The Origins of Human Religion - Part I
Who were the first true human beings?

This topic is not exactly what I had in mind writing on this morning, but I tend to be impulsive and someone sent me an email with the following inquiry:

I was wondering:

(1) What are your thoughts on the origin of the Christian Church?

(2) Did it originate with the authors of the New Testament?
(3) Did it originate with the apostles?
(4) Did it originate with those who saw Jesus after his resurrection?
(5) Did it originate with Jesus' disciples at the time of his death/disappearance?

(6) Are there any other possibilities?

Thanks for the questions Matt. My short answers would be: No to questions 2 through 5; Yes to the last inquiry, for there is not one single origin of the Christian church, or rather Christian churches--since there is not one such church but many--and each one has multiple origins in human culture and history. 

To the first question I will have to devote at least three journal entries, for it is a somewhat complicated. Not that three journal entries would suffice to do justice to the matter, but it may give you some idea in any event of my thoughts on the origins of the Christian Churches.

However,  rather than restrict myself to the origins of the numerous Christian Churches, I thought it might be more interesting and relevant to ponder a bit on the origin of religion as such, i.e without any qualifiers like Christian, or Jewish Muslim, Hindu, or whatever: such qualifiers will come in afterwards. First we need to consider the idea of religion per se,  on its own merits--that would be the logical thing to do in any event.

In my own considerations I always start off with the idea that we can't rely on anything for sure except what is self evident--and even then we have to be very careful that we are not fooling ourselves, like Cartesius did for instance, when he postulated that famous dictum: cogito ergo sum, and saw it as proof of his own individual existence

You see, the very word cogito already is a trap, in the sense that this Latin word form incorporates within it the first person singular, i.e the ego, the I, het Ik, or das Ich.  

Cogitare simply means to think, but cogito already means 'I think', and from that it would follow that if I think--then of course I must exist. The logic is flawless, but only if you start from the assumption that the thinking is an activity of the egoic self, of the first person singular: the 'I'--het Ik, das Ich, or the Ego. 

That begs the question: what is thinking? What does seem self-evident to me is that thinking at some level is an activity of awareness, gewaarzijn, or consciousness, bewustzijn.  

Someone who is not conscious or aware may have all sorts of activities going on in the brain that produce dreams or images or experiences, but thinking appears to be something one can only do when one is more or less conscious--when one's neurons are doing their thing with knowledge or con scientia--met wetenschap, or 'medewetend'--and not just in a bio-mechanical robotic manner.

Next question would be: is thinking a characteristically human activity? An activity of human awareness, human consciousness? And what do we mean in that case with 'human'? Are Neanderthals included? What about earlier, more primitive humanoid species? What about our nearest non humanoid relatives, the great apes? Or entirely different species that also have large brain capacities, like elephants or dolphins or even those mysterious non vertebrate creatures of the deep, the octopodes? And what about intelligent birds like crows or parrots? Here's an intersting link:  Crows as Clever as Great Apes, Study Says  

Large Brains The study notes that crows are also social and have unusually large brains for their size. "It is relatively the same size as the chimpanzee brain," the authors said.

They say that crows and apes both think about their social and physical surroundings in complex ways, using tool use as an example.

Like apes, many birds employ tools to gather food, but it isn't clear whether chimps or crows appreciate how these tools work. It may be that they simply discover their usefulness by accident. However, studies of New Caledonian crows, from the South Pacific, suggest otherwise.

And here are two more links you may want to click on: 

Octopus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Scientific Evidence that Birds are Aware, Intelligent,....

Faced with so much terrestrial competition, we should perhaps  leave out for the time being the possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligent life forms, which we may well have to take into account sooner rather than later, as our exploration of the universe continues apace.

But check out the following link:  Sentient Developments: The Drake Equation is obsolete --for despite its possible obsolescence, the equation is still an interesting concept:

The Drake equation states that:

where N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which we might hope to be able to communicate and:

R* is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Another interesting concept you might check out is that of the Water Hole - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia from which I lift the following text:

In SETI, the Water Hole is the band of radio frequencies between 1420 MHz and 1640 MHz. This is the band between the hydrogen line and the strongest hydroxyl spectral line, and is notable because it is a quiet region between two notable frequencies; it is theorized that this would be a good band for communications to or from extraterrestrial intelligences.

From another interesting link, Is Anyone Out There?  I will include this observation: 

Regardless of origin or content, if a decipherable message is ever received from a civilization on another planet, the realization that we are suddenly the "primitives' will have enormous consequences for our global society.

