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The day the gods were born

It is thought that our ancestors emerged from the cradle of Africa somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 years ago. Of course, our lineage goes back far further, but in terms of what we might delicately call modern man this is the time we are considering. Our descent from tree-dwellers to savannah-roaming hunter-gatherers was a pivotal moment in our history. Without this astonishing event would our brains ever have evolved sufficiently to enable someone like me to be sat typing this?

Try to imagine those early years. The wonder, the adventure, the fear and mystery; an endless striving for life, let alone flourishing. We owe these Homo sapiens a lot. Now imagine the crash of thunder, the flash of lightning, or the onset of a flash flood or volcano or some other natural terror. What else can a fledgling mind do but ascribe these events, these phenomena, to a higher agency, some power beyond their comprehension? And thus the gods were born, back in our pre-history, when we had the answers to precisely nothing. Gaps in our knowledge were huge, our brains, whilst in many ways magnificent, unable to grasp that these events could have a natural cause. In all cultures there are structures of belief, and it seems that it is a thing that comes quite naturally to us. But don't be deceived: in fact, just consider what else would have come naturally to us back then. Rape was the favoured means of copulation, brute savagery route one to securing territory. Human sacrifice, of both children and adults, was also employed in many cultures, so to say that something is natural is to say no more than that we are capable of it.

So the gods are born. And, as with all things, they evolve. During those early epochs we worshipped them in all shapes and sizes, mistaking even the sun and the moon for looming supernatural forces. Yet as we become more cultured and philosophical, so do our gods; and we begin to ascribe to them patterns and moods that run parallel with our own. Funny that.

Back in the mists of time our many gods fought for supremacy, disparate tribes marching forth under their banners of belief, conquering and spreading their own brand of primitive religion. You may have noticed that this strategy never really fell out of fashion, and to this day the various religions also compete for resources or, as they might say, the souls of the living.

I'll conclude with a little arithmetic. As shown, we once worshipped many kinds of god. As time progressed the pool of possibilities narrowed and we find ourselves worshipping perhaps one god in particular. To quote the magnificent Christopher Hitchens, could it be that we are getting closer to the real figure all the time?

TAGGED: COMMENTARY, RELIGION


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