An essay donated by Jim Ashby
"A very brief history of human spiritual
leading to the major monotheistic Abrahamic
religions of today"
In the beginning, men were not much more than animals (some might claim they
haven't changed much). Although they had human brains, there wasn't a lot of
abstract thought going on (some might claim there still isn't). They were mostly
concerned with mere survival. The sun, the moon, the stars, volcanoes, weather
and seasons were utter mysteries to them.
Over time, they developed enough language to ponder life and death. This led
them down a path of spiritual evolution; beginning with animism, and progressing
through polymorphism, polytheism and, finally, monotheism. As with the evolution
of species, their spiritual evolution carried through some old traits while
acquiring new ones. This progression, from animism to monotheism, is abundantly
documented by archeology and anthropology.
Like modern man, primitive man feared the unknown; which included just about
everything. Death, in particular, aroused speculation about the nature of life,
which in turn led to the concept of the soul. Man extended the concept of soul
to significant objects in his external world. This is known as animism.
Animism doesn't confer godliness and doesn't, of itself, constitute a religion.
However, most religions stem from a belief in god(s), which in turn stems from a
belief in souls. Fear of the unknown, especially death, brought gods into this
Animals were undoubtedly among the first to be bestowed with souls by early man.
Of these animals some were vital to man's survival. This key relationship led to
man's next baby-step on the path to religion -- anthropomorphism.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics and
qualities to animals, inanimate objects, or natural phenomena. With human
emotions and motives thus attributed to: animals, volcanoes, the sun, the moon,
rivers and oceans; many gods were born. Superstition evolved into worship.
Gods proliferated. The more important they were to man's survival, the more
revered they became. There were gods of: the sun, woolly mammoths, aurochs and
rams, etc. Stone, then metal, idols of these gods were created, worshiped and
sacrificed to. Primitive man was very much polytheistic.
Worship evolved into full-blown religions. Hinduism is the first great religion
and is still practiced by a billion adherents -- making it the third largest
religion in the world. Much later, Mithraism dominated the ancient western
world, including the Roman Empire. As with Zoroastrianism (see below), there are
many striking similarities between Mithraism and Christianity.
The first claim of a supreme God was made in the Late Bronze Age, by pharaoh
Akhenaten, who proclaimed that Aten was the only god allowed. This monotheism
was short lived and Egypt reverted back to polytheism 20 years later, after
Zarathustra founded Zoroastrianism in Persia sometime between 6000 BCE and
600 BCE (religious historians differ in their estimates.) The Avesta (their
scripture) claimed Ahura Mazda as the Supreme God and Creator. Opposed to him
was Angra Mainyu: an evil spirit of violence and death.
Zoroastrianism spread throughout Babylonia (where the Israelites were slaves)
and into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and even the Roman Empire, during the
800-year period (1000 to 200 BCE) in which the Jewish Torah was being written.
Many scholars see Zoroastrianism as the most influential religion in history,
either directly or indirectly. This is because Zoroastrianism is the originator
of many concepts appropriated by the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity
and Islam). Some of these "borrowed" concepts and beliefs include: The Kingdom
of God; immortality of the soul; God as Creator; the
virgin birth of a great
prophet; a belief in God and Satan; a belief in angels and
demons; a belief in
heaven and hell; a belief in individual judgment at death; a belief in physical
resurrection and the coming of a redeemer; and a belief that the world will
culminate in a final battle between good and evil.
Monotheism reappears in the Abrahamic Religions:
The Book of Genesis is sacred to 3 religions: Judaism,
Islam. The 6 key biblical figures before Abraham -- Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Enoch
and Noah -- are shared by all 3 religions, as well.
Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are all claimed to be descendants of Abraham through
one of his sons. Abraham is: the patriarch of Israel to the Jews; a major
prophet to the Muslims; and to Christians he is a symbol of faith, as well as a
physical and spiritual ancestor of Jesus.
These 3 religions share a lot in common, such as: monotheism; a prophetic
tradition; Semitic origins; a basis in divine revelation; a belief in good and
evil based on obedience to God; a history beginning with creation; and shared
stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses.
Contenders to the Throne:
Because all 3 Abrahamic religions make exclusive claims to God, they are born
into enmity. The history of these religions reveals another commonality: a
distrust and outright hostility that continues to this very day. It can be
fairly claimed that these religions have been the most persistently divisive
influence in the history of civilization. The religious wars and petty reprisals
between these factions of Abraham have resulted in thousands of years of misery
and suffering and millions of senseless deaths.
This undeniably divisive component of the Abrahamic religions offers little or
no hope of reconciliation; leaving mankind with the prospect of continued
turmoil for the foreseeable future. We seem hopelessly doomed to
kill each other
in God's name unless or until the adherents of these religions finally
understand that their religions need a "zero-tolerance policy" against violence
of ANY kind --� especially that performed in the name of God.
So there you have it. Fear brought gods into the world and ignorance is keeping
them here. What this means for mankind is aptly summarized by Voltaire . . .
"As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit
. . . In this day and age, isn't it about time we gave up these superstitious
Originally posted: 2008-APR-06
Latest update: 2008-SEP-07
Author: Jim Ashby