In the final installment in my series on the human mind at at ENV, I looked at what we know of the pagan religions, both from literature from historical periods where they were the majority view and from surviving beliefs studied by anthropologists.
It may seem surprising at first but it is true. Our ancestors were "naturalists" (nature is all there is), just like the metaphysical naturalist university professor today. So:
Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain:
Although they were not materialists, our ancestors do appear to have been naturalists. They believed in gods, but gods were merely beings with considerable powers over nature. They were usually placated. But they could be promoted or demoted, flogged or booted from the community, if they failed to bring rain, for example. The same fate could befall rulers, who were often thought to have semi-divine powers.
No necessary distinction existed between gods, ghosts, rulers, magicians, plain folks, animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Gods could die like anyone else. A sense of a transcendent God who created and sympathizes with man and nature -- but is not a creature like them -- came later, perhaps much later. More.Things change, but not as much as we might sometimes think. Far from going forward, the enlightened thinker has probably gone backward.
By contrast, the historical religions that claim to be revelations from a source outside nature are of a quite different character, and cannot be usefully evaluated on the basis of survival of the fittest. (We know about those who survived, not about those who didn't, But those who heeded the call were not looking for mere survival anyway.)
Note: The Science Fictions series on the human mind is here, the human evolution series here. The cosmology series is here, and the origin of life series here.
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