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The Origins of Religion and Beliefs

This article might touch a nerve with some people. While I will not comment on any specific religion and respect anyone’s beliefs, some people might still disagree with my point of view. This is perfectly fine, and I can understand that. In no way do I want to challenge any ones faith or try to change their minds.
Okay, now let’s get to it.

In order to understand where religious beliefs are coming from, we have to go back in time. Way back in time!  Just about to the early stages of the Stone Age. While you are reading this article, try to put yourself into the minds of humans at that period, and also try to imagine the way of life back then. This will make it easier to understand how everything began.

People in that time period couldn’t read or write. While in some parts of the world, the first primitive ancient writing systems were starting to develop, for the most part, communication and expression was done by painting. Cave paintings, etched symbols etc. True language was also in its infancy at this time. This is of course not a fully detailed scientific representation of the circumstances back then, but for the purpose of this article, it will do just fine.

People were living in a completely natural environment. Anything that changed in that environment changed naturally or by their own doing. The killing of animals, the cutting of trees, crafting their primitive tools and so on and so forth. All of this was comprehensible to these people, since the changes were made by them. However, when it came to the natural occurring changes around them, things got a bit more complex. Winds would tumble over trees, animals died naturally, rivers overflowed, lightning set off forest fires (yes, they had them even back than), rock slides, earthquakes, illnesses. You get the picture. Today, we have a pretty good understanding of the causes and effects of these events. However, back then it was a different story. People had no idea how those things got triggered. All they knew was that they themselves didn’t cause it. So, they were looking for an explanation somewhere else. They simply concluded that there must be another “force” out there. More powerful than they themselves, since in their view, nothing could change unless something effected those changes. So they concluded that there must be some other being effecting those changes. As time progressed, humans started to delegate more and more “Gods”, to more and more events. Just look around in ancient history and see how many different gods each culture around the world really had. The list is almost endless. A god for fire, wind, water, battle, earthquake, rain, sun, moon, illness, just no end. Since the human mind, back then as well as now, always looks for a cause that triggered a certain event, those people pretty soon started to associate certain criteria with certain events, and therefore with gods. Here is an example: Some hunter kills some game. Right at this time, an earthquake or storm occurs, or maybe, some in the hunting party got killed themselves. At that point, in their minds, they believed, that they did something wrong, because god was angry. So, they concluded that god didn’t like what they just did. (Killing the animal). But, they needed that animal for food, so they couldn’t just stop hunting it. So, again their conclusion was that if they would offer there god a portion of  their game, it would appease him. That’s when sacrifice came into the picture. If they would give some sacrifice to their god, it would please him, and they could go on hunting.

If you think that I’m jumping to too many conclusions here, let’s quickly examine some modern research into the workings of the human mind. Our minds are always looking for the cause to something that happens. The mind wants to associate cause and effect. So, if the mind can’t identify the cause right away, it reverts to the fight or flight principal. Think of it this way: you are at home at night, suddenly you hear footsteps in the yard. If you can’t see or know, who it is, you get scared. The mind can’t identify the cause, back to fight or flight it goes. All phobias are born this way. Some type of dramatic or scary event takes place, the brain, looking for a cause, can’t find an explanation, and pretty much randomly associates two completely unrelated events. This happens in the subconscious, and you are stuck with a phobia for a very long time. No one is born with a fear of heights, water, public speaking, snakes, spiders and what have you. All those phobias are nothing more than wrong associations between unrelated things. So, now imagine again how the ancient people thought. They had a very simple mindset, and they did not have all the insights that we take for granted today. That’s why they came up with all those different associations, between effects that they observed, and the possible causes that triggered such effects.

Okay, let’s now take a trip through time, and fast forward a few thousand years, to take another snapshot.
People now live in organized communities. They build simple buildings, they have a social structure. The man in charge is the chieftain, an elder, or the warlord. They are the ones in charge. Or are they? There is another, mysterious, form of leader in every community. The shaman, high priest, seer or whatever you want to call them. Those are they ones with the most influence into their society. Their power has built up over time, and it is still growing.  Now, where did they come from? Well, while we were traveling forward in time, something happened to our “old” friends. Over time they started to associate more and more events to more and more gods, added some rituals and some camp fire stories. By now, hallucinogenic drugs were also part of the rituals, to enhance the spiritual awareness of the shaman, and to put them into a trance like state. They would then have what we today call a paranormal experience, and they then tried to interpret them as best as they could. Such practices have survived until today in many cultures around the world. Those things got more and more complex, and someone had to take charge of this particular aspect of society, pass on the knowledge, and understand the workings of all of it. This was a very powerful and influential position. Every leader, warlord, chieftain etc. always consulted the shaman, before making any decisions. Shamans where consulted before going to war, they where asked to predict the harvest, best times to worship,  good or bad days for hunting, predict the future, cure illnesses, what and when rituals had to be performed, and so on and so forth. For all those things, the shaman or priest was the “Go To” Guy. This was the beginning of what we today recognize as religion.

