My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Review: The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions

The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions The Evolution of Religions: A History of Related Traditions by Lance Grande
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At just over 1000 pages, this is a pretty big book that attempts to tackle a big question … how religion fits into the human condition (as humans themselves continue to evolve). Even so, there was limited space to go into much detail and any examination of pre-literate religions remain in the realm of educated speculation … presumed to have started with spiritual/animistic beliefs and rituals. As a fan of comparative studies, this was extremely helpful, since the entire purpose of a taxonomy is to enable the reader/student to compare and contrast the subject matter … and how better than to propose such an evolutionary tree than an evolutionary biologist and systematist … still there were plenty of times where the author acknowledged that this categorization didn’t work well, however, Grande’s ability to call out similarities and differences with antecedents was extremely help in understanding the worldviews professed by the predominate, contemporary religions: Hindu, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (which also tended to have the most detail). I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the heterodoxy that periodically springs up in each of these. Ultimately this is a fairly decent introduction to the religions of today and how they evolved into what they are … and hopefully enable a better toleration of each other along with that better understanding.

My primary complete would be that some of the charts/illustrations were awkwardly formatted with the text alignment and orientation changing within the same illustration … making some of them hard to figure out … and the best part … of of these is well presented in easily accessible language that doesn’t require a background in any of the covered studies (although if you do, you may notice a few, small, nuance errors that don’t really detract much from the overall understanding).

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Preface: A Modern Evolutionary Approach to History of Religion Studies
Introductory Section
1. Religions, Classifications, and Phylogenetic Pattern
2. Explaining Hypothetical Patterns with Evolutionary Process Theory

Main Section
3. Early Supernaturalism and the Development of Organized Religion
4. Indigenous Eastern Organized Religion and Asian Cyclicism
5. Afro-Euro-Mediterranean Organized Religion, Beginning with Old World Hard Polytheism
6. Linear Monotheism
7. The Early Diversification of Abrahamic Monotheism
8. Traditional Christianity
9. Reformation Christianity
10. Biblical Demiurgism: A Subgroup of “Gnosticism”
11. Islam

Concluding Section
12. Organized Religions and the Evolution of Human Society

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Moral and ethical behavior did not originate with religion; it was instead an independent product of evolution. It has been found to be present even in some of the great apes. However, religion, in its most positive form, helped establish certain codified rules of ethical human behavior that often aided in the development of large civilizations (as civilization is defined in Note 3C).
However, as certain supernatural beliefs were seen by later generations as worth preserving, they became institutionalized. They became preserved with narratives (written scripture or oral transmissions), practices (rituals), and often with objects of reverence (iconic objects and structures); and they developed into one of the most influential aspects of human culture: Organized Religion (discussed in chapters 4–11).
Eventually, synapomorphic elements of general importance to most Dharmic Religions came to include the following: (1) dharma (duty and maintaining order and balance in nature), (2) karma (the consequences of one’s actions and service to society), (3) samsara (reincarnation and the cycle of rebirth), and (4) yoga (as an aid to meditation).

The four basic goals of a person in Hinduism (called the Purusartha or Purusha-arthas) include the following: (1) dharma (righteous moral values and duty), (2) artha (prosperity and economic success), (3) kama (sensual pleasure, best known in the West by the ancient sex manual Kama Sutra), and ultimately (4) moksha (transcendental state attained because of being released from samsara and the cycle of rebirth).

Buddha’s beliefs can be summarized with three basic assumptions: First, no matter how many material comforts one has in life, they cannot protect one from the pain of suffering. Second, denial of all material comforts and living a life of asceticism (severe abstinence from any indulgence) also does not protect one from suffering. Third, each person needs to find a balance and moderately disciplined lifestyle that takes account of his or her individual circumstances.

Unlike Confucianism, Taoism focuses more on effortless natural order and the individual rather than on social order and a harmonious society. It emphasizes the “Three Jewels of the Tao”: Right belief, Right knowledge, Right conduct.

Unlike Taoism, which emphasizes natural order, Confucianism emphasizes social order. It promotes a harmonious system linking humankind to society and heaven.

I include Shintoism provisionally as a Taoic branch of Asian Cyclicism on my phylogenetic tree (page 000) because of the general characteristics that it shares with other Taoic schools (e.g., strong emphasis on ancestor veneration, historical veneration of emperors, prolific use of shrines, less concern with the afterlife than the present life). The name Shinto is a combination of the Chinese characters Shen (divine being) and Tao (way).

Ritualistic blood sacrifice was supposedly a cornerstone of Old Norse Polytheism. Animal sacrifice was the most common, although there were also examples of human sacrifice (or perhaps sacral death penalty is a better term). People convicted of certain crimes were sentenced to death and ritually sacrificed to the gods. Their execution was done by hanging or by ritualistic drowning in special temple wells.

The significance of twelve for the special deities of Olympia and the Dii Consentes also followed the Twelve Titan deities of earlier Greek Polytheism. Old Norse Polytheism had twelve special gods overseen by Odin. There were the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles in Traditional Christianity, and twelve imams of Shia Islam. According to the Book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, twelve gates of heaven are guarded by twelve angels. There were twelve aspects of the god Shiva in Hindu Shaivism and twelve Divine Generals in some of the Buddhist denominations. Going back to the first millennium BCE, Mesopotamian astronomers of Babylon created the twelve signs of the Zodiac, which often were associated with Sumerian deities.

Historians estimate that in 1491 CE there were as many as between 75 and 145 million native inhabitants in the New World. By 1550, after fifty years of Spanish conquest and the spread of diseases from Europe that indigenous Americans had no immunity to, it is estimated that only about ten million natives remained.

Monotheistic Dualism may go back as far as the twelfth century BCE. It can be divided into two early patriarchal branches: Zoroastrianism (with the one God of Creation known as Ahura Mazda) and Abrahamic Monotheism (with the one God of Creation known as Yahweh, Jehovah, El, Yaldabaoth, Allah, El Shaddai, God, G_d, or even “he who should not be named”).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheEvolutionOfReligions #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.