What We Believe
Foundations of the World’s Religions – 200,000 BC > 1000 BC
Do you believe in God or do you believe in gods? Do you have a code of conduct that rules your life? Has this code been passed down for generations? Is this code shared by millions of others?
What happens when you die? Do you go to Heaven? To Hell? To another body? To dirt?
And where do we come from? Yes, I know…our moms. But where did the first humans come from?
Man has asked these questions since the dawn of our existence. It’s wired into our DNA. We’re a curious bunch. Sometimes the answers to our questions might seem absurd to outsiders, but to us they feel only natural. We might believe that gods live in the clouds, or on mountaintops or in the trees. We might believe that when we die we go down a river, or to a fiery hell or into the body of a cockroach. We might believe we came from a kernel of corn, or a couple of naked people living in a garden or from stones hidden in a god’s stomach.
But the one thing man has proven over our past is that we have a remarkable capacity to believe, to have faith in the unexplainable. And this is what makes life more interesting to us than it probably is for a sea cucumber. Yes, sometimes our faith is shattered, but we keep going back for more. Our capacity to have faith defines us from the other species roaming the planet eating, expelling waste and reproducing.
So over the millenniums what have humans believed?
In the beginning (no, not that “in the beginning”), for the first few hundred thousands years of our existence, man believed gods or spirits lived in nature. Usually when people think of nature gods, their minds drift to Disney’s Pocahontas, “but I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.” But this type of faith goes back way before Pocahontas and her Native American contemporaries, back to a time when we all hunted and gathered. These first Homo sapiens believed in a rudimentary form of animism, where shamans delivered rambling chants, foresaw the future and even prayed to the spirits of the clouds or the sun or the plants to help make the survival process just a little bit easier. We know these first animists believed in an afterlife because we’ve seen their bones buried next to amulets, jewelry and weapons, all demonstrating that the people in this world thought their stuff might be needed in the next.
The next evolution of religions took place after the Neolithic Revolution, when we started settling down next to rivers. As the first civilizations sprouted, priests took on positions of authority, and in some cases they became absolute rulers. In other cases, they ruled side by side with the tyrant, dictator or monarch. These priests were needed because...