Before we can determine the role God will play in our future, we first must examine how our understanding of God has evolved. Notice I said our understanding of God, not God, himself. (As a matter of convenience, I’m using the pronoun “himself” to reference God. My personal belief is that God transcends the concept of masculine and feminine, yet encompasses both.) Since God is eternal and non changing, it is our understanding that has evolved. This evolution is continuous and over millenniums has produced many branches on the spiritual tree which can be extremely complex. We shall attempt to keep it as simple as possible.
It is easy to assume that early humans, in their quest to answer many of the same questions we struggle with today, would look to nature for many answers. To them the rising and setting of the sun was magical. The sun ruled the day as the moon ruled the night. The elements of earth, air, fire, and water would have divine properties. If you thought they were quick to deify these elements and aspects, you might be wrong. There is evidence to suggest that many early humans believed first in a single creator god (monotheism). It was only later that multiple deities began to appear.
From One God to Many
Maybe there is a correlation with the creation epic in Genesis whereas Adam and Eve live blissfully in paradise and know only God, their creator and provider. They neither toil nor want until they eat from the Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil. From then life is not so good. They are cast out of Eden and away from God, and with time other notions begin to arise.
But what are these notions and where to they come from? As humans dispersed across the lands they gathered in small clans or tribes. Generations came and went with each tribe generating its own creation story and god, probably suited to fit the general needs of the tribe. Some believed that one god created the entire universe but didn’t really have much to do with the affairs of man. Soon they started giving names to certain aspects of God and nature. With the passage of time these “aspects” became more prominent and powerful and became gods unto themselves. In the case of the Roman goddess, Fortuna the goddess of fate, she became more powerful than Zeus, the supreme god. In most cases these “gods” we’re neither good nor evil but could be both. If a tribe believed in a single creator that was morally ethical, there was a tendency for lesser gods to be assigned as good or evil. The importance and power of a god-aspect depended entirely on its relevance to the tribe. For instance, if your tribe depended on the river to flood at the right time to insure a good crop, your river god would be held in extremely high regard.
As the human population grew and more space was needed, humans did what they do best, fight and conquer. More powerful tribes absorbed weaker ones, territories increased, and diversity created chaos. As it turned out the best way to control a population was through its spiritual centers. Religious unity was the key to maintaining control. Great polytheistic (multiple gods) kingdoms arose. Two of the most notable would be the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Romans. The Egyptians were also theocracies; their religious orders ruled and their pharaohs were to be worshiped as gods. The Romans were like a democratic theocracy. Once Caesar became emperor, the voice of the senate grew weaker, and Caesar became a living god.
In Egypt the polytheistic traditions were rooted deeply for thousands of years. The Book of the Dead recites prayers that depict Amen-Ra as the supreme god while the importance of the others falls below him. One pharaoh, Akhenaten also known as Amenhotep IV, tried to change Egypt to monotheism worshiping the god, Aten. He reigned 17 years and upon his death the old religion returned erasing almost every trace of his rule.
The power of religion was undeniable very early on and would only continue to grow and change.
Next: From Many Back to One God, Sort of…