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Alec Wood
Ms. Cundiff
AP Language and Composition
7 May 2014
Historical Invalidity of Religion
The evolution of religion began when prehistoric people began pondering, Why does
this happen? They asked that question with everything they encountered. Why does the rain
fall? Why does the sun rise? Why did this mushroom kill my friend? The people of the ancient
world had no logical way to answer these questions. They did not have the technology or
knowledge to put the pieces of the puzzle together. For lack of any real explanation, the
prehistoric men and women conjured up gods and deities responsible for all of these affairs.
Humans have a tendency to explain any unknown phenomenon with the supernatural, and that is
exactly what they did. Religion developed out of the ancient pantheon of gods into the organized
religions of the modern world. Religion, across the planet, required belief in Gods as a result of
the uncertainty and spontaneity of the dangerous ancient world. With the development of the first
civilizations came the usage of religion as a tool to subject the population to their demands.
Since all religions claim to be true, there can be no real answer to the question of religion, other
than the rejection of them all. The modern world is characterized by a doubt of religion, and
trends show the global community moving away from religion and into the realm of human
reality. These doubts stem from the nature of religion itself. The reasons why religion developed
and how it was used by states to subjugate their populations are indicators of how all religions
are fallacies.
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Ancient religion first developed as an explanation for unknown phenomena. Early
humans vested the reasoning of the outcomes of these phenomena in the supernatural. Their lack
of understanding of almost everything led them to trust their Gods as the only source of certainty
and authority in the harsh ancient world. Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234 BC 149 BC)
wrote in On Agriculture, Father Mars, I beg and entreat you to be well disposed toward me and
toward our house and household. I have ordered an offering of pigs, sheep and bulls ... on
account of this request, so that you may prevent, ward off and remove sickness . . . and damage
to crops and bad weather.... Preserve my shepherds and flocks unharmed and give good health
and strength to me, my home, and our household. For this purpose . . . Father Mars . .. you shall
be increased by these offerings of suckling pigs, sheep and bulls (141). Cato outlines a plea to
Mars to bring good health to his (or the readers) family and his crops. He places trust in Mars to
ensure his prosperity. He relies on divine intervention to save his farm because him, along with
everyone else in the ancient world, did not understand the inconspicuous reasons as to why crops
may fail or bad weather be brought about. These were events that ancient people did not know
anything about, and could not control or predict. Making sacrifices to a God would do two
things, at least in the believers mind. It would place the power to control the events in an
abstract, supreme force that could control the outcome. Additionally, it would please this God, so
that it would bring a favorable outcome to the one who realizes its presence and respects it. As
Scottish anthropologist James G. Frazer would put it, "religion consists of two elements: a belief
in powers higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please them (qtd. in Stark 268).
Frazers claim has been consistent throughout the history of religion. Christianity centers on the
belief of a God and Holy Spirit, and that entrance into Heaven is guaranteed by practicing
kindness, charity, and other virtues while on Earth. In Islam, those who practice unfaltering
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devotion and faith to God in are rewarded with paradise in the afterlife, Jannah. In Hinduism, a
common viewpoint is that humans are reborn and continue to do so until they stop generating
karma. Then they are released. Almost every major religion of the world involves belief in a
supernatural being and the desire to please them so the mortal human soul can experience a
postmortem salvation. The desire for the afterlife has many reasons. In the case of the major
Abrahamic religions; they developed in the ancient world, rife with uncertainty and death around
every corner. A possible afterlife was the solution to the commonness of almost spontaneous
death. Stark affirms this view of religion, saying that, the most obvious of these (rewards) is
the desire to overcome death. In addition, people generally seem to want their existence to have
meaning, for there to be reasons behind reality. No such reasons can be fully verified in this life.
(267). Especially in the ancient world, people wanted their lives to have meaning or purpose.
Death was not the worst thing that could happen to someone. As long as they died with honor,
fulfillment, or a variety of other reasons, their life had meaning and they did not need to fear
death. They were guaranteed a spot on Mount Olympus with the Gods, or their spirit would
forever bless the following generations. Religion evolved from these ancient ideas and the
requirement of creating a meaningful live became ingrained in more modern organized
religions. There is almost an aspect of every religion that involves creating a meaningful life,
which would guarantee one a spot in the afterlife. This concept of creating a meaningful life
infused into modern organized religions based off of ancient tenets. Because of the short lifespan
of the ancient Europeans, they sought such a meaningful life, fulfilling it with honor,
childbearing, or public office, to name a few examples. According to the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences, the lifespan of ancient Greek and Romans was around 20-35
years. A particularly bad strain of the common cold could appear overnight and the victim could
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die within days. A minor cut could turn into a major infection. People took comfort knowing that
if they were to die, and had practiced good faith, there would be a pleasant outcome waiting for
them in the afterlife. Gods became the source of certainty in these doubtful times. Praising them
could ward away sickness, and bring prosperity and longevity. The Gods would give them a
purpose, something to fight for, a reason to create a meaningful life. The afterlife was the
supernatural answer to the uncertainty of death. By humans bestowing the judgment of life death
to the Gods, they relied on a mystical force to protect them while they were alive, and to give
them paradise after death.
