Origin of Religion?

35 posts / 0 new
Last post
Travis Paskiewicz's picture
Origin of Religion?

First off I'm new here! Ok... Congratulate me later... I'm very amused at trying to figure out the exact origin of religion, and it's purpose. It seems to me that understanding its origin lends a bit to fully comprehending its function in societies. And as much as I know some of the more militant atheists would love to argue that religion serves no function, I'd have to point out that to the contrary because every major society has its own unique religion, it's served some purpose to the societies.

I've noticed about every form of religion, it does in fact seem to convey the society's morals. This really fascinates me, because religion I know is not a prerequisite for morality. In fact I think because most moral philosophy shares some commonalities, it may be more influenced more by human nature. As an example, most religions strictly advise against murder, a moral code that never seems to extend too far outside the society. I'd point out that both the Bible and the Q'uran have "though shalt not kill" laws. Two cultures that lived by this rule it seems would be bussom buddies. But history tells us this is a very poor assumption, as these "peaceful" cultures are actually bitter enemies at various points in time. Point being, these "moral" codes aren't taken literally. I think they that behaviorally, moral codes serve the function of strengthening group ties. These niceties aren't meant to be extended outside of tribes, and in reality and history they never have been. I think it can be exemplified by this quote from Pirates of the Caribbean as spoken by Captain Barbosa to Elizabeth Turner "First, you have to be a pirate to parley. Second, their not rules... Their more like guidelines." Now, on top of the society leaders dealing out punishment for undesirable behaviors, toss in an all seeing all powerful entity that deals punishment to individuals not only in this world but a theoretical next life as well.

Subscription Note: 

Choosing to subscribe to this topic will automatically register you for email notifications for comments and updates on this thread.

Email notifications will be sent out daily by default unless specified otherwise on your account which you can edit by going to your userpage here and clicking on the subscriptions tab.

cookymonster1103's picture
You make some really good

You make some really good points! I personally think that religion exists for one reason-for those in power to control the masses. For a more in-depth analysis of how this is achieved, continue reading.

First, religion ensures the formation of a group sharing a common interest/goal and the appointment if a leader; secondly, it ensures what is considered "good" behavior within a large group of people; thirdly, it ensures the proliferation of this group (i.e., "be fruitful and prosper"), as well as the conversion of others (a side note: since regimes don't last forever, an omnipotent deity to keep the masses in line at least ensures the survival of a religion and therefore encourages future bids for power); fourthly, it encourages an attitude of superiority over others so that the masses refuse to acknowledge other belief systems and question their own (or those in power); fifthly, it encourages enmity between groups with different beliefs, so when those in power wish to expand their territory/wealth/power, they pit one group against another in order to achieve this.

At least, that's how I see it. If anyone wishes to elaborate, explain where I went wrong, etc., please share.

Let the debates begin!

mysticrose's picture
I think religion started when

I think religion started when people who believe in different deities finally wanted to formalize their beliefs and create a group where in they can gather more members by declaring that their gods/s is real as proven by their own written scriptures.

Spewer's picture
I think the origin of

I think the origin of religion is biological. It gave early humans evolutionary advantage to assign agency to events or things they didn't understand. If that odd sound might be a predator, the human did better to assume there was agency behind it and take appropriate actions. After enough of that, this became instinctual. When we no longer had as much to worry about from predators, we turned to assigning agency to other mysteries like weather and so on. Religions would be an emergent property of this tendency. And they do serve as a convenient place to convey society's mores, which makes them politically useful and self-perpetuating.

SammyShazaam's picture
I definitely think that our

I definitely think that our search for answers (even when there are none) is one of the defining traits of human (and most mammalian to an arguably lesser degree) existence. Knowing why things happen, and henceforth being able to *make* things happen, is pretty much what we live for :) More than just being useful, it makes us happy beyond belief. Just watch kids stack blocks and knock them over - they love that! Most babies drive their parents out of their brains with their excitement over the discovery that when they drop something, it falls.

I'd say that's a really simple basis for the origin of religion... but maybe too simple. There's a long way to go from that raw need for an explanation and this convoluted mess we've come up with, so I'm still curious as to how *that* happened.

mattyn's picture
I think Spewer is on to

I think Spewer is on to something here. The biological idea is one that I haven't heard before but it sounds very pliable. Using religion as a soothing mechanism or something to explain what is going on to primitive cultures is something that's still done today.

gardenerclematis's picture
I think all the ideas shared

I think all the ideas shared give good insights into how society encouraged, expanded and organized religion. I think going a step further back in religion's evolution would be humanities way of dealing with mortality. Life on earth for humans has always been challenging, and losing loved ones and suffering from disease and eventual death have always brought about intense suffering. I do think at the heart of religion is the denial of death, as a permanent final state of non-existence. Because threats to life were multidirectional (weather, geological events, predators, disease, etc.) multiple gods were assigned and attempts to appease them were concocted. Grief is a very dangerous emotional event impacting human rational thinking and during such times humans will often create irrational ideas about death and the loss of a loved one.

