Did Monotheism Evolve from Primitive Religions?


Thomistic Bent

When studying the history of religion, the question sometimes arises whether religion has evolved over time. Did religions start out as primitive, then slowly develop into more complex beliefs? Did religion start out as animism or polytheism, then change to monotheism? Did primitive peoples start with beliefs that had mysterious spiritual forces acting like people, such as Greek gods, then slowly develop, along with society, toward a complex monotheistic god?  The general accusation is that religions such as Christianity grew over time out of more simple, early religious beliefs, as sort of social Darwinism in the religious realm.

The solution, of course, is to studying the beliefs of indigenous  peoples.  In The Religions of the American Indians (A. Hultkrantz; M. Setterwall, trans., Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1979) the author surveys the beliefs of native tribes before westerners influenced them. A couple of significant findings are worth noting.

First…

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