As history progressed, leaders began to realize religion could be used to strengthen the
power and influence of the state. Religion became a unifying entity and a tool for chauvinistic
zeal. For example, in the ancient Roman world, the pantheon of Gods was a unifying concept to
hold together a massive empire. In Christian Atheism, religious researcher Gerald Shroeder
explains that It is surely understandable that Romans, schooled to view religion as the
repository of civil values, rejected the claims of a faith that emphasized trans-political aims.
(311). The time around Jesus birth was a tumultuous period of history in the Roman Empire. His
teachings created a new unity in the Middle East that threatened the hegemonic influence of the
Roman Empire. It was not only the state that was worried of the trans-political aims
Christianity entailed Many commoners were worried, too. Shroeder explains that the Christian
refusal to honor the gods could disturb the pax deorum and hence endanger the general well-
being. Most would not have cared as long as conditions were generally peaceful. (256).
Peaceful conditions provided certainty in daily life, which states could use to keep the masses
content. In the case of Judaism, it had existed for many years before Christianity in the Roman
Empire. However, it was less of a threat because their religion was closely tied to their culture
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and was not presenting a direct danger to Roman rule. The Jews preferred to peacefully follow
the Roman Empire and ingrain their culture into the empire, as opposed to the Christians, who
were more outspoken about their dislike towards the Romans. The state took great measures to
remove religions that posed a threat to them. Historian Michael Gray-Fow explains the events of
the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, saying but two aspects of the fire remain clear. The first is
that even then popular rumour blamed Nero, and the second is that he threw the blame on the
Christians (595). Emperor Nero scapegoated the Christians to provide reason to supposedly
reasonably remove them. Similar to how Hitler prosecuted the Jews after years of a stagnant
German economy, Neros claim served as a double edge sword. To bestow the Christians with
universal hatred in the Empire, especially in Rome, and to remove a religion that was supposedly
threatening the unity, the pax deorum, of the Roman pantheon. In another example of this
phenomenon, religious faith also served as a source of unity against a foreign enemy in an early
Russia. Historian Martin Sixsmith writes in his book Russia, Religious faith and a community
of shared responsibility in the face of a common enemy were once again the glue that bound
Russians together (55). In the 17
th
century tale, The Catholic Poles and Lithuanians had invaded
and captured Moscow, but the army created by Russian prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma
Minin had retaken the city. They had used their common religion the Orthodox Church to
unite against the Catholic invaders. They were deemed traitors of Christ, and thus it was a just
war, and one worth fighting for, especially to take back the upstart city of Moscow. The religious
unity has persisted in Russia despite the Soviet prosecution of religion in the 20
th
century.
Sixsmith recounts his conversation with an Orthodox priest, who said How can we have good
relations with them? (The Catholics) They have betrayed the truth of Christ (68). Religion was
used as a tool to unite a nation against another. The tactical geniuses Pozharsky and Minin knew
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this, and under the guise of Orthodoxy they rose the morale of the Russians. Religion as a tool
for national unity was used consistently throughout history, all across the world. The Persians
adopted Zoroastrianism, which called for obedience to ones superiors. Author Suresh Sharma
states that Zoroastrian teaches love and regard, loyalty and obedience, to the regular
constitutional forms of government. Where love, order, and harmony reign, there reign peace and
prosperity (268). Zoroastrianism combines two ideas here: the pax deorum from the Romans,
or the accord between humans and the God(s), and the idea that God wants his followers to have
civil obedience to a constitutional form of government. Zoroastrianism was an intricate system
engineered by the ancient Persian state to bring unity and civil obedience to its empire. This
would provide discipline and stability to an empire as large and militant as the Persians. It also
likely used Zoroastrianism to provide unity against the pagan Greeks when they invaded Greece,
similar to how the Russians did against the Catholic Poles. The state evolved to make religion
yet another tool at its disposal. The ways in which religion was used cannot possibly be as
intended by the supernatural deities. It has appeared to evolve solely for the purpose of
providing the state with a psychological force to subjugate, unite, and use against foes. Religion
in the dawn of man developed by natural means, but it became estranged from its pure form and
was adjusted to meet the needs of the state.
