AIBU to blame LINGUISTICS for the fact that we have so many different religions?(16 Posts)
Bear with me.
I am just wondering, if in reality there is just ONE concept which over the years have developed in different directions purely due to cultural ways of seeing things, and the development of language.
That's certainly a theory of religion that has been around since, oh, the eighteenth century.
Well enlighten me, because I have never read about it, and I just thought about this today!
Religious belief, like pretty much everything else, is subject to evolution. So it is perfectly conceivable that, as we all originate from sub-Saharan Africa, that the 'seed' for all religions can be traced back there (or even to our pre-homo-erectous ancestors). Linguistics may well be involved but certainly wouldn't be the only factor.
There was a study done involving pigeons. Each pigeon had a machine in its cage which randomly dispensed food. The pigeons, however, trying to make sense of the world, clearly believed that something they were doing was triggering the food dispenser. As a result they tried to replicate the action which gave them food. Over time, their attempts resulted in bizarre 'dances' as the pigeons gradually evolved their dancing in an attempt to find the action which triggered the food. Each pigeon developed a different dance.
This is a perfect micro example of religious beginnings. Replace the pigeons with tribes and the random food with the rising and falling off the sun each day and you get the idea. We are merely now hundreds of thousands of years down the line of religious evolution.
The pigeon thing is a skinner box.
At the end of the 'trick or treat' series he put a group of people in a giant skinner box. I can find links to it, but it is blocked by C4.
I liked the theory that the different gods are determined by environment...
For example, tribes from harsh, sparse desert environments tend to have one harsh monotheistic god; tribes from lush rainforest environments tend to have a plethora of different gods in charge of different things.
Historians, philosophers and anthropologists have been exploring the idea that the various forms of religious beliefs are culturally determined version of an original idea or revelation since the eighteenth century. The philosopher Vico, with his idea of historical stages common to each society, with religious development as in integral part of each stage, was followed by the German critic Herder, who argued that each society's culture is determined by its history and environment.
There were many nineteenth century thinkers who developed this idea. Max Muller, for example, thought that all religious ideas were formed out of language change from an original, solar mythology. EB Tylor thought that 'primitive' cultures could be seen as an image of the early development of European society. James Frazier saw myth as a universal grammar of symbols and ideas, common to all cultures but shaped by language and history.
One of the sad things about the dominance of populisers of evolution in current debates about religion is that they are so woefully ignorant of the history of ideas. We are expected to reel with shock as ideas which were new two centuries ago are flourished as if they were the latest thing.
As I understand the the new bits in the idea of ideas evolving, as in "memes" is that it takes us away from looking at historic pathways of change as if the unit of selection were the organism or the group.
so yes lineages of people can be traced back from everywhere to our common ancestors in Africa, but just as genes have been combined and shaped by natural selection along the way, so have ideas; combining and recombining and mutating and being transferred and shared. We might conceivably be able to work out who first thought of the idea of "god", "chair" or "book" and trace the way the idea evolved over time, but we shouldn't think of this as a bastardisation of the Ur-idea.
The other new bit is the insight that the most sucessful memes that get passed on and spread through "survival of the fittest" are not necessarily the best ones, the most true or the most beneficial to their human hosts, but simply the ones that were best at being passed on in the particular environment they found themselves in.
I recommend "On The Origin Of Teepees" - its not about religion at all, but its an excellent book about evolutionary thinking about ideas.
Do we really have many different religions, though? Most of them look kind of identical to me - one God, be good & do what he says or you go to Hell etc.
But that's just the Big Three, the Abrahamic religions. And of those, Judaism is fairly non-commital on afterlife/hell IIRC.
Then there's Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, animism, and probably a load more I don't know about, which have very different set-ups and account for huge swathes of the world's population.
Oh, and agree with Himalaya about memes etc. I remember reading a fascinating chapter in a book (Jared Diamond maybe?) about how we can trace back language families through 'mutations' etc. I presume there are people who do the same for religions, but I'm far from an expert in this field
And Judaism and animism (for example) are so different, that they most have originated independently. Don't you think?
Of course, there are religions & cultures that have originated & evolved independently.
I was referring to the religions that OP is referring to, with "ONE concept".
I disagree with OP that language has much to do with these differences, though.
Oh, I thought she was referring to a single "Ur-idea" (I like that, Himalaya ) , Tower Of Babylon-style.
"For example, tribes from harsh, sparse desert environments tend to have one harsh monotheistic god; tribes from lush rainforest environments tend to have a plethora of different gods in charge of different things."
That would be interesting, if it were true. I have a counterexample, though: Ancient Egypt, hardly a lush rainforest environment, had a multitude of different gods in charge of different things.
May I just urge everyone interested in history of civilisations, memes, languages, and Tower of Babel to read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. You will be amazed.
Do you know what, I can't recall whether that theory is nicked from Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, or Richard Dawkins.
It's safe to say there are a lot of
half baked random thoughts bouncing round in my head. Will go and look up snow crash and... the teepees one and add some more to the mix.
Boulevard - Trust me and read Snow Crash. It is a very unusual book that brings together sci-fi, Sumerian mythology, Tower of Babel, languages, memes, computing, etc. TIME magazine names it in its list of "100 Best English Language Books Of All Time".
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