Religion – When, Why and How did it begin?
“The alter cloth of one aeon is the doormat of the next.” Mark Twain
Beginning of Religion
Our awareness of religion and the spirit world probably began at the time of the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, about 50,000 years ago. Religion is considered to be one of the cultural universals, a trait common to all human cultures worldwide right throughout the history of humanity. It would have developed alongside other cultural universals that were also evolving at this time such as art, music and of course language which is key to the origin and development of all the cultural universals. But why did it all begin? How did we get the idea that there is a divine power in control of us?
Early Agriculture and Religion
Could there be a link between agriculture and religion. The first farmers began to cultivate crops in Mesopotamia over 10,000 years ago. Driven by necessity or just convenience, the nomadic hunter-gathers of the time began to settle in the one location and learn the art of farming. Farming may have given us the building blocks of organised religion.
Farming manipulates nature, but at the end of the day both with the advanced farming technology we have today and as far back as 10,000 years ago we still need the sun to shine and rain to fall to produce a good harvest. And throughout the world today many farmers pray for a good harvest. It’s not difficult to see that ancient man may too have carried out this practice, and a relationship developed between man and nature, man and God, a sort of unwritten agreement, a contract, where man pleads with God or prays to God for sunshine and rain. And as time moved forward it came to pass that this contract required a special day of the week, separate from work days, when prayer could take place. Also required was a special place where the contract could be honoured along with skilled people who would administer the carrying out of the contract. Perhaps the motto pray now, eat later is apt. In effect we can see where the apparatus of organised religion, the Sabbath, the church and the priest, may have stemmed from.
Cave Art and Religion
And further back in time we find more evidence of religion. Throughout the world we find Paleolithic Cave Art and in many of these caves, such as the Gargas caves in France, there appears to be a religious influence behind the art. Many experts agree, including Dr. Jean Clottes that our ancestors looked for and were aware of the spirit world deep inside dark foreboding caves. This was where they thought the supernatural world could be contacted, or where they could leave signs for the spirits.
The most distinctive feature in the Gargas caves are the 230 hand prints, made in the ice age, and some as long as 28000 years ago. Our ancestors placed their hands against the wall and blew paint over the hand to form the image. The prints span all ages, from children to adults. According to Dr. Jean Clottes they seemed to have a belief in a supernatural power that lived inside the caves and this was there way of attempting to contact these spirits (what is his evidence for this proposal?). Investigations have shown the caves were not inhabited by our ancestors but yet they continued to venture down deep into the caves, and leave indelible records of their visits. Some of these caves could be regarded as mankind’s first churches! But what would inspire our ancestors to feel the need to speak or make contact with the spirit world? So there appears to be evidence of religion stretching back to almost 30,000 years ago. Is there any evidence if we go back even further? See Neanderthal Religion.