Man by nature is a spiritual being. Throughout all of history, he has never known a life without a conscious assumption of the beyond. Whether his life was spent gathering sticks and hunting bison, or consumed in the chaos of Wall Street, he is aware that at some point his life will end. It is at that very point spirituality is created and he wonders what, if anything, is next. Ideas became theories, which later became compilations of beliefs, and whole societies began to confide in a shared assumption.This “shared assumption” is what later becomes to be known as religion.
Spirituality is man’s awareness of the “here after”. The conscious idea of life beyond life plagues the minds of all mankind. Morals, ethics, and the general idea of what is right and what is wrong are all derived from man’s spirituality. It is a common belief that when this life ends, and another begins, it is the choices one makes throughout this physical existence that decide what happens in the next. This belief has shaped the behavior of man for as long as man has existed.Religion is the formal practice of a shared spiritual belief. Whereas spirituality is an individual experience, religion affects whole societies and civilizations.
Throughout history, thousands of religions have existed and many still dominate people’s lives today. Because of this, it is correct to assume that religion is very important to society, and has always been. In the early Lascaux caves of France, man’s intellect and spirituality were first discovered. Paintings of bison, horses, and human hands cover the walls.This should be somewhat expected as people tend to recreate what they see in the natural world within their artwork.
However, along with bison and horses, paintings of bird-headed men and other half-man-half-animal figures line the dark corridors of the caves. Surely these figures do not, nor ever did, exist in the natural world. Although what these paintings mean or what exactly they are attempting to portray cannot be proven, due to the fact that the cultures who created them were preliterate, many scholars believe they have more than just aesthetic meaning.Marilyn Stokstad, author of “Art History” explains, “Scientists agree that human beings have an aesthetic impulse and take pleasure in pursuing impractical activities, but the effort required to accomplish the great paintings of Lascaux suggests that their creators were motivated by more than simple pleasure. “(48). Even though prehistoric cultures did not have a religion, it is very clear they were an extremely spiritual people. In early civilizations, the majority of people could not read or write; only significant political and religious leaders were literate.
For this reason, art is the earliest and most used method of displaying spiritual ideas. This is also the same for religion. Some of the more artistic religions are those of Christianity and Islam.
Although Islam does not allow the use if ikons (Greek, meaning “images”), this is not to say they did not use art. In Islamic art, geometric shapes were the dominating motif. Within the geometric shapes figures of leaves, vines, and other plant-life superimpose themselves into the work. This has great religious meaning, as “paradise”, the Islamic version of Heaven, is portrayed as a wildly lush and vibrant garden.Whole mosques and even pages from the Koran are covered in this type of art. More important than the artwork itself is the religious purpose it has, which is that religion is the sole basis of Islamic art and is obviously important. In early Christian art, very little literature is used. Images of Christ, often depicted as a shepherd, and other visual symbols are used instead.
The purpose of using symbols instead of literature is so that anyone can get meaning out of the artwork, regardless if he or she can read or write. This leads to the fact that people were religious before they were literate.As important as religion is to society, it is impossible to over-look its impact on mankind. This begs the question of why we have religion. Although that is a question that will never have a solid answer, a logical explanation is desperately needed. George Santayana notes, “Having renounced my faith in nature, I must not weakly retain my faith in experience. “(“Scepticism and Animal Faith” 26).
Religion is about having faith. Having faith that one’s life will be successful; faith in that death is not the end, nor is it a negative experience.Having faith in religious beliefs is a comforting reassurance. With faith, all things are believed to be possible. Similarly, Karl Marx believed that religion was developed by the oppressed to help soothe their suffering. While one cannot prove exactly why religion exists or how it came to exist, faith and comfort are undeniably a factor.
From the beginning of history, man has had insight as to why he exists. He has pondered the afterlife, and his own intellect has given him hope and reassurance. He has been conscious of a “greater” existence and aware of the effects of a spiritual belief.Through history and art, man has embraced his spirituality and shared it with others. As foggy our ideas on the beginning of religion may be, one thing is for certain: “… Humans are pattern-seeking, storytelling animals, who seek and find patterns that fit a meaningful story.
Once a pattern is found and a story developed around that pattern, additional confirming evidence is sought, and disconfirming evidence (or clues of a hoax) are ignored. ” (Michael Shermer “The Borderlands of Science” 319).