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Religions, like people, have evolutions of their own

Religion versus evolution is a frequent topic of discussion and controversy these days, but maybe there is another way to look at it.

A look at history over millenniums and centuries shows that religions have evolutions of their own. History reveals that the first objects of worship were those found in nature ranging from volcanoes to various animals and plants that were given human characteristics by their believers.

Eventually, however, they evolved into human form and so we have the major mythologies such as the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman. No one referred to them as mythologies back then however. When a Roman believer went to Diana's temple to worship her, he was not practicing mythology. He was practicing his religion. It was only later when the world moved on to more sophisticated beliefs that the mythology label was pinned on the older ones.

The rise of monotheism was a big milestone since the older gods and goddesses were specialists and their specialties ranged from love to war and a lot in between. Maybe that just got too complicated, though, so one god covers all gradually became the rule.

Most modern religions seem to believe that one is enough. But what about the slow evolution of these religions? Having lived only 89 years, the changes I have observed have been somewhat glacial but nevertheless steady. Looking back over the span of history, they are more evident.

Over the centuries, our current beliefs have split into pieces and then, in some cases, reunited again. At one time in the past, the Catholic Church had three popes in three locations as well as married popes. But that has settled down now into one unmarried pope in one location.

Christianity was more militant, or should I say militaristic, than it is today as the Crusaders fought, burned and pillaged their way through the Middle East. Now, the crusades are more diplomatic and being ecumenical is their style.

Islam seems to own most of the militancy now, and we are currently involved in two wars against their most militant factions while the peaceful types can't seem to do much to calm their warrior brethren.

The Hebrew religion is the most ancient of the modern beliefs, but it has had to and still is fighting to survive. Yet it, too, is split into groups based on being orthodox or more liberal.

Living in a majority Christian country, I have seen some evolution in the belief in my lifetime. For instance, I note that today's churches are more centers of socializing than they are houses of worship. Yet, with all of today's distractions and insights, the churches are just trying to stay afloat. I can remember when there were no mega-churches, as today's huge congregations are called. They are popular because they inject a bit of show biz with rock concert enthusiasm and feature preachers with a flair for showmanship.

Churches today seem to have crises unheard of before such as the Catholic Church's pedophile scandals and a continuing shortage of candidates for the priesthood.

A slow wave of secularism seems to be on the horizon with Europe leading the way. American tourists, in Europe to see the ornate cathedrals and churches, soon hear the standing joke over there that were it not for tourists, the churches and cathedrals would be empty.

In my own family as I compare the generations, I can see that the farther back in family history you go, the more church members you find.

My little informal survey has barely hit a few high spots, but it does give us pause to reflect that whether you are a belief or a person, to stay alive is to evolve — whether you want to or not.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

Religions, like people, have evolutions of their own 08/26/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:03pm]
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