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From whence came the seeds of belief?

A you tube video prepared to sell a book titled "The Power of Faith Mother Nature's Gift" revealed that Chimpanzee societies create hierarchies of control that revolve around the "alpha" Males of the troop. The thesis of this book is that for all practical purposes the alpha male is the chimpanzee troops supreme being and this "worship" sets the seeds for the origins of religion.

I might be willing to see it as possibly the source of some religions in the past but it can't explain all of them. Leaders die and are killed and if they were the origins of a worship cult the cult would likely die with them. Religions haven't done that precisely because they are not all tied to people (many religions or more generally theistic beliefs, have associated or deified people to join a pantheon of Gods but that is not the same)

I think what really happened to originate religions is a lot more pedestrian. To see it we need to go back to paleolithic times, when roving bands of humans numbered in village clusters that rarely exceeded 50 - 100 individuals (as the hunter gather life style strains to support such a number)

Imagine these bands performing their daily routines of hunting and gathering. The individuals charged with going out to gather food are already esteemed for their usefulness to the survival of the group.

From esteem to preference of opinion

This esteem can easily reflect a measure of respect for the views, opinions and attitudes of those persons. Now, imagine that on a hunt these individuals witness various events in the field that they associate (rightly or wrongly) with their success or failure at the hunt. We have seen this in human cultures all over the globe as expressed by the various trinkets and charms that hunters have created in order to aid their efforts in the hunt or retard 'bad spirits'. But what is a 'bad spirit' ? Ultimately, the origins of such an idea must come from some aspect of hunt that leads to failure. It could be as innocuous as a muddy pass that makes transfer to the quarry difficult, it could be a brooding sky with thunder at the moment that the hunt commences, it could be a sudden flood caused by the breaking of a natural dam unseen up river. The point is, the juxtaposition of these natural events and the hunters task give rise to correlative associations. It is one of our greatest advantages as human beings to have a refined ability to match patterns, unfortunately our brains are so good that they often create patterns where none actually exist, as dozens of visual illusions crafted by psychologists can attest to.

but back to our hypothetical band of hunters. As they go out and perform the mechanics of the hunt that on their own can lead to success, their pattern matching brains also notice those natural events. The sudden strike of lightning to fell a tree and block the path of a deer, or crush an escaping wild boar could inspire immediate association of that event with some god (God of thunder) having a desire to see the troop succeed. However, the stickiness of this meme in the group is only as good as the forcefulness with which the hunters relay this story back to the village and this has to do with the standing of the hunter in the village. Sure, they could be an alpha male and if they are , would be more likely to have their "interpretation" of the natural event as the one accepted by the group but the only way for the meme to survive as a tool of survival , to be invoked in some way indicated by the hunters. "As we moved to the west and paused to take shelter, the thunder struck and felled the tree on our quarry. At that moment I saw this shined stone on the path and knew it was an omen for a good hunt." Now to us such associations are ridiculous but realize how often people make the same types of associations absent of any other data routinely today. It is from these casually made associations that natural events are given supernatural import and the door to Gods (to explain success or failure) is open wide.

Explanation of survival in hunting to survival over all..

While recounting such a story, the villagers will be hard pressed to refute the conclusions of the hunters as they indeed do have the "proof" in life giving meat. What remains is the forcefulness and imagination of those telling the story, the aforementioned hunter could inspire a culture where hunters search for shined stones in order to bless a hunt with a success by the thunder deity responsible for it. Maybe the stones may factor in rituals that the villagers back home use to bring good blessings to the hunters on the hunt in some elaborate ritual. The flowering of possible ways to interpret these chance events would quickly reflect the wide range of religious interpretations that exist today. As human societies moved onward from hunter gatherer to larger groupings and cities, the use of these events to capture the attention and reverence on the masses would be noticed by the clever hunters and later lead to their becoming shaman, grio or spiritual leaders in a position to direct the community in ways they feel are amenable to the Gods of the hunt. Later these Gods were generalized to cover all manner of success for the community and the flowering of regional Gods associated with specific villages or civilizations takes place.

What happens when belief systems touch?

10,000 years ago with the emergence of agriculture and a sedentary life style that allowed people to sit and think far more than ever before the symbolism of previous success morphed into more complex descriptions of not just how to survive but as explanations for why one group is 'favored' to survive over others (who likely see significance in other omens, signs and Gods) the seeds were thus sown for destructive dance that seems almost guaranteed to occur when different "survival philosophies" touch along shared boundaries. The Bible of Abraham, the records of the Egyptians , Greeks and many ancient cultures show this clearly as peoples having different systems routinely slaughter one another simply due to the existence of these differences in philosophies. Soon, with the constant cross pollination of these systems in the Levant came the emergence of a new idea, that worship of a pantheon of Gods or people elevated to God status was inferior to worshiping of one God of all, the first of these "one god" believers followers of the Egyptian God "Ra", quite literally the sun. How ironic and obvious all at once, the Sun is not sentient or caring to our needs but it is indeed quite literally our God in that without it we would not be.

In conclusion, the idea that Gods emerged from worship of alpha individuals in my view is not far from the truth but the jump that must be made from worshiping a living , flesh and blood human to worshiping an immortal God is too great and to me would not be supported by the fact that in real societies (human and chimp) alpha males die and are killed, the Gods of religion have a resilience beyond this for a reason and I believe that reason is that they were created in that fashion as immortal and "all" powerful symbolic avatars to explain the success or failure of the "alpha" individuals as they went out on hunting expeditions. Now it is entirely plausible and possible that the hunters by displays of amazing capability may rise to be worshiped as Gods after their deaths and this idea could be the explanation for the God/demi-God theism of ancient Greece and similar systems but this form of religion was and is not dominant. The most important Gods (Ra, the God of Abraham, a plethora of animal and nature based Gods), although sharing some human qualities, are not (not originally) anthropomorphic entities. So, the seemingly random suite of God types and origins indicates that their source came from the combination of chance events of hunt and nature interpreted by "alphas" in the hunting or gathering troops and then having the memes most forcefully represented in society (by force or by convincing word) spread to serve as a harbinger of further success. Later as different systems spread and then touched, the incompatability of these independently imagined and crafted systems of survival belief led to astonishing acts of slaughter enabling the irony of a system designed to maximize survival being used to ensure destruction of opposing systems.


Manuel Delaflor said…
I agree with the initial conclusion, religion evolved from the need of the masses to worship an alpha male.. with greater abstract abilities human alpha males were not enough, ergo, a bigger, more powerful alpha was needed.

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