2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
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Moralizing gods, or in a broader sense, the concept of punishment for moral wrongdoing, emerged as large human communities emerged and their social structure became more complex. As reported in Nature, scientists came to this conclusion after analyzing the structure and beliefs in 414 communities from 30 regions of the world that have existed in the past 10 thousand years.
Updated: in July 2021, the article was withdrawn from Nature.
In various religions around the world there are supernatural beings who punish people for insulting themselves (for example, for breaking a taboo or for not being offered sacrifices). But they rarely pay attention to what is happening in human communities and punish moral violations. Moralizing gods, such as God in Abrahamic religions, who punished people not only for neglecting him, but also for inappropriate behavior towards each other, or the broader concept of punishment for moral transgressions (karma in Buddhism), appeared only in the last few millennia … Scientists associate their emergence with the emergence of human communities with a complex organization. Perhaps the emergence of moralizing gods helped people to cooperate with each other, although not all scientists agree with this hypothesis.
Another controversial issue is the timing of the emergence of these concepts - before or after the emergence of complex human societies. Phylogenetic analysis of the religions of the Austronesian peoples and archaeological data from the Scandinavian Peninsula showed that moralizing supernatural forces appeared before complexly organized communities. In contrast, a study of the ancient states of Eurasia demonstrated that complex communities preceded the emergence of moralizing gods. But these works analyzed religions only in certain regions and were vague about the complexity of communities (for example, they used a binary classification of "more" or "less" complex).
To get around these limitations, an international team led by Harvey Whitehouse of Oxford University used information from the Seshat: Global History Databank, which compiles data on the social structure and religion of hundreds of human communities that have existed from prehistoric times to the present day. … Scientists have analyzed 414 communities, starting from the Neolithic Anatolia 11, 6 thousand years ago in 30 regions of the world. In doing so, they used 51 characteristics of the social complexity of a community and four to define supernatural entities.
As a result, the authors of the study concluded that the emergence of a complex social structure with society usually preceded the emergence of moralizing gods or a god, or the concept of punishment for moral transgressions. According to the model of scientists, they appeared within 100 years after the number of people in the community reached a million. The researchers also found that in 75 percent of cases, the appearance of moralizing gods was preceded by the invention of writing. Therefore, scholars have suggested that the concept of punishment for moral misconduct spread after the written language began to be widely used in society.
The spread of moralizing gods in the pre-colonial era. The colored circles show the regions where the concept of punishment for moral transgressions and moralizing gods appeared, gray - where not. Zoroastrianism is marked in red; orange - Abrahamic religions; yellow - other religions with moralizing gods; blue - Buddhism; purple - other religions in which there was a concept of punishment for moral wrongdoing.
According to the authors of the article, for the first time the goddess punishing moral sins appeared in ancient Egypt, about 4, 8 thousand years ago. Then moralizing gods arose in Mesopotamia, about 4, 2 thousand years ago; in Anatolia, 3, 5 millennia ago, and in China about three thousand years ago. In the first millennium, large religions appeared, which later spread to most regions of the planet, first Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, then Christianity and Islam. At the same time, the concept of punishment for moral sins appeared among many peoples long before the spread of major religions. For example, the ancient Romans believed in divine punishment nearly 900 years before Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Of the communities in America, where the idea of punishing moral wrongdoing did not exist before colonization, only the Inca empire was a major entity. Therefore, it is possible that the moralizing gods were adaptations of people in large communities whose members needed to cooperate with each other. Also, the results of the researchers refute the hypothesis that moralizing gods appeared in the 1st millennium BC, as a "by-product" of the appearance of wealth and abundance in ancient societies.
Earlier, scientists noticed that the social status of a person with traditional communities depends on the degree of his religiosity. The more actively a person takes part in generally accepted religious practices, the higher his social status.