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.: February 2007 --> What can the Great Apes teach us about religion?

What can the Great Apes teach us about religion?

» God and Gorillas. Anthropologist Barbara J. King is studying the social behavior of great apes to try to piece together the roots of religion.

I look at four different kinds of behavior -- meaning-making, imagination, empathy and following the rules. Together, I think they give us a sense of what religion might have started out to be. The apes have bits and pieces of all these four things, but not in a coherent pattern that adds up to religious behavior. To my mind, apes are conscious beings and they do these four things in incredibly fascinating ways.

 [ 02.01.07 ]


Thanks for the link--Very interesting!

The existence of a spiritual explanation for life seems to be a built in human need, and it may very well exist in other life forms on our planet.

I was both amazed and amused when my three year old daughter invented her own "religion". She believed that life was an endless cycle of her growing up, while we grew young and small. This half of the cycle would be replaced when we grew up and she grew small.

This clearly provided her with any number of solutions to perplexing issues. The family was and always would be. We were always together, which provided her with a sense of security as well as explaining the future. It provided a sense of fairness, rules, manipulation and vengence. She always wanted to drive, and was very frustrated that she was not allowed to. So she resolved that frustration by telling us that if we wouldn't let her drive the car, that the next time she was big, and we were little, she would not let us drive the car. And further, she would "remind" us that the last time she was big and we were little, that she did allow us to drive the car.

There were a number of other variations, some about not allowing us to have candy in the next cycle. This was odd because unlike most children, she had little interest in candy.

Cute, bright -- yes. But more so, very interesting. She developed a spiritual theory that met her needs, and seems to have included many of the solutions that modern day religions provide to their adherents. A sense of being special, power, vengeance, rules of living, means of manipulation, safety, immortality, separation and castigation of inconveniences and inconvenient people, a knowledge of how we came into being, and where we are going, and so on. Some good, some bad.

The evolution of spiritual understanding (aka religion) is fascinating. Humans started with spirits and gods existing in all things, both live and inanimate. This was followed by a gradual reduction to the gods of the major forces and interests of existence, namely the sun, harvest, earth, sea, etc. There came a concentration into monotheism where the focus was on the tribe. Where the best behavior to please the god was to follow the rules of the tribe. Assistance and help offered to other members of the tribe would please the god, because the individual was offering succor to the god's other creations. Then the focus moved to the individual, their internal struggles with morality, and their obedience and love of the god.

This is such a potent need in humans, that they joyously violate the major premise of most modern day religious. Humans righteously kill all the other children of gods who are perceived to be different than their own. Untold numbers of the creations of gods are destroyed in the most horrible ways, simply because their observance of the true meaning of life is slightly unlike their own. Most interesting is that the vehemence is often greatest when the divergence is the smallest. How many of the children of Abraham have been put to the sword? How many are still being killed with a passion so great that nothing like it ever appears in any other human interaction?

The need for religion is most worthy of great study.



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