Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review: THE GROWTH OF RELIGION




'THE GROWTH OF RELIGION - A STUDY OF ITS ORIGIN & DEVELOPMENT' by JOSEPH MCCABE traces the history of religion from its roots to the present, offering a likely path for its future travel.

The book begins with an overview of the evolution of religion since the days of cavemen. Tracing the ideas about the institution of religions, the author mentions that all religions are from tribal origin evolved over time. But people have a different idea, they generally hold that this happened to 'all religions other than one's own'. The author then examines many ancient settlements like the ‘Veddahs’ of Ceylon to search for the roots of religion, and reach a conclusion - religion is not a natural entity. To support this, extensive studies are shown in the book, referring to many ancient human settlements like the Tasmanians, Pygmies, Bushmen, etc. None of these populations have any practice that can be construed definitely as religious, the book says. The author specially notes that other writers have been selectively attributing few of their customs to religious notions, thus giving a false impression that attraction to religion is natural to humans. 
In the subsequent chapters, the author examines how illfitting is the generally held view, 'fear made gods'. Taking example from Australian tribes, where a senior member of the tribe may 'approve' one’s conduct, the author points out that there is no occasion of disapproving one's conduct, effectively discounting the role of fear in the conduct of that society. The author then presents his main argument that religion began chiefly from man's duality, the idea for which, he must have found in his own shadow.

The main thrust of the author's argument is that religious feeling is an unnatural addition to mankind. In the primitive societies that he has seen, nowhere could the inhabitant be found with one's attention on any powers other than what could be seen as an element of nature, successfully discounting 'fear of gods' argument. Then, why did religion flourish? The book gives an answer, “ Religion” ‘is a fairy tale of humanity's youth." Author goes further, “During two hundred thousand years or so of barbarism, it was intelligible. It was lucky to survive ten thousand years of civilization; but, of course, it was by that time embodied in wealthy and powerful institutions, and they fought for their lives. It might have died in the nineteenth or twentieth century, when it was exposed, but for the large scale intimidation by its vast armies of priests, who kept on bullying, coaxing, persuading or bribing."

I can' agree in full. Though religion came as an imposed institution, the need that was met, happen to be an essential part of our life, as explained in my book 'The Unsure Male'. Those priests who relentlessly imposed the religion, as well as the common populace who blindly and obediently followed them, were doing so for exactly the same reasons.    


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