Humans have been worshiping gods for tens of thousands of years. Most indications are that early humans first attributed spirits to the many active forces they witnessed around them. Interestingly, this earliest worship is more supported by modern Biology, and the sciences that examine regulatory and intertwined, inter-dependent systems of life on earth, then the intermediate religions based on One True God, or monotheism. Although early dates are disputed, after 300,000 years ago, most archaeologists and Paleo-Anthropologists, agree that early people were spiritual for at least the last 100,000 years.
Middle and upper Paleolithic religions were the first peoples to bury, honor, and be concerned about their dead. Neanderthals are considered the first hominids to exhibit such behaviors. Later animism, in artwork and reconstructed eating and burial rites, exhibits early human’s interest in bears, bees, and later still, bulls. The first anthropomorphic, (human shapes) “god” relics are the goddess figurines symbolic of fertility from about 33,000 years ago of the more recent Paleolithic.
Monotheism has been around for about six thousand years, the same age as the biblical earth. It is widely believed to have begun in Egypt where Ra, the Sun god, was first worshiped as “above” the others. Zeus, Yahweh, Jehovah, God, and Allah, are just some examples of later names for a monotheistic god that followed this trend. Religion shapes civilization in many ways. Laws are based on Holy writ and commandment, and the hierarchy of later monotheistic faiths resulted in people being more intolerant to rival “truth” since with many gods there is much more flexibility, but with only One True God, there is political strife in order to impose order onto citizens.
In the most recent thousands of years, due to written records, it has been much easier to track the influence on humankind that religion has brought. The major Monotheisms of the world are 1. Hebrew, the Jews, 2. Christian, with Jesus Christ recognized as the son of God, and savior to the world, and 3. Islam, Muslims, who also regard Jesus as a prophet, but only Allah as the one true God. Needless to say, these three monotheisms have led to crusades, witch burning, holy wars, Jihad, The Spanish inquisition, colonialism, the holocaust, and most recently, terrorism spread with religious intolerance as justification.
Of course no reasoning person believes that their God sanctions any of these savageries. But then, most followers with blind faith are not claiming to be reasonable, just “chosen.”
Religion also led to some of the greatest art and science of the renaissance. Michelangelo sculpted David, and painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo Da Vinci painted the last supper, as well as inventing fabulous technologies. Still others created many thousands of world treasures inspired by religion that display our devout interest in the humanities.
Religion is dynamic. It changes constantly, day to day. Traditions have always, and will forever be questioned. When Henry the eighth wanted a divorce, he did not expect to be remembered as a serial killer, he founded the Anglican Church. The Church of England has had profound influence over colonialism, and within just decades, Henry’s daughter Elizabeth the first felt compelled to murder her own Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth the first is honored today as a historically benevolent monarch, but her time and her history and ongoing wars within all of Europe, and so much more, being largely driven by religion.
Since the invention, or discovery, of monotheism, there have been splinter groups.
It may be argued that Christianity split off from Jewish sects, (Jesus Christ was of course a Jew) then the reformation challenged the might and right of Catholicism, and so on. From the beginning of Bronze Age people wandering in the desert, we have ended up with resource wars and Holy Land disputes for thousands of years.
The Spanish are infamous for their drive to expel the “moors”, and for their zeal to use torture and murder, but also much of Spanish architecture, and new world influence is derived from the Islamic world. When arriving upon the shores of the Americas, Europeans brought not only new fangled weapons of terror, but also the Holy Bible. Now, more than three quarters of the Latin American world is Catholic. This is extremely influential in such realms as birth control, and women’s rights, priests being allowed to be homosexual, or marry, all of these issues and many more are profoundly impacted by the Catholic religion alone, as well as every other major world faith.
We all are fascinated by ideas about prophecy and codes such as revealed in movies like the DaVinci code. Our fascination and spellbound interest in religion also spills directly into our political and “family Values” conflicts.
It would not be right to leave out the entire continents of Asia and the influence of Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoism, but most of the competing religions today are inter-twined, and assimilated within these. Major world events continue to be dominated by the three primary monotheism's of earth, at least until we destroy ourselves through them!
It will be fascinating to follow where we are led next with the Religions of the world. Albert Einstein, a remarkable Jew who fled the Holocaust and changed life on earth, (As did Newton, a Protestant, and Darwin, too) is said to have remarked that Buddhism is the only rational and intellectual religion that might save the world. We'll find out if we don't intolerantly destroy the planet with nuclear, and/ or environmental disaster, and our continuing religious convictions.