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Thread: Hunter-Gatherers and the Origins of Religion

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    Deus Meumque Jus
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    What's also interesting is that it took thousands of years and the rise of science before any world cultures accepted materialism. Very few of us had the wherewithal to deny our religious perceptions without explicit evidence. If that tells us nothing else it's that 'intelligent' is a bit of an optimistic way to describe ourselves.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Indeed, the defining feature of humanity isn't our intelligence; It's our arrogance.

    I am unsurprised that most of those idiots still haven't worked that out.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    I am surprised that most of these idiots don't care.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fromderinside View Post
    I am surprised that most of these idiots don't care.
    Lord forgive them for they know not what they do. Or words to that effect. Anyway, humble arrogance or arrogant humility?

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    Animism is a belief in a spirit as part of an object. Today 'animism' is science. That which makes carbon carbon is the Atomic structure.

    Animism, spirits, was a way of explaining characteristics of an object. The spit of wolf or tiger, today explained by genetics and neuroscience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Animism, spirits, was a way of explaining characteristics of an object.
    Yes. "Object" is maybe a social construct that wouldn't quite translate into an animist worldview. But I agree with the general point. I think they had their way of explaining why nature's phenomena change, but somehow the same patterns keep repeating and relating in intelligent-seeming ways. Nature works together better than one would expect if it's mindless stuff. The "something" behind it all needed explaining but they hadn't made a materialist lens to use for the explanation. And not because they were idiots but because 1) they hadn't divided reality into qualitative aspects and quantitative aspects (and then eventually relegated the qualitative to "illusory" status) in order for their scientific methodology to "work" at describing and controlling the one remaining half of reality; and 2) they didn't have the same value-assessments about what's intelligent, and what's life, and other not-altogether-fortunate social constructs that moderns have. In sum, their values were different so their worldview was different and so their way of relating with other-than-human nature was different.

    It wasn't an ugly worldview, like some others. They saw "living" and "non-living" phenomena as communicative and therefore some of it qualifying for a degree of personhood. They didn't see humans as distinctive from the rest of nature.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Indeed, the defining feature of humanity isn't our intelligence; It's our arrogance.
    I take it you don't have cats.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    This is actually quite an old idea in the anthropology of religion; the idea that animism had been the original form of human religion was first floated by the same person who coined and popularized the term, notable Victorian-era anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor. Subsequent observation tended to bear him out, though; beyond the reach of the missionaries, foraging societies almost always practiced some form of animism, and while the material record is loathe to give one "smoking guns" on religious matters, it is also true that overt indications of theism and its trappings do not go back much further than 10,000 years even in the heartland of that philosophy.

    It's worth noting that animism can mean a lot of different things; it is not a unified religion, but rather a very general category of faith, akin theism or atheism. It is very common in the modern world for animist traditions and practices to survive into the present right alongside Christianity and Islam, as practitioners are apt to see "the spirits" as being a categorically different things from God and his angels, or contrarily, to see the Abrahamic Pantheon as merely the most powerful family among a wide family of supernatural beings. Tylor himself believed that animism was a somewhat rational conclusion devised by the ancients to explain common spectral phenomena such as ghost sightings or other seemingly mysterious gases and presences, such as people around the world often report seeing regardless of beliefs and background. Clearly, if you have a sighting of a loved one long after they have died, there must be some manner in which the dead return even if not in physical form.

    Animism may be strongly connected to shamanism, another very ancient spiritual practice. While the Tungus word shaman just means "rising up", a reference to a shaman's trances, the local word for a shaman in many languages often refers directly to the diplomatic side of their role, such as the Icelandic "Angaggok": "the master of spirits".

    I have a certain amount of sympathy for animism personally, and attempt to treat all things with a certain level of due respect, whether or not they are apparently living. I find that, whatever the ontological truth of the matter, treating the world with the respect due to persons results in living life a better way in any case, and being happier with the decisions I make. I have taken to calling up "my spirits" to help me through my daily tasks, and not much caring what form I should imagine them taking, as my true faith is less in any particular portrayal thereof, but rather a general and more profound faith in the idea that in this universe, help will always provided to those who need and have made themselves worthy of it. It has worked out so far.

  9. Top | #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Animism, spirits, was a way of explaining characteristics of an object.
    Yes. "Object" is maybe a social construct that wouldn't quite translate into an animist worldview. But I agree with the general point. I think they had their way of explaining why nature's phenomena change, but somehow the same patterns keep repeating and relating in intelligent-seeming ways. Nature works together better than one would expect if it's mindless stuff. The "something" behind it all needed explaining but they hadn't made a materialist lens to use for the explanation. And not because they were idiots but because 1) they hadn't divided reality into qualitative aspects and quantitative aspects (and then eventually relegated the qualitative to "illusory" status) in order for their scientific methodology to "work" at describing and controlling the one remaining half of reality; and 2) they didn't have the same value-assessments about what's intelligent, and what's life, and other not-altogether-fortunate social constructs that moderns have. In sum, their values were different so their worldview was different and so their way of relating with other-than-human nature was different.

    It wasn't an ugly worldview, like some others. They saw "living" and "non-living" phenomena as communicative and therefore some of it qualifying for a degree of personhood. They didn't see humans as distinctive from the rest of nature.
    A poetic way of looking at things. Nothing wrong with that. We liberally anthropomorphize, assign human characteristics to inanimate objects. My computer is thinking.

  10. Top | #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Animism, spirits, was a way of explaining characteristics of an object.
    Yes. "Object" is maybe a social construct that wouldn't quite translate into an animist worldview. But I agree with the general point. I think they had their way of explaining why nature's phenomena change, but somehow the same patterns keep repeating and relating in intelligent-seeming ways. Nature works together better than one would expect if it's mindless stuff. The "something" behind it all needed explaining but they hadn't made a materialist lens to use for the explanation. And not because they were idiots but because 1) they hadn't divided reality into qualitative aspects and quantitative aspects (and then eventually relegated the qualitative to "illusory" status) in order for their scientific methodology to "work" at describing and controlling the one remaining half of reality; and 2) they didn't have the same value-assessments about what's intelligent, and what's life, and other not-altogether-fortunate social constructs that moderns have. In sum, their values were different so their worldview was different and so their way of relating with other-than-human nature was different.

    It wasn't an ugly worldview, like some others. They saw "living" and "non-living" phenomena as communicative and therefore some of it qualifying for a degree of personhood. They didn't see humans as distinctive from the rest of nature.
    I wouldn't call people idiots, but my cynicism is showing a bit. In truth we are what we are, should, and will always be. But as I study history and just generally exist in the world it can be difficult to stave off misanthropy.

    Besides that I agree with the view you present here. Religion came about in a world that was pretty unstructured, and where knowledge was mostly inaccessible. In that context our religious history makes sense, but I'd say it's still notable how few of us doubted ourselves.

    And it's still happening today.

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