From Various Thoughts on Philosophy and Religion
We can’t say for sure that early religious beliefs were not accepting of dissenting views and new ideas. In fact there is clear evidence that various religious ideas have melded into one another and then became a very much new idea that was generally accepted by those people. Whether they were persuaded somehow to accept these new beliefs is up for debate, but I’m sure that they would have been influenced by those that were in power and leading their people. We can use things from earlier in this thread as an example; Such as the Romanization of the ancient Greek Gods, to the acceptance of many Pagan traditions even now in our modern Christianity. I do agree in saying that these things were done to somewhat pacify the people, to make them happy and give them what they want, thus causing less problems for the people in charge. So knowing these things, I do not think that we can say that all or even a majority of humankinds past religious thought was as closed minded as people like to think, and some of that is certainly warranted, there has been much bloodshed for religious beliefs alone and that is the only side that many people like to look at the discussion from.
I also agree that it is very much a possibility that the very first religious beliefs came about through the fear of the people of their surroundings. But even if that were the case, we would not be able to say that they were also not trying to understand what was going in those surroundings at the very same time. There’s no way that we can say that fear was the sole or even the main reason for the first religious beliefs to come about.
Of course you make a good point in saying that philosophical thought is a better tool for us to use in deducing the truth of our surroundings than ancient religious beliefs and religious thought in general. But I would say that it is generally safe for us to assume that these ancient religious beliefs far predate any philosophical thought. I find it hard to imagine that ancient people with their scavenger-hunter-gatherer ways had much of a chance to sit around and have discussions using a philosophical thought process, rather they would, quite possibly out of fear, discuss ways to make their very difficult life easier. Why this turned into worshiping river, forest and sun Gods, or what have you, I do not know for sure. But it does seem fairly obvious to me that these people were making use of what they had, much like any other animal they just wanted to lead their life and have as few hardships as possible.
You mention Socrates and make another very good point. At some point in time there will be no need for religion, when there is nothing left that we as humans do not know, then I see no reason for religion to exist outside of it’s cultural value. It’s stories and superstitions would no longer have a reason to be taken seriously (not that I believe they do now). But until that point in time comes that science can prove to all of humankind that religious beliefs are no longer necessary, then I feel that we as tolerant human beings must accept religion and make sure that it is only used for good in the world, rather than any past evils that it may have been the cause of.
I also believe that the very heart of religious thought is to know the unknown. I honestly do not believe that these general ideas came about as a means for the then leaders to control their populations. It isn’t clear exactly, but I believe that it is an easily arguable point that religious thought is nearly as ancient as humans themselves. I can envision a group of people, a family, living somewhere in the wilderness of Africa gathering food, scavenging the kills of other animals, and even hunting for their own kills. These people communicate their family’s/tribe’s past beliefs and superstitions to their newest generations, teaching them what they know of the ways of their surroundings. That is how I see religious thoughts arising in humans, not with agriculture and the leaders of civilizations but with a small group or family of people, passing down what they think that they know about the land, the assumptions that they have made and the beliefs that they now have, to their children. They were simply trying to explain things that they could not even begin to understand.
That is why I think that religious thought should be respected. I detest the thought that religion is all bad, and was something simply invented by the leaders of humankind to take advantage and hurt the average person. That is just such a ridiculous thing to believe, at least when it comes to truly ancient religious thought. These were people that didn’t have the luxury to sit around as Socrates did and have in depth discussions on such things. No, these were people that were simply trying to survive in the harshest of environments. And as such, we can not blame them for their beliefs that may seem silly to us now.
Continuing on: Those beliefs demand to be respected by all intelligent beings. Because at the very heart of such beliefs we must see the absolute brilliance of their thought process, the want and yearning to know what they do not know, to understand what they do not and can not understand. That is a beautiful thought process to have, and one that is most certainly not an innate human ability, as we can clearly see by the misuse of our brains in both modern and ancient times. It is the thought process of a brilliant person, or a brilliant group of people. The first group of people that decided that there was something to the rain falling down on them, there was something to- as you said, those orange and grey spheres in the sky that we can and then suddenly cannot see. These unknown people made the first and most brilliant observations in our history as human beings. An absolute breakthrough and something that should be respected and taught to every person throughout the world, no matter what they believe.
It’s not even about beliefs. It was an abhorrent task for humans to take to cloud and tear apart these first brilliant observations from seam to seam. I completely disagree with how religion has been misused throughout our history. This is the very sad reason that a great many intelligent people will not even make the attempt to understand what is at the true heart of religious thought. It isn’t Jesus Christ or the Pope, it isn’t Muhammad, and it isn’t the Torah. It’s a group of people, perhaps many groups of people, making the most noble of attempts to understand what was going on in the world around them. That is what should be respected and looked at when people discuss religion, yet it’s never even brought up.
That isn’t to say that I am either for or against modern mainstream religions though. I fully understand that they have done many good and bad deeds both past and present. For these reasons I understand why some people dislike one or the other, or even all of them. But I would argue that most of our popular religions have done more good for humans than they have done bad. And I believe that most religions should be respected for their intense amounts of cultural value. Many great things have come about through the means of modern religious beliefs.
One story, that I’ve just tried to google but wasn’t able to find anything. But I was told (or read) once that Michelangelo said something along the lines of “God put the image of David in the marble” – and all he did was bring it out and make it visible for all of us to see. That’s as close as I can recall to what was said, and of course I have no proof of that, but it seems like a reasonable thing for Michelangelo to say. As it goes along with the fact that a belief in God has been an inspiration for some of the greatest works, both artistic and not, of all time.