This means we are close to an abyss of understanding which will require great things of our theologians and spiritual leaders, far more than of any previous generations of such leaders--for we may encounter things that have until recently never been seriously contemplated as possible, such as distant planets with extra-terrestrial life forms; some possibly with alien intelligence far older and more highly developed than our own; genetically engineered brand new life forms, even alternate human life forms adjusted to entirely different planetary conditions we may have to meet in the future--and even the possibility of greatly extended human life times or even eternal life made possible by human science....We are indeed on the verge of a brave new world in a far greater sense than ever contemplated before. And it is not like we have much of a choice in the matter--we are on a course that we simply can no longer turn away from. The sheer momentum of our fast paced technological and scientific developments has more power than we have as a human species to stop these developments--even if we all wanted to stop them. And that's simply not the case. There will always be those who would continue the adventurous trek we are on--where no one has gone before....not even captain Kirk.

In mulling or pondering things over, in overpeinzingen, reflections, one does not always need to provide specific answers to specific questions--what is important is to consider whatever questions may  arise and let them carry you forward into the gentler waves of general awareness, without getting stuck on the shoals of specific concepts.

The famous Zen questions that students were given to ponder (such as: 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?') never were supposed to have specific answers--the idea was in fact that there was no answer and that at some point the relentless and single-minded pondering of the question would break the hold that simple logic has on the mind, releasing it from the conceptual straight jacket and releasing the individual into the whole flow of oceanic energy--of which it had been an integral part all along. 

Perhaps we should consider whether thinking and religion are at all related. Certainly doctrines are connected to thinking--one cannot imagine doctrines without thought. But is religion imaginable without thought? Spirituality certainly is. How about religion? Can there be religion without dogma?

Let me go out in a limb here and propose that it is a little like law and justice--law requires thinking and specific rules. Justice is far more abstract or even nebulous than that--but laws are supposed to be based on justice--lest they be unjust laws, and we have many examples of that throughout human history. There are lots of political systems that have been based on legal forms of injustice: institutionalized slavery in the South, for one--or institutionalized homophobia for a more contemporary example. Legal, but unjust.

Perhaps a similar relationship exists between law and justice as there might be between religion and spirituality?  Religions that are not based on spirituality are are non-spiritual religions--i.e. they are materialistic religions--or to put it yet more succinctly: they constitute forms of religious materialism.

The first written laws we know of were those encoded by Hammurabi.

The first written religions we know of were those encoded by...who? I am not sure anyone knows, really.

But there must have been laws before Hammurabi had them written down--and there must have been religions before anyone had them written down. One can only write down what already existed in the form of thought, i.e. in some kind of verbally expressed form of awareness, or consciousness.

Verba, words, woorden, are based on distinct concepts. The word concept derives from the Latin expressions con (together with, samen met) and captus (captured, taken, genomen. A concept could be called een samenraapsel in Dutch, something you grabbed or lumped together, like a lump of clay. When you conceptualize, you grab certain ideas, aspects or qualities and lump them together with others and give that new entity (that new 'singleness', die nieuwe 'eenheid')  a name.

That's in fact what the Old Testament said our first human prototype Adam had been doing. He named things, and by naming things he built conceptual bricks to be utilized in all kinds of structures made out of those conceptual bricks--and one of those structures may have been the beginnings of the first religion.

Adam was not the first human being. We don't know for sure whom we might designate as the first human being--what would be the appropriate criterium for such a decision? But we could certainly see Adam as the prototype of the first human being who set himself apart from his earlier human ancestors by naming the things he was able to conceptualize--for whatever practical purposes.

We should realize however, that 'Adam' was never meant to be described as an actual single historical individual--except perhaps to children whose literal minds are still incapable of metaphorical thinking--and that his activities did not amount to actual or specific historical events--Adam was a prototype for the first relatively complete human being as we understand him to be today: in other words, a human being with self awareness and a conceptualizing mind.

To read such a spiritual story as literal and historical would be the crassest form of religious materialism--and go against the flow of spiritual awareness, in which things and concepts do not have separate reality anymore than waves have a truly individual and separate reality from the whole flow of water in the ocean.

In other words, what Adam did, or rather, what our first human ancestors like Adam did is the following: you take a part of  he flowing awareness with which you are already familiar, like you might scoop up some flowing water, or perhaps some very muddy flowing water, or even a flow of wet cement and assign a name to whatever quantity of awarenes you just captured--after it has dried and hence lost its fluid qualities, like a clump of dried up clay or cement that has hardened into a particular shape. Metaphorically, that's what a concept is: a hardened clump of awareness.

Then you can use that specific concept, dat samenraapsel,  set apart from the whole flow of awareness together with other lumps of awareness  similarly extracted and use them like so many bricks you scooped up out of the muddy clay--after having given it just the right form or format to be useful for your purpose.

That was the signal achievement that enabled our ancestors (symbolized by Adam in the poetic language of  of Genesis  and in earlier or alternate versions of the story) to build human civilizations brick by conceptual brick, adding in not just science and art, but religion as well into the mix of their achievements. It is an endeavor which we have continued to build on to this day--and it is that momentum which is reaching an overwhelming crescendo even as we speak, or write, or do whatever other things human beings do to entertain themselves. 

