A Short History of Religions: Part-1
By Mohammad Asghar
Ever since Johann Gutenberg revolutionized “movable type” printing press in the middle of 14th century A.D., innumerable writers churned out millions of books, describing therein how religions came to mankind, and who founded them in so many words, and in such sophistical terms as made them almost impossible for most common folks to understand their religions as clearly as they needed to understand them.
This trend continues even today, with the result that there is not a single religion in the world that can claim that its followers have been following its dogmas, practices and stipulations in unison and concert, and that there is no disagreements among its followers on the application of its doctrines in their daily lives.
Recognizing the fact that people of all walks of life need to know the backgrounds of some of the major religions of the world, I took upon myself the responsibility to write this treatise for their benefit, but as concisely as it is possible.
I hope my benign attempt would also help our future generations in understanding the religions they would be growing up with, and be following in their own lives. However, in discussing Islam, I would be a little more elaborative due to the reason that it is the latest religion and also because it is claimed to be the pure and perfect religion of God.
We humans are assumed to have evolved around 65 millions years ago. This assumption was brought to our attention by Charles Darwin through his book, “The Origin of Species.” He wrote it in 1859.
Charles Darwin was a geologist, zoologist, paleontologist, and botanist. He went around the world, and observed and collected the fauna, flora, and geological formations from all the places he visited during his expedition.
Apart from observing the above stated objects in their natural environments during his trip abroad Beagle; he spent some twenty-three years for his theories to come together and for the impact of all he had seen to fall into place.
Through his book, “The Origin of Species,” Darwin showed the probability that every species is a development from previous species, thereby clearly implying that humans could as well have evolved from earlier and different forms of life. He believed “that all living things are engaged in a fierce “struggle for existence” and that the severe conditions of life tend to kill off those animals and plants that inherit unfavorable traits, thus ensuring “the survival of the fittest.
Darwin concluded that there exists a “natural selection” of favorable variations that, in the course of thousands of years, succeeded in producing a remarkable variety of life forms through the process of evolution.”
I believe in Darwin’s theory, but there are billions of people who refuse to believe in it without first seeing evolution taking place before their own eyes. But in case of the biblical statement that claims that God had created the first human couple in heaven and that we are their descendents, they make no such demands. Rather, they accept such a statement as to be the gospel truth, which all believers are taught to accept without ever raising any questions on its veracity and truthfulness.
To me, the above demand, often made by the believers, seem not only illogical, but also nonsensical. In my reckoning, most believers are also hypocritical in the sense that while they demand incontrovertible evidence on Darwin’s theory of evolution, the same believers never challenge the biblical statement that presents itself without being accompanied by any palpable proof or evidence.
Why believers conduct themselves in such duplicitous manners is a question I have tried my best to find an answer to, but failed. Perhaps, we should call upon the believers to come forward with a convincing explanation in order to put our curiosity to rest for ever.
The dispute over the theory of evolution and the creation of the first human couple in heaven notwithstanding, our original parents lived a perilous existence immediately after their evolution or descent on earth from heaven. They lived in caves to protect themselves from the lurking beasts; they subsisted on whatever they were able to lay their hands on.
Their small number being a handicap, they dared not go out of their caves even in the bright light of the day. They passed their nights in extreme fear. In winter, the combination of fear and bone-piercing cold made their lives extremely miserable. Perhaps, many died due to cold, which they failed to ward off as, apart from animal skins, most of them had nothing else to cover their bodies with.
Many of them must also have fallen victim to the predatory animals that prowled their neighborhoods for food.
After a long period of time, their number increased. The growth in their headcounts brought them strength that enabled them not only to undertake successful hunting trips; it also helped them in facing collectively the numerous hazards of their life.
Eventually, they built huts for themselves; took measures to save themselves from the attacks of the predatory animals and tamed horses, donkeys and bovine animals to serve as the means of their transportation.
They kept on improving their hunting tools and skills as time went on. Discovery of fire by them changed their life; it enabled them not only to cook their food, it also helped them to keep their bodies warm during winter.
Traveling for a long time on their way to what we call “civilization” today, our distant ancestors invented cultivation - - a feat that changed for ever their lifestyle together with changing the landscape of our earth.
Now living in communities on plain lands, with their thinking ability improving and also, having, in the meantime, acquired the ability to speak to each other, the men of long time ago launched themselves on a course of innovations that still continues to keep our modern world occupied. But even when struggling for their survival, they often paused and tried to understand themselves and their surroundings. Their Homo religiosus instincts forced them to ask questions about themselves, the world they lived in and also about who was behind all the creations.
They debated among themselves, but found no answer to their questions. Ultimately, they sought the help of their “wise man.”
The Birth of Nature Worshipping
The wise man of long time ago put his wisdom to great use. Knowing that his reputation was at stake, he not only acted like many intellectuals of our time, he also assumed the role of a story-teller in order to make the dissemination of his “knowledge” more appealing and effective for those who sought it from him.
