There are many lessons to be learned from early religion. Like anything else than humans do, it is a mixed bag. Some lessons are profound and convey a deep respect and understanding of the complex interactions that we have with the world.
Some are cautionary tales about where society can end up when morals and values are based on concepts that are not anchored to anything substantive. Despite our agreements or disagreements, we can still draw some valuable information from our collective history.Due to this sustainability, they never needed to travel far. They never needed to, or perhaps had much opportunity to, interact with people outside of their group.
Therefore, written communication just was not a priority. Compared to modern day, their lives held different complexities than ours. Hunting and gathering are such basic human needs that I imagine it was second nature to them. They did not have the luxury of being as picky as we are today. For example, I need a list every time I go to the grocery store because without one, I am unable to remember everything that I need.
I am sure none of our ancient counterparts paused to figure out what animal they meant to hunt when they left that morning. In our lives, written communication is essential simply because of how many different tasks we encounter every day, whether willingly or unwillingly. This allows us more freedom in choice than our ancestors, while, no doubt, also adding to our anxiety. While their lives may have been more challenging than ours in some ways, in other ways, they were simple and sophisticated.I have often noticed people disparaging previous generations or eras as stupid for believing something that we now know to be incorrect. This could not be further from the truth.
Too often, people confuse being right with being rational. Rationality is the practice of basing your beliefs in accordance with logic. At one point, when we did not have a firm understanding of geometry, cosmology, etc., a flat earth was the logical and rational position to have due to the data set that was available. In fact, I would even argue that believing something that is correct without a logical basis to do so is irrational. You might be correct, but you are also irrational. For example, there are religious rules banning the consumption of pork.
Anthropologists have studies and found that there are many possible reasons for this. Some guess that this was common folk knowledge. If cooked improperly, pork can contain the Trichinellosis parasite. This absolutely would have caused death and would be ample reason for concern. A religious ban on eating pork may have originated from weariness from pork to begin with.This shows us that these people did not simply make things up as they went. They relied on the fact and data set that they had, and of course, sometimes their conclusions were off base, wrong, or simply absurd, but there were rational thinkers.
I would argue that if someone back then had said that the pig contains another living creature that feeds off the host (which eventually is the human that consumes pork), and kills it, that they were irrational. Sure, they might be correct, but they had no way of rationalizing that because they were working from a completely separate data set. It is extremely important to keep historical context in mind and in perspective when evaluating the past.One of the beautiful lessons we can learn from the early religion, particularly Animism, is the respect they had for not only other living creatures, but the environment as well. They understood that life hangs in a delicate balance, and it is important to make sure that we take what we need, not hoard what we want.
They have more money than they could spend in 10 lifetimes, let alone one. Yet these same people will bribe politicians to lower their tax rate, cut social programs that help the working poor, and shift the tax burden on the lower and middle-class Americans. These same people, who run multibillion dollar companies, will crush people under their boot to make an extra dollar. We saw the oppression of the Sioux people during the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Native Americans did not want their gravesites to be desecrated, and moreover, their main source of water, Lake Oahe, to be filled with crude oil, as these pipelines always leak or burst. The transportation of the crude oil would also deteriorate their soil quality.
Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 company, and head of the DAPL, met these peaceful protestors, concerned about their land, their water, and their way of life, with extreme violence. The treatment of the Standing Rock tribes was so horrific that the United Nations opened an investigation about the abuse. I may not be a religious person, and I may not agree with the early religions, but one thing is for sure: they were not as short sighted as we are today. For all of their failings, they understood the importance of sustainability and coexistence better than some of the richest people ever known, people with untold resources at their fingertips, prestigious degrees, and not an iota of personal responsibility.The Dawn of Religion does an excellent job of pointing out the negative side of early religion.
Human sacrifice, population control through child sacrifice, forced prostitution, and other horrifying abuses of human rights were committed in the name of religion. There are lessons to be learned in this, as well. I think this concept can apply outside of patriarchy. If we fashion God in our likeness, it only makes sense that a patriarchal society would have a religion that mandates the prostitution of women. It only makes sense that they would allow the man to pay however little he wishes to pay, while the women MUST accept. It only makes sense that the profits would then go to the priests, rather than the woman. This is not uncommon within religious societies.
The “moral thing” just so happens to be the beneficial thing for the arbiter. Muhammad did not WANT to sleep with countless women, but what could he do? God so commanded it. Men did not WANT to enslave women for sex, but what could they do? Aphrodite commanded it. Jesus WANTED to prove his divinity, but “Thou shalt not put thy Lord, your God, to the test.
” What could he do? How convenient.When examining religion, early or new, it is not only perfectly acceptable, but encouraged, that we fall in love with the good. We should want to treat others with kindness. We should want to help, to heal, to be better with every day. We should seek forgiveness for our shortcomings.
We should also critically evaluate the text to make sure that we are not being fooled into committing horrific acts under the guise of holiness. We should learn to empathize and exercise our own judgement. There are good lessons to be learned from the horrific practices of religion, as well.