOUGHT AND IMAGINATION necessary to construct religious ideas.
Organised religion can be traced to around 11,000 years ago in the Near East. Organised religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability. With the invention of writing, religion and religious texts were born by man, and the spread of the written word began.
ORIGIN OF MAJOR RELIGIONS IN THE WORLD
2000 BCE Hinduism
1500 BCE Judaism
600 BCE Zoroastrianism
599-527 BCE Jainism
580-550 BCE Taoism
100 CE Christianity
100 CE Shinto
600 CE Islam
1500 CE Sikhism
1900 CE Baha’i
Of course more and more religions have started much later. Man is very inventive when it comes to religion and how it fits into his lifestyle.
So in conclusion, we see religion was bred from the fear and ignorance of a frightening world for our ancestors, and in order to stay and work together and control the populace, the tribal elders created their religions. religion then evolved not from a superior being, or an intelligent designer, but from man and his imaginings…..