Zaphod's picture
A lot of good points brought

A lot of good points brought up here I like the responses from Gardener and Spewer. Both brought some food for thought to the table. I agree with Gardener more I think. I guess stereotyping for survival and then a lack of assign may have helped religion along but feel denial of death is one of the main ingredients that brought religion about that, controlling the masses, and coping with guilt. I believe the origin of religion can be found in all these things.

SammyShazaam's picture
Coping with guilt is an

Coping with guilt is an excellent point. Having an all powerful god to blame for every disaster and misfortune kind of takes the heat off of ourselves, and some people will even trade the credit for all their achievements for such relief.

Not me though. I'm a big girl and I can handle the blame I deserve for my mistakes, so long as I also get credit for my success.

SammyShazaam's picture
Hi Travis!

Hi Travis!

I wish I had answers for you in regards to the origin of religion, but it sounds like we're both here asking the very same questions. I'm looking forward to seeing more responses to this thread :)

And welcome aboard!

firebolt's picture
I was going to chime in and

I was going to chime in and thought that I had something to say, but as I started to type, nothing came to mind. The actual origin of religion has me stumped I know why man needs religion and I know the more cynical side of it as well. But the actual origin? I've got nothing.

ginamoon's picture
I think religions are made or

I think religions are made or created so that people can belong to a group even on ancient times. Also people want something to believe in and to look upon.

efpierce's picture
Exactly! It's more helpful to

Exactly! It's more helpful to the human psyche to belong and when someone is offered the chance to belong to something which others deem greater than themselves, it becomes an easy sell.

mysticrose's picture
Religious people feels better

Religious people feels better knowing that they have religion to belong and to look forward into with regards to afterlife.

Shock of God's picture
History cannot tell us when

History cannot tell us when belief in the Abrahamic god, Yahweh (the Judeo-Christian god) started. Belie in him does predate Hinduism. Coincidence? I think not.

SammyShazaam's picture
Truth? I also think not.

Truth? I also think not.

What date have they assigned the origin of Hinduism? Belief in the JudeoChristian god does not predate several other religions of the time, for sure, and surely it is far from the oldest religion.

We're talking about the origin of *religion* here, not *your* religion. Keep calm and keep hold of your intellect there, buddy.

Shock of God's picture
The standing belief in a

The standing belief in a single God, who is all good and all powerful and may choose to intervene in human affairs is the oldest known form of organized religion on this planet, predating Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. It does not, however, predate Pagan-based religions, which are not organized religions.

SammyShazaam's picture
I'll ask again what were

I'll ask again what were those dates? That sounds mighty nebulous.

Especially throwing in that caveat about "organized" religions. Egypt and it's religion were pretty damned organized, even when the Jews were enslaved and casting makeshift golden bull idols. Religions of South America were just as organized as Egypt during that time, and as a matter of fact, in a remarkably similar fashion.

PsychoSarah's picture
This is outright wrong.

This is outright wrong. Monotheism (belief in only one god) appeared after polytheism (belief in many gods). At best, you could say that Judaism is the oldest surviving monotheistic religion.

Shock of God's picture
That's exactly what I'm

That's exactly what I'm saying. The polytheism that predated monotheism was not an organized religion, I was referring to the oldest monotheistic organized religion, which is Judaism.

PsychoSarah's picture
Actually, there were

Actually, there were organized polytheistic religions that predated Judaism. Just because they aren't monotheistic doesn't make them unorganized.

SammyShazaam's picture
See? Once you challenge him,

See? Once you challenge him, he vanishes. No facts. It's pretty irritating, for those of us who actually have an interest in anthropology. If there's some new evidence running around, I genuinely want to know!

Myself, I was pretty sure I was going to be an archaeologist until I turned 7 (and realized that they sweat in the desert all day for very little money) :) I read fairly fluent hieroglyph, though I'm fuzzy on the "newer" versions.

PsychoSarah's picture
Yeah, I have noticed that

Yeah, I have noticed that annoying habit of his.

