Beliefs, and their accompanying religious practices, have influenced the thoughts, decisions and behaviours of humans for thousands of years. Stonehenge, rock sculptures, pyramids, temples, stone altars, tombs, churches, cathedrals—all attest to religion’s long history, but also demonstrate that our beliefs can and do change over time.
Religious beliefs and practices have influenced the development of all civilizations, all societies and all cultures; to varying degrees, they wend their way through and affect everyone’s thoughts and deeds Yet, clearly, our religious mind-sets must have had a beginning, and there would have been a time when thoughts of a god did not exist. Presumably there would also have been a time when no one knew “right” from “wrong.” This chapter discusses why and how early humans added such concepts to their thoughts and vocabulary. The central question being implicitly examined is, “are all of our many religions, beliefs and values, divine in origin—or could some, many, or even all, be man-made?”
- Read Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934), for many insightful descriptions of how religions have influenced cultures, and how cultures have influenced people’s thoughts.