Re: thoughts on origin of religions

Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 18:51:36 MST

On Fri, Feb 22, 2002 at 01:08:38PM +1100, Miriam English wrote:

> I have been wondering why so many of the world's most powerful religions
> seem to have been born around the same time. It seems to me that many of
> the big religions got much of their power from the birth of writing.

Certainly many. At first I was inclined to agree with you. But on
I recalled that the hindu Vedas are an *oral* document - the rote-memorized
recitation trumps any written instantiation. Likewise the
Zoroatrian Gathas were preserved by rote even after their literal meanings
were lost, and the dating of Zoroastrianism derives from linguistic dating of
the proto-Iranian language they embody.

As I think of religions as meme-complexes, I consider accurate long-term
preservation of memetic content the essential innovation. Writing, without
doubt, provides a spectacular preservation medium, and does not require
the massive amounts of study and time verbal recitations require. So
writing should boost the spread and survival of religions. That
religions post-date writing (excepting probably Hinduism and Zoroastrianism)
may mostly be an epiphenomenom of the fact that powerful religions need
sophisticated societies to create them, and sophisticated societies generally
develop writing too.

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