Shock of God's picture
The polytheistic Egyptian

The polytheistic Egyptian religion was fairly organized, Hinduism is organized, Greek mythology was fairly organized as well, but many others are not. By organized, we mean that there is a doctrine for the basis of belief in these deities, and an organized way of practicing your religion, usually defined in the religious doctrine. Many polytheistic religions do nothing more than claim that natural events are gods. For instance, the Sun would be a god, the Moon would be a god, the ocean is a god, and so on. This isn't really religious organization. The two oldest religions are Hinduism and Judaism. There is still some debate over which one predates the other (Hinduism probably came first), but ,no doubt, these are the oldest two religions. I, personally, believe that the only other religion that could hold validity besides Judeo-Christianity is Hinduism.

SammyShazaam's picture
You're once again wrong.

You're once again wrong. Moses spent a long time studying in the libraries of Egypt, being raised as the Pharaoh's brother, and was privy to all of the scientific and religious expertise of the age. It is from them that he learned many of the tricks that he used to win over the Jews.

Much of these extremely well kept documents going back through unimaginable lengths of time, were taken from Alexandria and hidden during the Roman invasion. A good percentage of them were recovered just a few years ago. Fascinating stuff.

Much older than the Jews, who as a race were not monotheistic for the entirety of their history, btw.

I'm not really an expert on the eastern religions (and I believe that this board would greatly benefit from a less JudeoChristian bias), but given the geography of the area and their much gentler progression through the last two ice ages I'd imagine that their religions remained more intact than those further West. Does anyone know the age of Taoism?

Shock of God's picture
Everything that you've

Everything that you've addressed poses no relevance to what I said. And here is an article on Taoism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism

SammyShazaam's picture
Then I think you must have

Then I think you must have missed the part where I point out the the Jews are a race, not just a religion, and that their monotheism was developed *quite* sometime after the establishment of the Egyptian religion under which they were enslaved.

I'm beginning to think that I've got to dumb it *way* down for some people here...

Interestingly, many of the ancient Sudanese manuscripts (documenting the civilization at the root of the Nile, opposite Alexandria) have recently been smuggled out from Muslim control and will be on display! While they were described as godless heathens due to their ritualistic cannibalism, they were recognized as quite advanced for their time in respect to the medical sciences. I can't wait to see what these "new" findings reveal about their culture.

CyberLN's picture
I don't think any one of us

I don't think any one of us can say what the oldest mono or polytheistic religions are. I'd bet dollars to donuts there were many before written history that we have no idea existed. Additionally, an organization can be any size, 5 people, 500, or 5,000,000.

mysticrose's picture
Pagan religions I think are

Pagan religions I think are the roots of those organized religions. The concept of god existed even during the ancient times but from way back there, there are still no evidence that those gods are real of just parts of humans mythical minds.

Landon Haynes's picture
“Why did ancients think god

“Why did ancients think god was so angry that he chronically unleashed tides of brutal destruction on humanity? The answer is that they took it for granted that all events bearing on human well-being are willed by some agent for the purpose of affecting humans for good or ill. All good events were due to gods favor and bad events to his anger and wrath. This mode of explanation is universally observed among people who lack scientific understanding of natural events. The authors of scripture were too busy trembling in their sandals to question what they took to be gods will. Thomas Hobbes observed that people honor raw power irrespective of its moral justification, his psychological explanation applies even more emphatically to the authors of scripture, whose god commits deeds several orders of magnitude more terrible than anything the Greek gods did. Ancient social conditions also made gods injustice less obvious to early Jews and Christians. Norms of honor and revenge deeply structure the social order of tribal societies. Given that people in these societies habitually visited the iniquities of the fathers on the sons, it did not strike the early Hebrews and Christians as strange that god would do so as well, although on a far grander scale. So, the tendency,in the absence of scientific knowledge, to ascribe events having good and bad consequences for human beings to corresponding benevolent and malevolent intentions of unseen spirits, whether they be gods,angels,ancestors,demons, or human beings who deploy magical powers borrowed from some spirit world,explains the belief in a divine spirit as well as its (im)moral character.”-Elizabeth Anderson

Landon Haynes's picture
Just like a child is not born

Just like a child is not born with knowledge and evolves with the accumulation of knowledge and experience, so it is and has been since the birth of the human species as a whole. Man evolved to a certain point in his cerebral evolution and, living in a world utterly full of mystery and fear, without any actual explanations or knowledge of the mechanics of how anything worked thought every event negative or positive related to them or something they had done, of course with no concept of anything, any universe beyond themselves and their primitive lives as the center, they invented gods, starting with crude tribal ones and evolving from there to explain their world that lacked any explanation, man's first attempt at philosophy


Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.