The earliest beginnings of man and religion are found in our
earliest knowledge (about 10,000 BC) of Homo sapiens sapiens,
meaning intelligent and wise. These early men attributed life to
inanim-ate objects like rocks or trees, and worshipped them by
leaving offerings of flowers or food.
This animinism is still practiced today (1989) among
isolated aborigines in India, Africa, the Amazon basin, and
southeast Asian islands.
A curious part about religion among the earliest Homo sap-
iens is that anthropology places humanoids like the Neanderthal
man, the Cro-Magnon man and other skull specimans about 50,000
BC, and the appearance of true Homo sapiens sapiens about 10,000
To date, the “missing link” is our total ignorance as to
what transpired between 50,000 BC and 10,000 BC to turn humanoids
into intelligent humans with an entirely different facial struct-
ure, an erect walk, the opposing thumb, an entirely new outward
body appearance, the concept of a soul, a concept of good and
evil, and a concept of God.
For Judaism and Christianity, the Creation Story, that God
created man in His own image, is the explanation for this know-
ledge gap. This act of creation is viewed as providing (a) intel-
ligent thinking processes (b) free will (c) possession of a soul
and its attendant spiritual dimension to man’s existence.
Major current day religions are, in order of antiquity:
2000 BC Judaism 18,079,400 .4%
1500 BC Hindu 655,895,200 13%
500 BC Confucianism 5,914,400 .1%
500 BC Buddhism 309,826,100 6%
250 BC Shinto 3,403,010 .1%
30 AD Christianity 1,644,396,500 33%
626 AD Islam 860,388,300 17%
Other religious phenomena are:
Chinese folk religionists 187,517,100 4%
Shamanists 12,762,200 .2%
Nonreligious 836,327,770 17%
Atheists 225,126,500 5%
(Encyclopedia Britanica Yearbook, 1988)
Twenty two percent of the world’s population are
nonreligious or atheists. This means that 78% believe in some
sort of god or divine spirits.
Three religions are known as monotheistic religions, i.e.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Judaism believes in one creator, God, whose name is so
sacred it cannot be written or pronounced, who has a special
relationship to the Hebrews, as His “chosen” people, based on
His covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, and His promise to them of a
certain piece of land–especially Canaan, but variously described
as from the Euphrates River to the River of Egypt (a small river
in the middle of the Sinai).
Their Holy Scriptures are a compilation of the Hebrew/Jewish
people’s history with God, and detailed laws governing conduct
The high point of their moral teaching is the requirement
that they (a) love God with all their heart (b) love their neigh-
bor (fellow Jews) as themselves (c) love the stranger living
among them as themselves.
Under the Kings–Saul, David, Soloman–this promise of the
land of Canaan was fulfilled for a period of 350 years. How-
ever, dissolution of the united kingdom into the kingdoms of
Israel (Samaria) and Judah occured, followed by conquest by the
Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Romans.
Thus the term Jews and Judaism is more correctly applied to
the people and religion of Judah; the religion based on the Torah
as interpreted and amplified by the Oral and Written Traditions
of the rabbis, both before and after the time of Jesus.
The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD,
and virtually total dispersal of the Jews, resulted in the Pales-
tinian and the Babylonian Talmuds in 300-500 AD, a collection of
rulings and interpretations of the Torah by rabbis trying to
accommodate the teachings of the Torah to life outside Canaan
without a temple, and as a dispersed people.
In the 1800’s, after the “Enlightenment,” German rabbis
founded Reformed Judaism, by which they tried to interprete
Judaism as a universal religion, as opposed to a tribal religion.
It is pertinant to note that since 350 BC, no new “prophets”
have arisen in Israel, no “Messiah” has arrived, no new books
have been added to their Holy Scriptures; that except for a 150
year period they have not possessed the full extent of their
“promised land,” that the detailed priesthood and ritual animal
sacrifices have disappeared since the destruction of the Second
Temple in 70 AD, that followers of Judaism have clung tenaciously
to their faith in spite of severe repression and/or persecution.
There is no mention of an afterlife in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Christianity is firmly rooted in pre-Judaic Hebraism. Je-
sus criticized the “tradition” of the rabbis, and called for
practicing the “spirit” of the teachings in the Torah, which He
expanded into an ethical emphasis on love of God, love of
others as one’s self, and even love of one’s enemy.
