We are still listening to medieval voices
Modern science has existed for nearly 700 years and has guided us out of the dark ages into the most enlightened time in the history of our species. Yet, we cling to fantasies, fallacies, and folklore older than recorded history, with most of it rooted in religion.
Five major world religions claim the majority of religious adherents. Just two, Christianity and Islam, account for over 4 billion people, more than half the total population on Earth. Each of the religions has shaped our culture for generations. The world religions have influenced art, architecture, philosophy, ethics, politics, and even language. Each has its unique attributes, traditions, and peculiarities.
Thou shalt not kill - that is pretty basic to all the religions, and I suspect that tenet existed long before organized religion. Common sense told our ancient ancestors that they had to (a) survive as a group and (b) stop killing each other. Other rules for societal behavior almost certainly preceded organized religion. Like our primate cousins in the ape family, we instinctively understood the need for societal norms.
As we procreated in ancient times, probably more like wild dogs, and most likely producing some offspring that were not likely to contribute to the advancement of our species, it must have become evident that we needed rules about sexual permissiveness. Again, this was happening long before organized religion became the guardian of human behavior.
As religion evolved from…no one is quite sure what was in its place before recorded history to the advent of various beliefs in multiple gods, we then codified much of what we had learned about governing human behavior into the rules of multiple belief systems. Those ancient ancestors wanted to believe in something. We have found graves of people buried with cherished objects - sometimes other people and animals - suggesting that we had or wanted to believe in an afterlife. We concluded that some higher powers controlled the weather and lightning, floods, etc., and we experimented with multiple gods, often thought to be related to divine rulers, an idea almost certainly promulgated by the rulers.
Having witnessed over the centuries, these divine rulers behaving like low-lifes, incestuous whoremasters, and bloodthirsty butchers, we realized their behavior was tarnishing the image of our gods by association. We quickly disabused ourselves of that notion that any humans were gods. We eventually winnowed the whole theory down to a single God.
Life for humans, going back as far as recorded history permits and even before that, was, in a word, a bitch. Finding food, shelter, dying from a disease, and avoiding every other danger imaginable, human life was a considerable trial without a lot of happy endings.
As we began to believe in gods, and eventually a single God, it was counter-intuitive to believe in a God who made us suffer so. Why would he put all this pain and suffering on us, if as we were taught, he loved us? If we were to believe in God, we needed to explain why this God, who supposedly created us, would shit on us daily, as seemed to be the case.
Life and death were also great mysteries. We understood that the act of procreating brought about babies, just as every animal on the planet follows the instinct to breed. We had no clue how any of that came about, so God became a convenient explanation for how a child came to be, and with religion serving a dual purpose as keepers of science, the idea was accepted that it was divine intervention.
Death. Whoa! Death! An unsolvable mystery as it is today. We knew it happened to all living things, but it scared the bejesus out of us. Despite the miserable shit-storm, most of us called our lives, we held on to religious teachings with a passion, not wanting to die. But, with religion, came the knowledge, promulgated by our religious leaders, that we didn't die as long as we were true to our faith; we passed on to a new forever life that not only ensured we would be around forever, but we were assured that we would be free of our suffering and pain, and we would be reunited with all the family and friends who had died before us. That's a late-night ad that's hard to ignore.
Another problem presented by a "god" orchestrating all these events on Earth was the notion of evil and sin. A certain percentage of people, no matter how many times they were told the rules of civilization, refused to sign up to and adhere to the rules of life set down, rules that they didn't have a vote in. To put this aberrant behavior in context, we concluded some evil people sinned. Since we had a God to guide us down the rosy path of life, we needed a villain to explain why some of our fellow humans behaved so badly; enter Satan and the notion of evil influences.
All of this evolution of human thought happened over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. The rules and standards were passed from one generation to the other verbally before the advent of writing. And, those social norms varied greatly from one society to another. With the arrival of writing, people all over the Earth began to record all the myths and stories, many baseless, containing all the fears and presumed answers developed over the millennia to govern human behavior.
Viola'! We had religious texts that could be passed from one generation to another, providing continuity of thought as well as enshrining those who wrote the words. Often claiming input from the divine, the authors ensured their place in history as well as some power in their current life.
