Religion: Chronology


Figure 1.--Here three Burmese boys who are being initiated as novitiates in an order of monks are vowing to observe the ten precepts of Buddhism. One of the interesting questions in the history of religion is why most of the great monothistic religions became established in such a narrow historical window (4th-7th centuries).

It is unclear at what stage in human history religion developed. It is difficult to assess the religious beliefs of early man because so little archeological evidence exists. It may well be that even earlier hominids may have had what may be called religious beliefs. The conscionness of being that marked early man from other animals may the point a rich primitive religious beliefs developed. This suggests that religion is a basic part of humanity. There are of course stone-age people that still exist in remote corners of the globe. And these peoples no matter how primitive have religious beliefs. So it may well be that religion is an essential element in the development of humanity. The religions of Neolithic peoples were almost certainly the basic animistis religion of promitive people encountered in the 20th century. The next chronological question becomes when did man make the jump from primitive animism to more complex religious beliefs with a priesthood and temples or other religious structures. The traditional answer provided by archeologists was the development of agriculture. Agriculture provided the wealth to support a priesthood and monumental construction. Recent archeologicl work has found a temple and other religious facilities built by a nomadic people--Göbekli Tepein in Anatolia. The monumental structures three are the earlies monumental religious site found to date (9,000 BC). his predates the development of agricultyre by several milenia. There is no doubt that agriculture was a major step in transforming religious thought (5,000 BC). But it seems to have accelerated religious trends akready set in motion during te neolithic era. Agriclture made possible the development of a wide range of polythesitic cults througout the ancient world. The importance of agriculture can be seen by the distinctive religious believes of more war-like hunting and herding barbarian people on the perifery of richer agricultural-based civilizations. The next step in the evolution of religion was the development of monothesism. Here the first people to accept monotheism was the Jews. Monotheism remained a minor religious concept until Christianity conquered the Roman world (4th century AD). Within a relatively short period, Christianity and new monotheistic religions (Zoroastrism, Buddhism, and Islam) became the dominant religious force in much of the world (5th-7th centuries). (Hinduism is more difficult to summarize.) While this huge step toward monotheism occurred during a relatively short period of time is unclear. The rise of monotheism while commonly thought to be an important step in cultural development also led to religious strife, especially the conflict of Islam with the other major religious traditions. And there were conflicts between different sects of Islam and Christianity. The next major steps in religious development was the rise of science. The basic changes were inagurated by two deeply religious men--IsSaC Newton (1647-1727) and Charles Darwin (1809-82). Newton is commonly credited with describing gravity. In fact he did much more and surely must be deceived as not only the first, but the greatest scientist of all time. Newton explained how the solar system operated. This had profound religious implications. It meant essentially that God was not needed to operate the universe. He may have created the universe, but it operate by natural laws which were capable of rational explanation. It is no accident that the Age of Reason with anti-clerical elements followed Newton. At least in the West, God began go be seen as a kindly watch maker. Darwin completed what Newton started by providing a rational explanation for the development of man and his followers extended this to creation itself.

Neolithic Animism

It is unclear at what stage in human history religion developed. It is difficult to assess the religious beliefs of early man because so little archeological evidence exists. It may well be that even early hominids may have had what may be called religious beliefs. The conscioness of being that marked early man from other animals may the precise point at which primitive religious beliefs also developed. This suggests that religion is a basic part of the human condition. There are of course stone-age people that still exist in remote corners of the globe. And these peoples no matter how primitive have religious beliefs. So it may well be that religion is an essential element in the development of humanity. The religions of Neolithic peoples were almost certainly the basic animistis religion of promitive people encountered in the 20th century.

Agriculture and Polytheism

he next chronological question becomes when did man make the jump from primitive animism to more complex religious beliefs with a priesthood and temples or other religious structures. The traditional answer provided by archeologists was the development of agriculture. Agriculture provided the wealth to support a priesthood and monumental construction. Recent archeologicl work has found a temple and other religious facilities built by a nomadic people--Göbekli Tepein in Anatolia. The monumental structures three are the earlies monumental religious site found to date (9,000 BC). his predates the development of agriculture by several milenia. There is no doubt that agriculture was a major step in transforming religious thought (5,000 BC). But it seems to have accelerated religious trends already set in motion during the neolithic era. Agriclture made possible the development of a wide range of polythesitic cults througout the ancient world. We have some information on Egypt. The importance of agriculture can be seen by the distinctive religious believes of more war-like hunting and herding barbarian people on the perifery of richer agricultural-based civilizations. The convention for polytheistic religions was that if one nation defeated another that mean that their god was stronger and the conquered people commonly accepted the gods of their conquerers. The Hittites were an exception. They added the gods of the conquered to their own optheon, making for a very complicated religion. An exception here were the Jews and out of their resistance would arise three great monothesidtic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There were also some great empires that were more tolerant than most. Here both Persia and Rome are notable.

Advent of Montheism

The next step in the evolution of religion was the development of monothesism. Here the first people to accept monotheism was the Jews. Monotheism remained a minor religious concept, despite a brief appearance in Egypt, until Christianity overwealmed the Roman world (4th century AD). Within a relatively short period, Christianity and new monotheistic religions (Zoroastrism, Buddhism, and Islam) became the dominant religious force in much of the world (5th-7th centuries). (Hinduism is more difficult to summarize.) While this huge step toward monotheism occurred during a relatively short period of time is unclear. The narrow geographic range is also notable. The major religions came primarily from the Middle East (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoriatuinism) and the Indian Sub-Continent (Buddhism and Hinduism). This seems more explanable in that the Mid-East was at the center of trade routes where people from different cultures mixed and shared ideas. The rise of monotheism is commonly thought to be an important step in human cultural development. There is some validity in this because of the strength of the moral codes developed by the great religions. Monotheism led, however, to religious strife, especially the coinflict of Islam with the other major religious traditions. And there were conflicts between different sects of Islam and Christianity. It is not entirely true why monotheism gave rise to religious strife. It does seem that there was more toleratin in a polytheistic world. If gods could coexist it seems reasonable that men worshiping those gods could do the same. Monotheism was different. Revealed monotheistic religions preaching that they had found not only truth but THE truth leads to the belief that those who do not understand what you see as truth are morally deficent if not evil and thuss hould be converted or destroyed. he question of religion and violence is, however, a complicated one. It should not be forgotten tthat the most horific acts of historical violence have been committed by aetheist regimes (the NAZIs, Soviets, and Chinese Communists).

Science

The next major steps in religious development was the rise of science. The basic changes were inagurated by two deeply religious men--Isaac Newton (1647-1727) and Charles Darwin (1809-82). Newton is commonly credited with describing gravity. In fact he did much more such as inventing the reflecting telescope. He surely must be deccribed as not only the first, but the greatest scientist of all time. Newton explained how the solar system operated. This had profound religious implications. It meant essentially that God was not needed to operate the universe. He may have created the universe, but it operate by natural laws which were capable of rational explanation. It is no accident that the Age of Reason with anti-clerical elements followed Newton. This was certainly not what he intended. At least in the West, God began to be seen as a kindly watch maker who created the universe and set it in motion, but was no longer rewquired to keep in running. Darwin completed what Newton started by providing a rational explanation for the development of man and his followers extended this to creation itself.







HBC







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Created: 6:34 PM 11/14/2008
Last updated: 10:17 AM 1/16/2013