‘THE GROWTH OF RELIGION: A STUDY OF ITS ORIGIN DEVELOPMENT’ by JOSEPH MCCABE is a rather rational view of religion, and how, each of these historic religions, including Christianity, evolved from the nebula of primitive religion.
’The much favored theory that man begins with a vague awe of nature, passes to a belief that there is a great impersonal power pervading it, and ﬁnally shapes this power into personal spirits, does not seem to correspond to the facts’, the author specifies at the outset itself. Something religious like exists only in areas connected with actual entities: the dead man, living enemies, or wild animals. Even in these things, what is seen is personiﬁcation of a few real objects in nature rather than a belief in a general diffused force. But the author has found that the primitive people have been entertaining the belief that men survive death and continue to be useful or malevolent to their fellows, becoming perhaps, the foundations of religion.
But the author also gives us a subtle warning, ‘we are in fact trying to superimpose the language of the twentieth century on to the ideas of the man of a hundred thousand years ago and fit into those mental boxes or categories, the wonderful experience we have built in our minds’. For example, one needs to realize that we are applying such words as “religion and spirit,” or even “magic,” to the hazy images or feelings of one of these primitive creatures. One has to be at guard!
Observing that social life did not properly begin until the Cave Period, during the Glacial Epoch, the author expresses surprise that religion seems to have been largely developed before the Cave Period.
Exploring the remnants of tribal lifestyle in Africa, the book notes that only one or two African tribes put their chief spirit in the sun or moon. ‘Even in these cases the spirit is simply lodged there. Most of the African tribes put personal spirits in trees or waters, but it is only a few of the higher tribes who reach the idea of a general earth- spirit, a goddess of fecundity. The phallic spirit is equally late. Nor can we say that fear made the gods. Most Of the chief deities of the Africans are not feared. They are drowsy, lazy, good-natured, very big black fellows; prosperous and eupeptic chiefs. The gods or semi-gods of the Africans seem, on the whole, to be magniﬁed dead men.’
The book then examines the early religions of America, and Asia. On analyzing the path followed by ancient civilizations, the book observes that all of them should go through a period of skepticism, one of weariness, perplexity, sexual license and rigorous austerity, social disorder and social aspiration, civil war, melancholy, and confusion. It is a stage through which all civilizations pass, and that is the stage in which we are today.
The book ends with a long discourse on the future prospects of religion. Just as we discovered that reliance on supernatural help was injurious, just as magic and religion took center stage, will people realize that the resources of their own moral strength have been insufficiently exploited. The book ends with a note that such is the likely future.
The author, I think like all people who examined religion, god, or observances seems to think as natural for man to have such an elaborate structure with no metabolic contribution. Why should man desire for such a thing? What need is being met by this? I think these questions, if asked, would have taken the book to a different end. (I have tried to address this, see, http://hubpages.com/politics/evolutionofreligion)