Originally posted by TravellingFool
My questions to you, ATSers, are:
-Do you think the current (and historical) religions are native to humankind?
Do you mean "created by humans"? If so, yes.
Do you believe humankind has a native religion(s), if so, what?
Do you mean "an inherent version of religion that is universal to all humans"? If so, no.
Speaking strictly as an anthropologist who has read about, lived in, and studied many cultures, the "belief practices" (which can include religion) of
a people reflect the social and political structure of that group. Hence, in the Siberian tribes with little formal structure, the spirits of power
(deities) are "animistic" -- everything has a spirit and can be treated as friend or foe. No great sky mother or sky father or formal collective of
deities. This is true historically of many other groups -- before missionaries and modern culture came in. Any person could take on any role they
wanted ("Mugah will lead the building of the canoe, Usan will lead the children to the harvest area, Curgh will lead the hunt but tomorrow Usan will
lead the hunt and Mugah will harvest" (etc)) -- spirits might lead in something but there wasn't an official leader. Ritual appeals to these spirits
help the community act as a whole.
Once people start to live in organized groups (villages, formal tribes, etc) with leaders and a division of roles, belief practices become "codified"
-- in other words, "Ra is in charge of the sun and by the way he makes things grow." As governing systems become more complex, the gods still
reflect the society. China, with its great emperor and thousands of court officials for minutae and scholars is reflected in the view of the Heavenly
Emperor and beings who took care of inute things. The social idea that even the poor could ascend to the ranks of an imperial favorite if they became
a scholar is reflected in the religious view that even a humble man can become a minor god. In Medieval Europe, they had a similar complex view of
heaven (with thrones, principalities, angels, archangels, cherubim, etc) that reflected king/princes/various ranks of nobles/knights, etc. Since
there was no "transition class" whereby someone could rise from one level to another, the heavenly structure was fixed. People could become saints
but not deities.
Native American beliefs among the Plains Indians (who lived in bands and tribes) was animistic (becoming traditional ultra-Protestant after
missionaries came in and their whole society collapsed as they were shuffled onto reservations during the Ghost Dance era. Their totems and medicines
could not help them cope with the society of their European conquerers.) Beliefs of the Northwest Coast Indians and the East Coast Indians and the
Southwest (who all lived in formal villages and had various social structures) were not quite as animistic and the deities had more of a structure.
I can't think of a single case where the society was a loose band of people (untouched by missionary contact) who had an elaborate single-deity
structure. All the ones I know about were more animistic.
This changes, as I said, once other people come into contact with them and they find that their rituals and so forth are inadequate in the face of the
more powerful people.
For the curious, some short scholarly articles about the evolution of religion:
There's much more to this, and I haven't done much reading on the topic in a very long time so some of this may have been invalidated by newere and
edit on 18-3-2011 by Byrd because: (no reason given)