Now, let’s move a few more centuries forward in time.
By now, people live in large communities. Large cities, surrounded by walls, are being built. Entire nations have been established. Kings, Pharaohs, and warlords are in charge. The social structure is much more organized and there is even a political system in place. Along with all of this, the power of our shaman or druid priest has evolved as well. A powerful new class has emerged. The High Priests. Everything is now linked to religion, and the priests are in charge. At this point in time, the priests don’t only coordinate their religious live, now they also do Politics. Just look at the Egyptian society, or the Israelites, or Romans. This new priest class is rich, powerful and very influential. They control almost all aspects of their society. And they try to control it mostly for their own gains. Religion has now become more a tool of control, rather than a way of spiritual enlightenment. If you read the history books, you will see that the High priests themselves didn’t exactly live by their own rules and requirements. While they were telling the masses what to do and how to do it (all in the name of god of course), they were mostly watching out for themselves. More concerned with money, power and influence, than with the requirements of their own religion. While they were still performing the religious duties, they had very much become drunk for power. Religion became so powerful, that even individual rulers, like the Pharaohs, or the roman Cesar Nero, wanted to be worshiped as gods themselves. This is not to say, that there were no fanatical hardliners in their ranks, who really lived “by the book”.  Those were the beginnings of what we see today. From now on forth, there will be two types of people. The commoner, people like you and me, and the upper class or elite. The split in society into the “haves" and "have not’s”. The entanglement between religion, power and politics.

Alright. One more time jump. Last stop: The present.

In today’s world, religion still plays a powerful role. Hopefully, as society progresses, this power will diminish. This is not to say that people shouldn’t follow their religion, but rather follow it for their own spiritual needs, rather than looking at it as the only way the entire world can or should, conduct itself.  Over time, a more general spirituality will slowly take over. For right now however, religion is still a powerful force. It is still a big source of conflict in many parts of the world.

In closing, I want to assure you all, that this is in no way an attack on religion or religious beliefs. It’s just my opinion, my way of looking at things. Whatever one wants to belief is fine with me, as long as it is not violent. As long as someone seeks a spiritual path, it really doesn’t matter which way they take to achieve their goal.

Okay, my friend. This is it for now. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

As always in closing, please allow me to ask for your help, on how we all can use our individual passions to improve life for all people on this planet. Again, please don’t hesitate to contact me, if you need help, or send me your suggestions or comments. I am looking forward to hearing from you. Together we can change the world! 

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  1. Okay, Werner - you set the ball rolling! I feel it would have enhanced your article if you added some references (to Greek and Mayan mythology, for example) to support what you said. If readers can feel that you are not the only one making such claims, your argument would be stronger.
    There is another reason, of course, why humans invented deities, but I think I had better write an article about it myself! So readers can look forward to another article soon.

    Another thing... why would you ever want to change the world?

  2. Rosanne, thanks for the comment. You are right, I could put in some references. I have a tendency to get too much into details and drag out my articles. So, i guess, just listing a few references might take care of this. In any case, there is still an open invitation for you to write an article here on the commentsharer. I'm sure that all readers would enjoy it very much, since you have a great understanding and insight into our common subject matter. I'm looking forward to your comments/articles,



  3. Writing is not a pre condition for intellectual development. Many African societies went very far without the written word. Creator/creation/create is rooted in the Hebraic belief system. Other societies didn't go that route. Priest control is very recent probably the RCC and its inquisition. Before that it was probably ceremonial. In Egypt priestcraft was hidden and accessed by initiates, there was no public religion like we have today. Animal sacrifice was probably introduced by Hebrews to spite the Egyptians and their holy bulls/Apis bull. Our present theology is a modern development with our faculty for metaphysics. God is male and has human emotions, that probably developed alongside male domination of women. :-)