His teachings and the teachings of the New Testament, are of
universal, open-minded love; and the psychological and spiritual
development of the soul above a desire for material things,
prestige and power.
Christianity believes that Jesus Christ is the Hebrew
Messiah, and further that He is the Son of God sacrificed on the
cross as the “Lamb of God” to atone for all the sins of the
world, that He rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven
to be with His Father, and that true, practicing followers will
be saved, resurrected, and live with Him in heaven forever,
glorifying and praising God. Others will be damned to everlasting
Roman Catholic tradition believes in purgatory, an
intermediate state after death for purification from one’s sins
before being good enough to enter heaven.
Islam was founded by an Arab prophet Mohammed, who wrote his
revelations from Allah in the Koran. Allah is the name for the
one God of the Jews and Christians, and the Koran refers often to
the God of Abraham and His teachings without really adding to its
moral and ethical doctrines.
Basically he taught that there is no God but Allah, that his
followers should submit to the will of Allah, should do good
works, and the reward would be eternal life in Paradise with
material blessings like shade, abundant water and food served on
trays of gold; silver goblets of wine served by menservants; gold
and silver jewelry, silken robes embroidered in gold; reclining
on thrones in gardens of delight with all that a soul’s desire
and eyes find sweet; married to fair virgin ones with wide,
lovely eyes, and maidens for companions.
In his revelation of heaven and fiery hell, the book of life
and final judgement, he parallels the Christian New Testament.
Shamanism is a world-wide phenomenon. Its chief characteris-
tic is the “shaman”, a medicine man/priest, who cures sickness,
directs the communal sacrifices, abd escorts the souls of the
dead to the other world. He is believed to have the power to
leave his body at will. This is part of their initiation, in
that they are presumed to have died and resurrected, either
having been to hell or heaven, by which they acquire a new mode
of being enabling them to have relations with the supernatural.
Sickness is considered a loss of the soul, and it is the
duty of the shaman to find and return it to its body, thereby
curing the sickness.
Shamanism is quite ancient, and might be considered an
elevation of animism. Some shamans are said to have power over
the weather and the abundance of game.
Examples exist in Siberia, the Urals, the Americas
including the Eskimos; Polynesia, Asia, and Australia.
However, shamanism is not important in Africa.
Hinduism has a pantheon of gods, with Brahma being the
chief. Brahma is the creator God, the ultimate source of all
being, i.e. it is said that everything is part of his dream. Life
is a cycle of reincarnations, the highest level being becoming a
Brahmin. If a Brahmin faithfully practices the dharma, the
compilation of Hindu customs and laws, his soul will become
reunited with Brahma, and the cycle of reincarnation is ended.
Hinduism has many ancient sacred books, the Veda being the
oldest, and the foundation for the others.
There is a tradition of some Hindus to devote their lives to
mystical contemplation and aesthetic practices.
The Japanese, like the Hebrews, feel that they were singled
out by the divine; in their belief that the Japanese islands were
especially created for themselves by the gods, that the Emperor
is a descendant of the sun-goddess. They have a pantheon of
dieties associated with natural forces, and show deep reverance
to the spirits of their ancestors, especially imperial and
Modern Japanese have virtually rejected all religion.
Confucianism is more a way of life following the ethical and
moral teachings of its founder Confucius, than a religion which
has any kind of reference to a “god.” It embodies many noble
principles, including the Golden Rule, to “do unto others as you
would have others do unto you.”
Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism founded by Gautama
Buddha, the Enlightened One, who distinctly taught that he him-
self was not a god. He taught his followers that the human
condition of carnal desires, etc. is not hopeless, and that by
exercise of one’s mental powers and practice of moral self-
purification one can become liberated into “nirvana,” a state of
the extinction of desires and a loss of individual consciousness,
a final “beautitude” of bliss akin to heaven. Until achieving
this goal, one’s karma determines one’s next reincarnation.
It should be noted that, except for the monotheistic
religions, religions are concentrated in definate geographic
areas–Hinduism in India, Shintoism in Japan, Confucianism in
China, Buddhism in southeast Asia.
Furthermore, in all religions, children tend to follow the
religion into which they were born, and statistically there are
very few conversions to a different religion.
As a footnote, the ancient religions of Egypt, Assyria,
Greece, and Rome had pantheons of gods with human characteristics
of behavior quite like the pantheon of the Hindus, but these
others have disappeared and are no longer being practiced.