Mankind's Theologies: A Look at the Origins and Practices

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What is Religion?

I went to high school in Brighton, New York. We are known for being very diverse. In addition to having many different ethnicities in the school, there are also many different types of religions. Of the population that practices religion, Catholicism is the most practiced with Judaism falling close behind. Unlike other school districts in our area, Brighton gets days off for both Catholic and Jewish holidays. Ranging from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Hanukkah and Passover, our school would not be in session giving Jewish followers the day to practice their religion. While I am not Jewish, I had been in Brighton schooling my whole life and became familiar with the practices of these people. Religion, known as a system of ideas and rules for behavior based on supernatural explanations, has been around for a very long time, but scientists are not completely sure about its origin.

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Through archeological records, the earliest sign of religion scientists has found is 100,000 years ago in Blombos Cave in South Africa. They discovered two piece of ochre rock that were etched with crosshatch patters. These marks are believed to have some symbolic meaning to them, which can be evidence for the presence of religion. Another sign for religion is about 10,000 years later at a site called Qafzeh in Israel; numerous skeletons were found purposely buried, some holding certain objects. The “birth” of God’s is seen to have happened 30,000 to 35,000 years ago in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic explosion. Paintings of half-animal, half-human figures and sculptures were discovered in many caves. These finding were enough evidence for scientists to think that the humans alive during this period believed in some sort of supernatural being. However, because written records were not available during these times, it is not definitely possible that these practices are linked with religion. The first written record of religion is from 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These societies were able to write down the names of their worshipped Gods and create religious hierarchies. Since religion has been discovered, it is clear to us that religion is universal; all societies have some type of religious practice.

A question that humans have been seeking the answer to for thousands of years is, where did life come from? In the past when scientific information was not as advanced as it is today, humans had to answer this question in other ways. The Big Bang Theory, that states that life spontaneously started from a bang in space, was only recently thought up by scientists, so early human peoples could not explain life with this. Other questions such as, what is the meaning of life? and what happens when we die? also correlate with these ideas. Religion helps answer these questions for people. In other words, religion provides societies with psychological help. Death is a very difficult thing for any human to deal with, especially if you have lost someone very close to you. It can even be scary to think about death. I remember when I was younger, I would sit in my bed at night and wonder what happened when you died. My parents brought me up to be Catholic, but I decided on my own I did not want to follow through with being religious. Thinking about death was scary; I had been taught that through either good or bad actions I would end up in Heaven or Hell. Although, I believe these ideas were just created to give humans security that there is something to look forward to when they die. In a way, religion relieves fears and anxieties of the world. Instead of having to worry about what happens when life is over, many believe they will end up in a place like Heaven. In addition to religion helping induvial people, studies have shown that it also improves social aspects in societies. Religion promotes cooperation between communities and strangers, leading to encouraged helpful behavior. Because of this, the whole group is benefited through better survival and reproductive actions. The cooperation between members signals that there is commitment present to the group, eventually increasing fitness. The groups that form have a common set of morals, purpose and/or values that are practiced. These “rules” are watched over by the supernatural being that the followers believe is a part of their religion. Due to these people believing they’re being watched, it makes helpful behaviors visible more often.

Now that we know why religion was created, what are some of its practices? There are 4,200 different religions in the world, some of the main being Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Each consist of different morals, rituals, and beliefs. Rituals are repetitive sets of behaviors that occur in essentially the same patterns in every occurrence; religious groups practice these to strengthen their faith. There are numerous types of rituals that people use to do so. A rite of passage is a ritual that serves to mark the movement and transformation of an individual form one social position to another. For example, while I grew up in Brighton, I attended many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, which are a rite of passage in Judaism. Once children go through this ritual, they are entering adulthood. Other practices that religious groups do are ways to interact with the supernatural beings: prayer, physiological experiences, simulation, feasts and sacrifices. The many types of religions in the world practice these in different ways.

Religion has been and continues to be universal. Humans have different beliefs about how and why we are alive on planet Earth, and what supernatural forces or beings affect our lives. Whether people believe in nonhuman beings such as gods and spirits, or in human beings such as ghosts and ancestors, these symbolize some type of greater force than influence us. Some people in the world are very religious, where they make every life decision based off of their religious rules or morals, while there are some people who are not religious at all. Everyone has their own way of explaining events in life, and some choose to do so with the help of supernatural forces through religion.

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