Architecture has been used throughout history to remind the people of a states power and
their connection with God. Leaders invested large amounts of money and time to build massive,
ornate, and beautiful temples, cathedrals and mosques of all kinds. The Temple of Artemis,
which no longer stands today, was described by Antipater Of Sidon in one of his poems: I have
set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by
the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the
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high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that
mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from
Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.' (IX.58) The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
was massive, taking over 120 years to complete. This shows the amount of time, effort, and
money that was put towards creating a temple. It must have been very important to the Ephesians
to build this religious temple. Its monolithic imposing structure would have likely awed the
citizens and all visitors to the city, and explained how the Ephesian leadership would have built
this enormous temple to constantly remind them of their power and affluence. Showing they
impressed the obviously would have adored the Ephesians. Another example is the The Notre
Dame Cathedral in Paris. It also serves as an example of a states power, but in France. The
Russian screenwriter Sonya Levien alludes to this in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
where the King says, All over France, in every city there stand cathedrals like this one,
triumphant monuments of the past. They tower over the homes of our people like mighty
guardians, keeping alive the invincible faith of the Christian. Every arch, every column, every
statue is a carved leaf out of our history, a book in stone, glorifying the spirit of France, The
Notre Dame Cathedral is indeed a monument of the past, showcasing how Catholicism was
historically held in such high esteem throughout French history. It became a source of unity and
the clergy as the First Estate. The Catholic majority in France often responded violently to
protestant threats, such as when the Huguenots in southern France revolted against the crown.
The beautiful architecture that France built in the name of their catholic God mesmerized the
populace with its grandeur, and would have dissuaded those who would disagree religiously or
politically with the state from acting. The largest church in the world, St. Peters Basilica in
Vatican City is a fitting headquarters for the leader of the Catholic Church. Michelangelos
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Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the basilica is reminiscent of the pax deorum of the ancient
world. It depicts the divine accord humanity has with God with its delicate near-touching hands;
It also shows the incredible power that God supposedly has over the world. God is the one giving
the humans their life and salvation. The Catholic Church or the Pope often role-played as God
and blessed with His own divine world and in the midst of a church as massive and imposing as
St. Peters Basilica, it would have been hard to deny that the Pope actually was a God. All of
these historical and architectural wonders serve as tremendous testaments to God but leaders
did not build them solely for worshiping their God. They built them to remind its populace that
their country served a God. The state, in a way, almost even took on the role of God, such as in
the Papal States or the concept of the divine right of kings. Mont. St Michel in France shows this
phenomenon, with the spire on top representing God, and below it the rest of society. The leaders
had a symbolic purpose for building it like this, and it was not simply because they really thought
God was the commander of everything below. These architectural wonders enhanced the power
of the state. By building grandiose basilicas and churches and taking on the role of God, these
leaders almost essentially guaranteed the faithful countrymen their allegiance through the great
fear of God.
Modern culture has progressively begun to move away from religion. Phenomenon once
explained by Greek mythology, the Torah, ancient Indian texts and many other writings has
become increasingly rejected in favor of the certain, definite, and logical aspects of scientific
laws and theories. Modern philosophy is characterized by having doubtfulness in God and
religion, as well. In the 19
th
century, early philosopher Marx presented ideas that explained how
states used religion to subjugate the masses, which can be summed up in his famous adage,
Religion is the opiate of the masses (Marx). His words are undeniably true, as it can be seen
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that religion, often times gives many people a reason in their life. It can trigger a very desirable
response that is characterized with opium. Christians may look forward to going to mass next
Sunday; Muslims may look forward to the next praying session. It is an addictive habit that is
very difficult to stop, because the need for God in the uncertain world is exactly the same as a
drug addicts need for opium. Opium as a drug would be an addicts only source of happiness.
Religion, for a poor man who has nothing to live for, would be the only source of happiness for
him. Marx also implies that religion has served as an illusion employed and abused by states to
coax the poor workingmen into following the states authority. Lenin agrees, saying that
those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and
patient while here on Earth and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward (Lenin).
This returns to one of Starks theses, that religion requires belief in a higher power and an
attempt to please it. Nationalized religious concepts such as The First Estate in France, The Papal
States, or the Deifying of great figures like Alexander the Great all follow Starks thesis here.
There is a striking resemblance between what God wants of humans on Earth: faith, good will,
and indulgences; and what states want of their citizens: allegiance, discipline, and taxation.
Modern philosophy began to doubt religion and many philosophers attributed it to the state.
Marxs strongest argument against religion as a whole is a very simple motto, Man makes
religion; religion does not make man (Marx). Religious texts that contain creation stories make
no logical sense. These creation stories are flawed at their base because they lie out an exact
timeline of events that was performed by a supernatural entity at the beginning of time. There are
countless interpretations of how the world began. The fact that the world cannot agree on how
the world began is evidence that religion cannot work, because it is globally inconsistent. Man
created religion and it developed in its individual societies to satisfy the needs of the people.