All of this was working reasonably well for the better part of 2,800 years. From what some think of as the beginnings of monotheism (one God) in 1300 BCE until around the 14th century CE when some feel modern science began to unravel many of life's mysteries using observations and logic rather than folklore. Before this time, we relied on medieval science, which hailed theology and metaphysics as the pinnacle of scientific knowledge.
For an interesting take on the evolution of religion, you might want to look at this: or, better yet, buy my book.
Much of modern-day religion still holds on to the very same concepts developed during the period of medieval science. When we look at some of the rituals of the major religions, we see this in action.
The taking of communion in most Christian churches with a nibble of bread and perhaps a sip of wine in the belief that you are taking in the blood and body of Christ is a prime example.
Upon the death of a Jew, the eyes are closed, the body is covered and laid on the floor, and candles are lit next to it. The body is never left alone as a sign of respect. Those who stay with the body are called shomerim (guards). Eating, drinking, or performing mitzvot are prohibited near the body, as such actions would mock the person who is no longer able to do such things.
Flowers are not appropriate at a Muslim funeral or as gifts to the mourning family. Men and women sit separately at the Muslim funeral service, and women should cover their heads and arms. No recording devices of any kind — audio, video or photo — are permitted. Some sects mourn officially for 40 days; during that time, the family wears only black. The widow wears black for a year, although the anniversary of the death is not otherwise observed
The Christian ecclesiastical garb first became peculiar in a strict sense when, under the influence of the migration of the Germanic tribes, the costumes, as well as the forms of the ancient world, passed away. The more convenient medieval dress was substituted, while the Church (and for a longer or shorter period, the upper classes and the higher officials also) clung to Roman or Greek fashions.
Dietary laws and customs are based on the prior assumption of social stratification or, at least, of a sense of separateness is provided by Judaism as spelled out in the books of in the Torah. Prohibited foods include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that creep; and those fowl enumerated in the Bible (e.g., vultures, hawks, owls, herons). All foods outside these categories may be eaten.
Many Qurʾānic strictures were explicit in establishing distinctions between Arabs and Jews. Many dietary regulations borrow heavily from Mosaic Law in forbidding the consumption of the blood of any animal, the flesh of swine or of animals that are found dead, and food that has been offered or sacrificed to idols. The most radical departure of Islamic dietary laws from those found in the Torah concerns the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Jews may consume alcohol and wine in many rituals and feasts. The Qurʾān, however, absolutely forbids any such beverages.
There may have been some good reasons for some of these rules. We now know, thanks to modern science, that certain parasites can be ingested from eating both pork and some fish that can invade the body and make us sick. Without the benefit of science, ancient humans may have been able to make a connection between certain foods and humans becoming ill, and these rules were established to protect human health.
Christianity did not develop elaborate dietary rules and customs. This probably grew out of the controversy over whether or not to observe Mosaic food laws. Jesus is said to have declared that any external agent could not cause contamination.
Hindu food observances help to define a social position. While uncooked food may be received from or handled by members of any caste, Brahmans, members of the highest caste, eat only those foods prepared in the finest manner (pakka). Everyone else takes inferior (kacca) food. Food left on plates after eating is defined as garbage (jutha) because the eater’s saliva has polluted it. Meats are graded according to their relative amount of pollution. Eggs are the least and beef the most defiling; the highest-caste Brahmans avoid all meat products.
Again, much if not most of this knowledge must have come to us before organized religion. We observed what was happening and connecting the dots. So and so ate this mushroom and died. After several such occurrences, we learned not to eat that particular mushroom. That is the definition of evolution; learning by observing and making connections.
While we cling to many of these ancient notions, we all know now how to ensure we don't get sick from infected pork; it has nothing to do with what kind of hooves an animal has. Shellfish and fish without fins are not only harmless, but many of them are essential to a healthy diet.
We know how our bodies and those of the rest of the animal kingdom work to produce offspring; we know what thunder and lightning are and how it is produced; we understand the tides, eclipses, and the expansiveness of our universe. All this knowledge and more have come to us over the last 700 years, and our knowledge base continues to grow exponentially with each advance in science and technology.
So, why do we continue to listen to the voices of the past, people who, two thousand years ago, thought the world was flat? Five hundred or a thousand years from now, will the world of the future look back on us as we look back on the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and wonder how we could have clung to the old ways?
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.