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An essay donated by Jim Ashby

"A very brief history of human spiritual evolution leading to the major monotheistic Abrahamic religions of today"

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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 world.

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 Akhenaten's death.


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, Christianity and 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 atrocities."

. . . In this day and age, isn't it about time we gave up these superstitious beliefs?

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Originally posted: 2008-APR-06
Latest update: 2008-SEP-07
Author: Jim Ashby

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