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An Awesome History of Religion
As humanity dawned, ancient people were captivated by the great vastness surrounding them. They noticed sunrises, sunsets, the blazing glory of the night sky, the moon, wind, rain, snow, storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanos, birth, courage, and death, and it was awesome. It was wonderful, yet many were fearful. Some overcame their fear and dared to become curious. They wondered what was happening and why it was happening. Our species has an innate desire for understanding, and they wanted explanations. Curious people used their emerging language skills to seek explanations from others. Creative story tellers speculated and provided answers in the form of fabulous and engaging stories. We are captivated by narratives, and the story tellers began to value the influence their storytelling gave them. As the stories became more captivating, more people gathered around to listen, tell, and retell these stories. The stories provided the answers to life’s biggest questions. These stories became sacred, the story was the answer, everyone knew these stories, and there was no reason to doubt any of this. The stories were awesome, they bound the tribe together, explained the great mysteries of life, and guided our actions. We were captivated by song, dance, chanting, rituals, sacred objects, mystery, headgear, robes, expansive cathedrals, and reverence. Supernatural events, magic, and miracles enhanced the power and allure of the stories. We feared the wrath of gods, evil spirits, mystical spells, curses, and burning in hell. We sought out everlasting salvation and a heavenly afterlife, and it was awesome.
Some brave souls were called to adventure, dared to leave the familiar tribal lands, and ventured off in search of food, mates, land, knowledge, or new opportunities and experiences. Eventually they met the others. The others had their own stories, but these stories were different. The others told strange stories and had strange explanations for the same awesome events we understood so well. Why would the others tell their strange stories, when our stories are so well known and so true? Who were these others to tell lies and displace our stories? Why were they trying to trick us? Why were they challenging our faith and our loyalty? The others were certainly very dangerous. We feared them, and we often fought them to protect the truth we were so certain of.
The great blasphemy occurred when Galileo Galilei dared to point his telescope toward the heavens, observe the planets, and challenge the Pope’s authority. Despite Galileo’s persecution, this style of gathering evidence, thinking scientifically, and using reason to explain the world became popular. The scientific revolution was underway and as the age of enlightenment began, people looked to science for explanations, and became increasingly skeptical of the ancient myths told by religious leaders. Charles Darwin dared to explain the origin of the species. Traditional religions were threatened as we learned more about the universe as it really is, became better at knowing how we know, and sought out true beliefs. As supernatural claims became less credible, and inconsistencies became evident, we outgrew the stories. Over the centuries evidence and reason explained events in terms of natural causes, the mysteries disappeared, and the myths became less credible. Now we have real explanations, but we lost the mystery, the storytelling, the rituals, the community, and the awe.
Yet reality is awesome! The universe is vast, complex, and dynamic. We are learning to savor all that is real, including the vastness of the universe, the immense diversity of life, the joys of love, unbounded creativity, magnificent beauty, endless exploration and discovery, breathtaking nature, and the strength, diversity, and imagination of the human spirit. We are cherishing awe, real awe, genuine awe.
There is an abundance of true stories to keep us thrilled. Richard Dawkins describes evolution as The Greatest Show on Earth. Sean Carroll helps us explore the many mysteries of our preposterous universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson uses comedic hosts to help us appreciate the wonders of Star Talk. Big history may be the greatest story ever told. Biographies of scientists, engineers, explorers, social reformers, and morally courageous people are fascinating.
We are learning to infuse our lives with real meaning and purpose. We recognize that there are many mysteries, but there is no magic. Myths were awesome, they served our tribes well, but ancient stores are yielding to real awe as we seek real good and gain a global perspective.
Cherish real awe!