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Religion did not create man in its own image and develop from there. If man created religion,
then it is simply another false construct used to gain power and appease the people. Marxs ideas
on religion are very relevant in the modern world. Regardless or not if people have been losing
their faith because of him and other philosophers, he has still had a considerable influence in the
development of religion especially in the post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe, where
atheism was made a state issue. The execution of many religious figures, expropriation of
religious artifacts and monuments, and prosecution of religious followers had served a very
important role in the advancement of atheism in the Soviet Union. The eastern hemisphere has
been subject to different pressures that has advanced atheism. The western hemisphere is
characterized by a different type of religious development. As countries become more developed,
gain higher standards of living, education, healthcare, etc. the levels of those who identify as
religious or believers in God decrease. According to a study done by Pew Research, In the
United States, those who have identified as unaffiliated has been greatly increasing over the
last few years, a 4.3% increase from 2007. In comparison, the number of Christianity followers
in the USA has decreased by 5% since 2007. In the worlds developed countries, religious
growth is decreasing. As people have less children, parents do not pass on their religion as much,
and higher levels of education are bringing more logical-minded people who are not fazed by the
allure of religion. The reasons on which religion was based on are becoming obsolete. In
contrast, the same pew research study said that 2.4% of Sub-Saharan Africans identified as
nonreligious. This makes sense because the majority of the Sub-Saharan African countries are
not very developed. They are still plagued by disease, civil war: characteristics of uncertainty
that caused for the sustenance of religion in ancient times. It can be easily assumed Africa will
remain this way until it has developed. Biopsychologist Nigel Barber says that the countries with
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the highest atheist population are Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan,
Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. All of these countries are highly developed.
They have strong economies, happy citizens. They do not have the uncertainty issue anymore.
Vaccines and modern healthcare are widely available, and fewer die to transmissible illnesses
compared to those in less developed parts of the world. The trend is clear: with development and
technological advancement come the withering away of religion. The worldwide percentages of
majors religions are decreasing while the number of those who identify as atheist or
unaffiliated increase. Notably, this change occurs significantly faster in more developed
countries.
The future of religion appears bleak. The concepts that religion requires belief in a
supernatural force as a result of uncertainty, with a desire to please this force, and consciousness
of what is and isnt reality are being removed as society advances to become more developed.
The massive churches, mosques, and other religious monuments loom in the shadows behind us,
relics of a world once governed by age-old texts. However, there is nothing necessarily horrible
about the death of religion. The fateful time when religion dies out will probably not happen for
a very long time. Everyone is still free to choose their faith or ideology, but the message must be
clear to everyone religions rate of growth pales in comparison to atheism and the nonreligious.
States and politicians must especially realize this if we are to properly make decisions for a
secular future. While there still remain a few theocratic states in the world, the trend has been
shifting dramatically to a more irreligious world. The realm of the supernatural must be taken
back down into the sphere of human reality. There are no answers waiting in heaven.


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Works Cited
Stark, Rodney. "Micro Foundations of Religion: A Revised Theory." Sociological
Theory 17.3 (1999): 264-89. JSTOR. Web. 13 May 2014.
<http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/370186?ref=searchgateway:07ed36ae6ea3179a37345f7de0
f6c964>.
Marx, K. [1844], A Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right,
<https://www.marxists.org/admin/legal/citing-mia.htm>, accessed May 2014.
Gray-Fow, Michael J. G. "Why the Christians ? Nero and the Great Fire."Latomus 57.3
(1998): 595-616. JSTOR. Web. 13 May 2014.
Barber, Nigel. "Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038." The Huffington Post.
TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 June 2012. Web. 13 May 2014.
Stearns, Stephen C., Randolph M. Nesse, Diddahally R. Govindaraju, and Peter T.
Ellison. PNAS. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America, 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 13 May 2014.
Lenin, Vladimir I. "Socialism and Religion." Novaya Zhizn 3 Dec. 1905, No. 28 ed.: n.
pag. Print.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dir. Sonya Levien, Bruno Frank, and Victor Hugo. Perf.
Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara. RKO Studio, 1939.
Michelangelo. The Creation of Adam. 1512. Painting. Sistine Chapel.
Cato, Marcus Porcius, William Davis Hooper, Harrison Boyd Ash, and Marcus Terentius.
Varro. On Agriculture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1934. Print.
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Paton, W. R. The Greek Anthology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1916. Print.
Sixsmith, Martin. Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East. New York: Overlook,
2014. Print.