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Evolving religion

February 3, 2013

Whilst writing my 5 favourite things about the Middle Ages, I came across religion, and I want to continue this conversation on religion today. There is so much that can be said about in religion generally and specifically, too much for this post, this blog and any one blog for that matter, so I want to focus on the evolution of religion. Having done my Bachelors in the Study of Religion, I did briefly go over this in one of my seminars, but not in enough detail for me. I find this a fascinating topic, not only looking at how religion has evolved over history, but what it may look like in the future.

We have the incredibly old form of religion, practiced by those in tribes, where worship was of animals and inanimate objects such as trees, totems, rocks and waterfalls. This is found in American Indian tribes and aboriginal history in particular. I guess these two are the ones we know best; some of this type of religion and worship still goes on today. This eventually turned into the faith in many gods at the same time. This is much better known and is definitely practiced today. The Romans and Ancient Greeks had more than one god, which had to be appeased and worshipped at different times of the year, or for different reasons; weather, fertility, luck in battle, health and many more. Two religions that many people still follow, and I’m sure they will still follow, are Hinduism and Buddhism, which are still going strong. Now, this is already showing that this evolution is not in any way linear.

Following the worship of many gods, we have the worship of one god, these are the obvious ones, the religions we know today; Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These have evolved within themselves over the past 2,000 years, but they still have the same on God, even though there are disagreements over how the worship takes place and the theology of the religions. This belief in one God has been the explanation for people when science was not available. It is an easy answer, if there is an outbreak of plague, it must have been because people did wrong, and God is punishing them. If something good happens, then they have done right by God, and are being rewarded.

So what is the next step for religion? In my opinion I think it is science. Science is slowly taking over religion in that it is explaining what we could not in times gone by. I think that more and more people are moving away from religion and in doing that turning to science, they believe in what the science is telling them, and for good reason, it has been tested and can be proven or not. People believe in science, they don’t have a blind faith it in, there is no need to, so it is unlike any religion before it. It is obvious that people are becoming less inclined to believe in any god, religion is slowly going away from our culture, and it is being replaced, I think with science.

But why are people, especially young people moving away from religion. For starters there is no fear of hell any more, which was a driving feature of why people were religious. Death is death and people accept that, they don’t need to fear being punished after they die. I think that because people are living longer, when they are 20 they don’t need to fear imminent death, as would have been the case 1,000 years ago, therefore being religious and the promise of heaven is no longer relevant to them. Older people are more religious, possibly because they are, or they were brought up to be, or that they want the company, but also because they are closer to death, they like the fact that heaven and their loved ones will be waiting for them. Because science is so good at explaining things, religion has fallen out of our culture, and because of this, it is socially acceptable to not be religious, this would not have been the case even 100 years ago, let alone 500 years ago. So people don’t feel they have to go to church or that they have to pray, they have a choice.

But, they question has to be asked, are people less religious now than they were in the past, surely not everyone believed, that will be for tomorrow though!

  1. Some thoughtful points made here, I think. I’m not sure I agree about science being a religion — unlike religion scientific concepts can change according to new approaches and experience — though I sort of see what you mean. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on “are people less religious now than they were in the past?” My gut feeling is that the answer would be no.

    • Thanks for the comment, I think the point I was trying to make about science is that it, along with atheism will eventually replace religion. I’m glad you’re looking forward to my next post, it should be ready to publish tomorrow.

  2. rautakyy permalink

    I am an atheist in third generation. Now, it would be absurd for me to convert into any of the religions I know of. They have never been “true” to me any more than any other fairytales. I can enjoy a fairytale, if it is entertaining, but to start to believe, that fairies, angels or gods are true just seem funny. However, I feel it is my responsibility to behave respectively towards the deep emotional ties people have with their religions, because they are part of their cultural heritage. Only when the alledged supreme authority of gods is played as a political card, do I take issue with them.

    Yet, there are dangerous undercurrents in culture. Like how in the US for example, some of the fundamentalist churches are openly attacking science. It seems absurd, that even today there are still people who would raise against science. It is almost tragicomic how these same people often make an effort to claim, that science was not even during medieval times under attack from the religions. You wrote how a big motivation behind religion is fear. That motivator still affects the minds of a great deal of people.

    I think there have allways been more religious people and people who are less interrested in the spiritual concepts. The latter group has allways been the great majority, regardless if the gods have been a part of their world view or not. In western culture from the early days of enlightenment some of those people who are interrested on spiritual issues have become more vocal about their conviction that the entire idea of supernatural is bogus. But the great majority does not seem too interrested in the matter, even though today in within western civilization we have more and more people who do not need to spend all their energy just to survive, like in the past centuries.

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