According to some ancient writings, man of long time ago believed that the earth emerged exactly 4,004 years before the Christian era from the belly of a boa. Others thought that it was Sun-god, which created the earth and the human beings.
Asked why the sun-god comes up in the morning and then sinks in the evening, the wise man of long time ago told the people of his time: The sun up there in the skies is a Wheel of Fire on which the Sun-Spirit takes a ride each day across the skies to see the world and how his creations were doing. At night the Sun-Spirit puts the wheel of Fire away in the Hall of Darkness and goes to bed. The next morning he appears again to take another ride. But if the Sun-Spirit feels lazy one day, or angry, he would not take his ride and the sun would not shine.
“If the sun would not shine, how would we be able to go hunting, or cultivate our land, for our food?”
“I do not know!” said the wise man of long time ago. “But we can keep the Sun-Spirit from being lazy and angry.” “How?” the men of long time ago asked.
“Easy!” answered the wise man of long time ago. “When the sun comes up early in the morning, we can go up to the mountain-top, as to be quite close to the sun, then sing to the Sun-Spirit and praise him for not being lazy. That will flatter him and he won’t be lazy.”
So the men of long time ago began worshipping the sun-god.
But what about the moon? Since the sun had a Spirit that had to be flattered and praised, surely the moon must also have a Spirit that rode out every night.
As they worshipped the Moon-Spirit, they also considered the twinkling stares. The stars, too, were up there in the skies where the Great Spirit lived. And the men of long time ago praised and flattered the stars, too.
Slowly the Spirits to be praised and flattered grew in number.
There was the angry Spirit of the Thunder; the busy Spirit of the Wind; the weeping Spirit of the Rain; the gentle Spirit of the Rivers; the mysterious Spirit of the Woods and the restless Spirit of the Oceans. All these, and many more the men of long time ago praised and worshipped.
The worship of all the Spirits of Nature was the first religion of Mankind. It is called the Nature of Worship.
The Birth of Idol Worshipping
As the time went on, and the people became many on earth with their thinking ability enhanced, the Spirits they worshipped multiplied rapidly.
“Not only are there Spirits of Nature,” said the wise man of long time ago, “but there are other Spirits!”
“Other Spirits?” people asked, a little frightened.
“Yes,” said the wise man. “There are other Spirits.”
The wise story-teller disclosed to his folks the existence of Family Spirit. Since the Spirit of the sun lives on the sun and the Spirit of the Moon on the moon, he surprised them with the disclosure that the Spirits of their Family lives in a frog. It is not an ordinary frog; it is of the size of that hill yonder. It has one eye, but its head is covered with ears. And out of its forehead grows a golden horn.
Told by his audience that they had never seen such a frog, the story-teller made a stone image of a frog, and painted its horn in gold.
“If the wise man’s family has a Spirit in a frog to protect it, surely we must have one, too,” decided the common man.
And they began making and worshipping the images of their Family-Spirits.
Very soon, there were thousand of images, made of wood, clay and stone. There were little images and big images. Images that looked like Elephants, wolves, bears, lions, crocodiles and fish. Some were half fish and half eagle. Some were half snake and half stag. Some like cows while others looked like no creature living on earth.
Believing in the efficacy of their idols, people soon gave up the worshipping of the Nature-Spirits. Instead, they began worshipping many images, thus laying the foundation of Polytheism.
The idols, so people believed, if flattered enough by prayers and sacrifices, had the power to do good to the people who believed in them, and to harm their enemies. If a man had a problem with his neighbor, he could pray to his favorite idol to make his neighbor’s cow give bloody milk, or hurt him in some other way.
But the neighbors had their idols, too. And whilst a man prayed to his own idols to punish and hurt his enemies, his heart remained uneasy about what the Spirits of his enemies’ idols might do to him and his household. So to protect themselves against the power of the evil spirits that fought on the side of their enemies, people began to wear little images of their idols around their necks. These we call amulets or talismans.
So long as they had those amulets or talisman on, they believed, no evil could befall them.
On the other hand, they believed they could harm their enemies, if they had certain amulets in their possession. With these beliefs taking hold of the people, they began spending much time on trying to perform magic, and in plotting to harm their enemies through sorcery and witchcraft.
Since every person had some enemies, everybody began to be afraid all the time that their enemies were at that time invoking the evil powers to harm them. If a man became ill, he believed his enemies had wished it upon him through witchcraft, or by using the power of his idol, and he started to think of ways to avenge himself.
When the situation turned very bad, some wise people thought about it all over, and realized that at the root of all this evil was Idol-Worshipping. Consequently, some of these wise men began preaching against the worship of idols and images, and established new religions that they believed were good for their common folks.
Mohammad Asghar writes from USA.
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