Let me not disappoint you and give you a reference to an alternate source for your information:

About religion: why it started and how it evolved 

In this reference the following quote jumps out:

John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA has written:

"Religion is primarily a search for security and not a search for truth. Religion is what we so often use to bank the fires of our anxiety. That is why religion tends toward becoming excessive, neurotic, controlling and even evil. That is why a religious government is always a cruel government. People need to understand that questioning and doubting are healthy, human activities to be encouraged not to be feared. Certainly is a vice not a virtue. Insecurity is something to be grasped and treasured. A true and healthy religious system will encourage each of these activities. A sick and fearful religious system will seek to remove them."

To find yourself trying to stay afloat in the oceanic flow of energy is not always the easiest thing to do--but once you learn how to overcome your fear and learn how to swim there is joy in being like a fish in the ocean or like a bird in the heavens, for it gives you a great sense of belonging to that what surrounds you and  constitutes you, that in which you have your being--rather than maintaining a fearfully separate indentity which may so easily be lost forever.

And here is another interesting quote from the above website:

David C. James, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church & Diocesan Mission Center in Olympia, WA, wrote:

Many times when we think we are worshipping God, we are actually comforting our very fragile egos. I’m not so naïve as to assume that we build temples and erect altars to ourselves…directly. But our core need to be safe, secure and sound mandates that we construct reality systems that will support us.

I think that whatever caused the first proto-humans to expand their awareness--most likely by accidentally ingesting some psychoactive substances--created a tremendous need for additional ways of creating security, by dealing with this vastly expanded sense of reality in a manner that gave them a measure of control over the unknown.

For their ancestors--who had not yet found the need to ponder such inconvenient questions as: Who are we and what are we doing here? Where did we come from and where are we going? What is life and what is death?--there was simply no need to create religious stories that reconnected them to the surrounding ocean of energy--or to that undivided and inseparable divine reality of which everything and everyone is a manifestation. For that is what religion means--and what it is supposed to do for you: re-ligate , make a new ligature, a new league or bond--i.e. reconnect you to what you always already were a part of, but from which you somehow got sundered off, afgezonderd--in the awareness of your being : in je gewaarzijn--as we say more succinctly in Dutch, for the Dutch word for awareness already incorporates the idea of being: gewaarzijn literally means awarebeing--the two cannot be separated--they are like two sides of the same coin. I chose to translate consciousness as bewustzijn--but the same observation applies: unconscious is onbewust in Dutch. Bewust zijn therefore means being conscious, as well as consciousness, when written as a single word: bewustzijn.

Let me close with the observation that it was during my year long stay in Grand Rapids in 1995 that I came to the insight that the most basic ideas that were self evident to me, and that did neither require faith not scientific proof, are that 'there is awareness (or consciousness)' and that 'there is being'--and that there is a relationship between them.

That relationship, like I said, is that they are two sides of the same coin--or two aspects of the same divine reality. While to the conceptualizing mind there might appear to be a difference, that difference is dissolved once you ponder the question. Being and awareness cannot be separated. The apparent relationship dissolves into identity.  Since then I have come to the additional insight that what we mean by soul is in fact relationship--in all its interactive complexity, and at all levels, as well as in its highest simplicity: for the highest and simplest form of relationship is divine love, agape. Love is the greatest bond--superior and stronger than all other forms of relationship.

Agape is indeed the Maha Atman--Divine Love is that Great Soul that binds or holds us all together.

So who were the first human beings? Perhaps one might answer that by postulating that they were the first animals of our species who began to ponder questions like this.

What would be the origin of human religion? One might suppose that human religion was a human construct based on the spiritual experience that helped the earliest of our human ancestors to bridge the gap they had come to experience between being and awareness, possibly as a result of the accidental ingestation of psychoactive substances. What these substances were may have varied from place to place and from time to time--the very earliest Indian sources mention a mysterious substance that was 'the food of the gods', referred to as Soma --but the effect on human awareness and the insecurity it created initially may have led to a great human adventure: the adventure of human civilization.

We are still proceeding with as well as recovering from that great adventure.

Perhaps we are simply the instruments in a divine game of hide and seek. The outcome is of course a foregone conclusion, for the divine reality of which we are, always have been, and always will be an integral part--that divine reality of Being-Love-Aware, or Aware-Love-Being simply cannot loose--even though the pretense that it can is part of that mysterious divine game. So we might as well play along and enjoy it--just like when we were little kids and played Peekaboo! or Kiekeboe! 

The picture hereunder will provide a segue to the Second Part of  my subject exploration, so stay tuned.

Amanita muscaria portrayed as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in an old fresco at the Abbaye de Plaincourault, Mérigny, France

(Frescoe dating from 1291)