History of Religion, Practices, and of the Origin and Character of the Great Systems By Allan Menzies

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History of Religion,

The world is seen to be full of a significance that was not noticed formerly. We are thus in a very different position from our fathers for studying the religion of the world as a whole. To them, their own religion was the true one and all the others were false. Calvin speaks of the “immense welter of errors” in which the whole world outside of Christianity is immersed; it is unnecessary for him to deal with these errors, he can at once proceed to set forth the true doctrine. The belief of the early fathers of the Church, that all worships but those of Judaism and Christianity were directed to demons, and that the demons bore sway in them, practically prevailed till our own day; and it could not but do so, since no other religions than these were really known. That ignorance has ceased, and we are responsible for forming a view of the subject according to the light that has been given us.

The science of religion, though of such recent origin, has already passed beyond its earliest stage, as a refer

As people.
Having done some research on the common features of early agrarian cities, I’m interested in finding out why all civilizations adopted some sort of religion and how these religions spread over vast regions. I know that by 1200 BCE, there were developed cities in most parts of the world. Having examined some early writing from the city of Sumer in Mesopotamia, I know that people had already conceived of gods that looked out for them and the welfare of their crops and cities. But the world religions I know of — Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam — were bigger than a single city or even a single region of the world. In fact, these religions have survived for thousands of years, and all of them seem to have developed around the same time. Since people do not appear to have lacked religious life on a local scale from very early times, why did several large-scale belief systems emerge between 1200 BCE and 700 CE? In fact, why did all the major world religions appear in that era?

Why Religions Became Global

One possibility is that by about 100 BCE, the population in Afro-Eurasia had climbed to over a million. As a result of increasing commercial and cultural interaction between people across this large area, religions were shared. The new religious systems provided foundations of cultural communication, moral expectation, and personal trust among people who were meeting, sharing ideas, and doing business with one another far beyond their local neighborhoods. The historians J.R. and William McNeil call this the development of “portable, congregational religions.” Common features of these religions are the following: there is usually a founding man who receives the word of God; there is a key text or set of texts that defines man’s relationship with God; there are recommended ways of living and worshipping; people come together regularly to have God’s word interpreted for them by an authority; and there is a path to self-trans-formation and eternal salvation in one way or another.

In subsequent centuries, urban dwellers, and particularly poor, marginal persons, found that authoritative religious guidance, shared faith, and mutual support among congregations of believers could substitute for the tight-knit custom of village existence (within which the rural majority continued to live) and give meaning and value to ordinary lives, despite daily contact with uncaring strangers. Such religious congregations, in turn, helped to stabilize urban society by making its inherent inequality and insecurity more tolerable. (61)

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Allan Menzies