Re: The religion meme

From: Dace (
Date: Sun 17 Nov 2002 - 18:44:58 GMT

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    > From: Vincent Campbell <>

    Hi, Vince

    My phone line has been dead for the last week, so I just got your note yesterday. Ehrenreich does not deal with the habit of placing gods in the environment. My sense is that this issue is not really central to the development of religion but is simply an accident of language. According to Stephen Mithen (among others) human language got its start strictly in the context of social interaction. Our ancestors talked about themselves and each other and didn't have much interest at first in the natural environment or tool-making skills. This is why subjects of sentences are endowed with motive. Originally the subject of every sentence was a person. Once language was applied to nature and technology, inanimate objects became subjects of sentences, giving us the impression that mountains, rivers, the sky, etc., are somehow human and even divine.

    When Ehrenreich says gods are animals, she's not referring to our anthropomorphic habit. She's arguing that religion stems from the trauma of being attacked by predator beasts. Sudden environmental change can certainly be challenging and painful, but it's not quite as traumatic as the terror inspired by the roar of the lion.


    > Hi,
    > Thanks for this Ted, it does sound somewhat plausible. Just one question-
    > lot of early religions also place their gods in the environment, sun,
    > stars, mountains, rivers etc. does this fit with the idea you've
    > I would think it should, environmental change beyond the control of early
    > humans might easily lead to features of the environment which might be
    > significant when change occured (the Nacza and their famous lines, for
    > example, not runways for spaceships but ritual pathways relating to the
    > mountainous landscape that provided the arid plain with water).
    > Vincent
    > > ----------
    > > > I remember one
    > > > chaplain telling me, "I only believe in two books -- the bible and the
    > > > manual for Courts Martial." But again, my point is that the military
    > > > were all familiar with the words of Christ. Their actions were just
    > > > actions of killers, conquerors and opressors. They were in the
    business of
    > > > empire building. Their actions were anti-Christian.
    > >
    > > I know of only one theory that can explain this, and it was put forth by
    > > Barbara Ehrenreich in 1997 in her book, *Blood Rites: Origins and
    > > of the Passions of War.*
    > >
    > > Ehrenreich's thesis is that religion began as a response to our status
    as a
    > > prey species. From time immemorial we were preyed upon by lions,
    > > leopards, cheetahs, bears, wolves, etc. The original "gods" were
    > > beasts. All the prehistoric religions, judging by the artifacts they
    > > behind, equated gods with predator beasts. We gained our meat from
    > > scavenging the kills of the same animals that also preyed upon us. This
    > > the origin of the notion that God gives and God takes away. Eventually
    > > transformed from "man the hunted" to "man the hunter." But the trauma
    > > behind from eons of being preyed upon remained with us. Religion began
    > > as a way of placating the "gods" in the same way that a lion was
    > > when it entered a human encampment. Just feed it the flesh of a
    > > child, and it will go away. Religion originally meant nothing more than
    > > human sacrifice, as a means of pleasing the "gods" in times of crisis.
    > > Gradually, as the trauma wore off, humans were replaced by animals or a
    > > symbolic part of the body, such as the foreskin. But another strand of
    > > human sacrifice lives on in the form of war. Approximately 12,000 years
    > > ago, when the trauma was still fresh, war provided an alternative means
    > > sacrificing humans. This explains why, from the beginning, war has been
    > > essentially a religious enterprise. We are sacrificing our youth in
    > > to please a "bloodthirsty" God. Christianity is the failed attempt to
    > > replace actual sacrifice with the symbolic sacrifice of Christ, to
    > > reenvision God as a "lamb." However, the meme represented by old-style
    > > religion is too deeply ingrained, and the Christian meme has remained
    > > dormant. Even those who consciously proclaim themselves Christian are
    > > unconsciously devoted to the ingrained meme of ritual sacrifice.
    > >
    > > Of course, it's impossible to convincingly impart Ehrenreich's ingenious
    > > argument in a few sentences.
    > >
    > > Ted
    > >

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