The emergence of the first large settlements triggered a seismic shift in religious life. Seeking to explain the catastrophes suddenly befalling us, we began to believe in vengeful and omnipotent beings, in gods who were enraged because of something we’d done.
A whole clerical class was put in charge of figuring out why the gods were so angry. Had we eaten something forbidden? Said something wrong? Had an illicit thought?37 For the first time in history, we developed a notion of sin. And we began looking to priests to prescribe how we should do penance. Sometimes it was enough to pray or complete a strict set of rituals, but often we had to sacrifice cherished possessions–food or animals or even people.
Bregman, Rutger. Humankind (p. 105). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
If I understand Bregman’s idea correctly, he states that nomadic people had a cosmology but no religion as we know it today.
Religion, he states, arose when homo sapiens began to settle down and possess property. It was the possession of property by individuals that gave rise to inequality and created conflicts which called for some adjudication process.
The first adjudication process created was religious in nature with imaginary gods as the sovereign who judged, and rewarded or penalized. The sovereign was manifested in the bodies and roles of a clerical class. These clerics became the intermediaries between the gods and human beings which imbued the clerics with a tremendous authority up to making decisions about life and death.
This belief and surrender of authority to sovereign gods by human beings is a form of social control which rather than nurture spiritual development actually hinders it. It seems almost an oxymoron to say that religion is antithetical to spirituality, but it appears that this is often the case.
Osho has taught that the first step onto a spiritual path is to rebel against one’s religious training and participation.
In Unitarian Universalism, members covenant together to affirm and promote seven principles the fourth of which is the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Francis David, one of the Unitarian founders in the sixteenth century, taught that we need not think alike to love alike. And it is Unconditional Love which is the fundamental belief of Unitarian Universalism. This belief in the Universality of the Transcendent seems closer to the cosmology of the nomadic peoples than the subsequent capitalistic peoples.
- To what extent do you think religion has been a positive influence or a negative influence on human well being?
- To what extent have you found that religious beliefs have interfered with spiritual development?