A Ramble About Religion
"Today's religion is tomorrow's mythology."
I read this recently and it got me thinking. I don't recall the author of the quote but it is a profound statement in many ways. After all, if we look back into history, there have been many religions throughout the existence of our species. The ancient Egytians had theirs. The ancient Greeks had theirs. The Romans appropriated that of the Greeks. There was the religion of the Mayans and the Incans. Hinduism. Buddhism. Islam. The list is almost unending and in today's world there is still a plethora of religious beliefs that causes a myriad of suffering in our world.
And then there is the work of science thoughout history which has caused millions to questions the very need for religion. Is there a God? Are there many gods? If there is no God(s), then what is the point of everything? Was the world really spoken into existence by a divine intelligence of spiritual nature? Or did the entirety of the universe merely come about by accident? A result of the "big bang?" Will we ever know the ulitmate truth?
One could easily become mired down in the many theories and teachings about religion, science, and human nature. A fact that stands out like a red flag in the history of mankind is that almost every civilization and species of human being, reaching back into pre-history, seems to have had some kind of spirituality leading them in their lives. Our kind has always found a need to believe in something greater and more powerful than we are in our physical manifestations.
The ancient Egyptians had more than one thousand gods they worshipped. The ancient Greeks and Romans had twelve central gods and goddesses to which they gave their allegiance, and there were a pantheon of demi gods and such that they also honored. Hinduism is currently the oldest religion on earth that is still in practice, and it is a polytheistic religion. Buddhism goes back thousands of years, originating in the far east. Islam seems to have come into existence around the sixth century of the common era. Judiasm is older than either Christianity or Islam. The ancient people of Persia and the region surrounding theirs all believed in gods that were very similar. This is not exclusive to these religions either.
If you look closely at the stories of the Old Testament of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian bibles, you will see clear similarities to stories from the ancient Sumerian and other religious practices in the near and middle east that pre-date the Judiac versions. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh tells a story about a worldwide flood that was survived by only one man and his family, on a boat with hordes of animals they used to restart the human world after the waters subsided, and this was recorded a millenia before the first Jewish writings came into existence. The Sumerians also had a creation story that is very recognizable to anyone who's read the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
I can't explain the need for believing in gods or goddesses. It is exclusively a human trait. Perhaps it stems from our natural inclination to put a purpose and an intent behind things we see and experience in the natural world. After all, everything we do is triggered by an intention; even the very breaths we take. Cause and effect come into focus very clearly if you look at our biological selves. And as a species we have always had a lot of problems getting along with each other. One army defeats another, one kingdom conquers or succeeds another, one leader emerges from the decline of the one prior to him. When forces of nature cause catastrophic events to happen we look up to the sky, we see the sun and the stars, and we believe that someone is out there dictating the things that are taking place, and we know that our human forms prevent us from causing such destruction, so we attribute them to supernaturally intelligent beings. We think that someone must have made this happen.
I see very clearly our human desire to have faith in people and circumstances. Perhaps that is the unifying factor behind all religions that have come and gone since the beginning of man? We must have faith in someone or something because if we don't then we have only ourselves to depend upon as we wend our way toward the future of our kind. And no one knows our limitations as humans better than we do. If there is nothing higher than us to believe in, to pray to, to ask for blessings and miracles, then what is the point of believing in anything? We are vulnerable and so we seek solace in that which we think is not.
So many religions are no longer practiced by anyone anywhere in the world. Those have become the mythology that we study about today. I think back to the peoples who believed in these varied but very real historical practices and I compare them with the people of today. I see how fervently so many folks follow their religious teachings and I am struck by the tenacity in which people cling to what they believe in the religious sense. I know from history that the ancients believed as tenaciously in their religions as we do in ours today. If they hadn't, would they have built all those grand temples and pyramids and monuments? Would they have waged wars on contemporary civilizations whose beliefs threatened theirs? I think not. The people who lived in antiquity were no different than we are when you boil it down.
Which leads me to ask the inevitable question of whether our religious beliefs are destined for the same fate as those of ancient times. If history teaches us anything it is that nothing is eternal. Will people in another millenia or two look back at us and see what we believed in as the mythology of their world? I don't know for certain but history leads me to think that this could quite possibly be the case.
I've been a lot of places. The world is a big thing and there are billions of people out there living their own lives and believing their own values and practicing their own religions, or not. The one thing this makes me certain of is that no one system of beliefs is the right one. Things just aren't that simple. They can't be. If they were, then there wouldn't be so many differences in our lives, in our world, in ourselves.
So...Is today's religion tomorrow's mythology? If I'd asked myself this question a decade ago I'd have said no. Today, my mind is open and thinking and asking questions that more learned men than I have asked for almost as long as we have been around.
And that's enough of a ramble about religion for today.