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I've been reading a lot about death, and mankind's wildly different perspectives on it over the centuries. Do you guys think religion began the instant a sentient being realized that he or she was going to die?

PaulHannah 4 Jan 31

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I have no idea.


Personally, I'm pretty sure death ranks up there with suffering as major motivators of serious philosophical angst..

I am aware that most of the major Atheist/Agnostic commentators state as fact that there is no existence after death.

From a purely Scientific POV disproving it, isn't all that straightforward, as the definition and identification of consciousness is still a long way from settled. There are even a few commercial "transfer of consciousness" studies being conducted.

Then there are over 20 "Life after Life" books in the last 60 years that use academic and scientific case studies. eg

Of course, there are also dozens of books de-bunking spiritualists and similar charlatans, so finding a real solid basis for a positive belief in "afterlife" gets really muddied.

I'm convinced that the traditional Christian God isn't valid, but I am still hanging out to see if some intrinsic part of the universe gives a chance of some sort of continuing "existence".

I figure that if the concept keeps me curious until I drop off the perch, it can't really hurt if I don't get evangelistic about it.

Fantasy dies hard in me and many others.


No, it began with feelings of ignorance and powerlessness, and with some person's) positing that there had to be some all powerful being who did understand and control, and that by worshiping that being, we could get into its good graces.


No. I think that it is more likely it originated to describe the natural world, or maybe it originated differently in different geographical areas, giving rise to eastern and western ideas. Just speculating, though.


I think that awareness plays a very large role in it.

“Death anxiety is the mother of all religions, which, in one way or another, attempt to temper the anguish of our finitude.”

~ Irvin D. Yalom


Fear of death is a great motivator. Used by many for many reasons. Religion has done a great job of exploiting that fear.


basically yes


The promise of an afterlife is a strong hook for religion indeed. In the future when science has people living forever if they want...ironically, religions may die out.


I think the death of a loved one could turn a person to a belief in an afterlife or a hope of a meeting in heaven with a dead loved one. I know when my Father died I struggled and still do with knowing I'll never be able to see him again, so perhaps it's a comfort and a reason to believe in the ridiculous.


I just look at the calendar, says 2018... and I think... why would I even think about question asked?


I like the "soft edges" idea. I think awarenes of death and fear of not existing was just one motivation. But the Julian Jaynes theory of the development of unified consciousness in early humans could explain a lot. It postulates that hallucinations we now dismiss as malfunctioning psychotic brains apparently were once upon a time far more common. There is archeological evidence suggesting the earliest notions of diety were quite personal, unique to each person; that not until some time later did chieftains and kings start insting that their subjects adopt the leaders' gods. It could very well be that God always was, at its core, simply psychosis. If you hear voices telling you what to do, it must be God, right?


No. I think death is more of a cultural experience. Things have been developing since Neanderthal when they were including grave goods. Religion could be a reaction to that but I think that’s too simplistic.


I think religion began as stories intended to explain the unknown, whether it is "what happens when we die?" or "What is the Sun, and why does it rise, go overhead, and then set each day?"

The earliest religions almost certainly didn't even HAVE gods. They were animistic, and applied human-like personalities and stories to natural phenomena.

It is true that humans are--to our knowledge--the only animals which know they are going to die (this may be untrue, actually: good arguments can be made for some other species). This is disturbing and it's not a surprise that many religions posit some kind of afterlife to cushion the blow.


I think the fear of death and the curiosity over what happens after one dies was cultivated by those who wanted to cease power over others. Those who could read the stars and plan for successful hunts and later, seasonal plantings, they became the first priests. These priests could garner power by instilling a concept of an afterlife that could only be reached by following their rules. I think the concept of Heaven and Hell was the ultimate Carrot and Stick to get compliance.


I must concur with the great historian of the world Mel Brooks on this one:


More likely as soon as they saw the sun in my opinion. Or a thunderstorm.

0 was probably shortly after humans began assigning powers to gods to explain what they couldn't understand in nature.


Hard to determine. To the Egyptians the after-life was reserved for the Phairo's and their family/servants (I want to connect the importance of religion as being tied to a sense of immortality - as is indicated by the question) I think the idea of religion took off when leaders found it could be used to control and thereby promoted immortality for all. I feel that without the idea of an "after-Life". the hold of religion wouldn't be as strong as it is.


I think these things tend to have soft edges. By that I mean that I don't think religion started with well-defined ideas. Judaism, for example, doesn't start with a concept of an afterlife. The idea at the onset is that death is part of the punishment for humanity's disobedience, along with the need for men to toil in the fields and for women to endure the pain of childbirth. It's less hopeful than it is an explanation for the hardships of life (of which death is one). As Judaism progressed, the notion of an afterlife slowly emerged, and by the New Testament it's a full-blown Heaven-and-Hell construct. But, considering that there were many religions that predated Judaism, I'd say it's most likely that the hope for an eternity of happiness was a later development, and appeasing the gods for rain or good health was a much more pressing concern initially, with a desire to understand the world at a time when spirits in the river and the trees and the earth and the sky were the best explanations for plentiful fishing or poor crops and any other natural phenomena. The god-of-the-gaps argument exists today for many theists, and the gap is far narrower now than it was early in human development.

Hmmm. I'm not so sure about The Old Testament being "afterlife free" eg Isaiah 26:19: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You, who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” About half a dozen others mentioned here []

@BanjoTango I didn't say that the OT was afterlife free. I said that Judaism starts out without belief in an afterlife and that the concept gradually emerged as Judaism progressed, and by the time of the NT it was a full reward-and-punishment construct.

Fair enough. It did pique my interest a bit more, so I researched around, and it seems that a lot of other experts would agree with you..

For those wanting to follow it up in more detail, I found this
"“Most of the scholarly world agrees that there is no concept of immortality of life after death in the Old Testament.”[1] With these words, George Mendenhall summarizes the consensus of critical academics regarding the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. Even many Jewish thinkers deny an afterlife. For instance in a 1991 interview, Jewish professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz said,

Death has no significance… only life matters… In the entire Torah there is not the slightest suggestion that anything happens after death. All the ideas and theories articulated on the subject of a world to come and the resurrection of the dead have no relationship to religious faith. It is sheer folklore. After you die, you simply do not exist.[2]"


@BanjoTango That's good information. I'll try to circle back to read that when I have a bit more time. Thanks!


My own belief is that religion started when the first man said "Oh Yeah? Who died and made YOU boss?"


Religion and rituals started when people would go into the night and predatory animals would carry them off for dinner.

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