The idea that religion led to modernity is gaining momentum.
ABOUT 10,000 years ago, our ancestors began the greatest transformation in human history:
- abandoning the nomadic lifestyle that had long served them well
- in favour of permanent villages.
The origin of this "Neolithic revolution" is contentious:
- The answer once seemed clear - food.
- Farming was more efficient than foraging
- so people gravitated towards it.
- Cities, writing and organised religion soon followed.
In recent years, though, this model has been challenged by archaeological discoveries:
- The most important is Göbekli Tepe in Turkey
- a cluster of 11,000-year-old buildings with spectacular statues and other monumental architecture.
- The archaeologists who found it interpreted these as having a ceremonial purpose: a "cathedral on a hill", as one put it.
- Yet the people who built them were nomads, not farmers.
- So the radical suggestion now is that it was NOT agriculture that drove the revolution,
- but religion.
Some archaeologists oppose this idea, arguing that:
- the ruins could have been domestic buildings, or
- were once surrounded by dwellings that did not survive.
But the ceremony-first model is in the ascendancy, supported by further evidence unearthed in the Levant.
Now comes news that another ancient civilisation – the Maya – may also have had spiritual roots:
- Their oldest city, Ceibal, seems to have begun as a place, where hunter-gatherers assembled for religious festivals
- see "Jungle festivals led to first Maya cities" -
The parallels are intriguing:
- Maya civilisation developed in geographical isolation from the Old World, and
- several thousand years later.
- If it followed the same path, perhaps
- that tells us something profound about human cultural evolution.
Some secularists dislike the idea that spiritual needs drove the rise of civilisation:
- They fret that it will reinforce or restore religion's central place in society.
- But just because spirituality may have led to civilisation,
- it doesn't follow that it should lead it now.
- If religion did have an early founding role,
- we must acknowledge this, learn from it – and move on.
Bonus - о Гёбекли-Тепе: