From my blog:
[quote:e3ed215da6]I find that most people, even non-religious people, completely misunderstand religion and religious history. This is no accident, because most of the religions that exist today completely misrepresent themselves and religious history.
Most people seem to believe that people were initially highly religious, and that we have become less religious over time.
This is, in fact, the complete opposite of the truth, but people believe this because this is what most present day major religions claim. The major religions today (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) are based on the idea that "truth" was revealed at some time in the past. They all claim that their religion has some ancient origin and that the original people were the most devout followers of the beliefs, etc., and that we have since strayed from these beliefs.
These are completely bogus claims however. Most of the present day beliefs of these major religions have developed relatively recently, in some cases within the past couple hundred years. These religions have become more and more sophisticated over time, developing increasingly vast and encompassing views of "God", and then taking the modern views of God and imposing them back on an ancient past, in which those views never actually existed. They then tell us that, in fact, our view of God today and our religiosity today has "degenerated" from the past, yet really the opposite is true.
The reality is that in every society around the world, religions have become more sophisticated, more controlling, and more defined over time (with the exception of recent scientifically based distancing from religion). If you look at religion in the pre-Columbian Americas, the most elaborate and powerful religions were the ones of the most advanced civilizations. Some of the least advanced tribes actually had no religion at all, and not even any words for "gods" or even "spirits".
Religions are constantly adding more ideas and more justifications for belief and developing deeper and deeper psychological holds on people’s minds, but at the same time they claim that they are rooted in the past. The reality is that religions were very weak in the past, and they have become stronger over time.
Religions become stronger and more pervasive as societies become larger and more complex.
Christianity and Islam are very new religions. These are religions that developed during, and shortly after, the peak of Western Civilization in the Roman Empire. The concept of God that is a part of Christianity and Islam is very much a product of 500 years of Greek philosophy, its not some primitive notion that has been a part of the human psyche for thousands of years. "Civilization" goes back about 10,000 years, with modern day religious concepts having been invented mostly within the past 2,000 years, after a high level of civilization had been achieved.
Most primitive cultures around the world still had little or no concept of "a God" as recently as the 1800s, and some of them had no religion at all. If you look at where true formal religions existed historically, they existed in the most civilized areas, in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, parts of Asia, and Central and South America.
Most of the tribes of North America, Africa, and Northern Europe had little or no defined religions and few concrete notions of gods until relatively recently. They had superstitions and various "animal spirits" that they were concerned with, but that’s about it, and in fact prior to the late 19th century there were still several tribes of people in the world who had never even heard of the concept of gods or religion. These tribes have all been either completely wiped out or converted within the past 100 years.
The African Pygmies, Zulus, and tribes of Cameroon, the Fuegians of Tierra del Fuego in South America, Australian tribes, and several North American tribes are all recorded to have either outright denied the existence of "gods" or spirits when asked about them, or they stated that they did not worship gods because they couldn’t affect anything.
One of the real ironies of all this is that the major religions themselves, when you read their texts, tell us that there used to be many non-religious people. The texts of major religions all complain about "non-believers", and "those who do not acknowledge gods".
The reality is that religious belief has become pervasive through the concerted efforts of religious believers who have spread such religions, often by force and war.[/quote:e3ed215da6]