“WE SMILE today at Pueblo Indian rain dances. . . . But what do we do when we are desperate? . . . On the two occasions when my life was shattered by the anguish of personal crisis, I did as those Indians did—I prayed for help.” Thus wrote philosophy professor Huston Smith in the introduction of the book Great Religions of the World.
Man’s need to reach out to something higher and mightier when he is under stress appears to be both basic and universal. Anthropologists and historians tell us that from the beginning, man felt this need when mystified by the forces of nature, threatened by ferocious wild beasts and perplexed by death and the hereafter. This, they say, coupled with fear of the unknown, brought about the birth of religion.
For example, commenting on the beginning of the Shinto religion, the book Religions in Japan says: “Anything which evoked a feeling of awe was revered as being particularly imbued with divine or mysterious power; therefore, the forces of nature, especially awe-inspiring trees, rocks or mountains, and other inexplicable natural phenomena became objects of worship. These were given the name kami (god).” In time, legends, rites, rituals and shrines developed. These were passed on from generation to generation. And thus was born the Shinto religion.
According to this idea, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Hindus, the Chinese and all the other ancient civilizations devised their own forms of worship, their own religions, independently. These were then influenced by the people’s way of life—their foods, their customs, even the climate and the geography of their land. The result is the diversity of religion we see today.
Independent or From One Source?
Such an explanation is satisfactory only to a degree, however. Though accounting for the great diversity seen among religions, it leaves some basic questions unanswered. For example, if all the different religions developed independently of one another, then how are we to account for the many fundamental similarities among them that cannot simply be attributed to natural human response?
Take, for instance, the stories and legends regarding the origin of man. Although details vary, the belief that man was made from the dust of the earth is widespread. One Greek legend says that Prometheus molded the first humans from clay and Athene breathed life into them. The Peruvian Indians used the term alpa camasca (animated earth) to describe the first man. A North American Indian tribe, the Mandan, believed that the ‘Great Spirit’ made two figures from clay and brought them to life by the breath of his mouth. One ancient Chinese legend says that P’an-ku made human figures from clay with elements of yin and yang; another legend tells of Nu-kua, a mythical figure, modeling men and women from yellow clay. The list goes on and on, including legends among the tribesmen of Africa and inhabitants of the islands of Micronesia.
Even more amazing is the universality of legends dealing with the destruction of wicked ancestors in a deluge and the survival or reappearance of the human race thereafter. Peoples and tribes in far-flung places of the earth recount varying versions of the same story.
What Was the Source?
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Bible will recognize right away the similarity of such legends with the accounts in the Bible of creation and the Noachian Flood. But what, you might ask, does the Bible have to do with the legends of the Greeks, the American and the Peruvian Indians, the Chinese and all the rest? Not that these religions were inspired by the Bible. Rather, the Bible outlines the way the many religions came into being in a manner that accounts for both their diversity and their similarity.
In his book The Outline of History, H. G. Wells wrote: “Wherever primitive civilization set its foot in Africa, Europe, or western Asia, a temple arose, and where the civilization is most ancient, in Egypt and in Sumer, there the temple is most in evidence. . . . The beginnings of civilization and the appearance of temples is simultaneous in history. The two things belong together.”
This is what the Bible book of Genesis tells us: “Now all the earth continued to be of one language and of one set of words. And it came about that in their journeying eastward they eventually discovered a valley plain in the land of Shinar, and they took up dwelling there.” (Genesis 11:1, 2) Shinar is in Mesopotamia, the so-called cradle of civilization.
The account goes on to tell us that as the people settled in the plains of Shinar they rallied together for a building project: “Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves, for fear we may be scattered over all the surface of the earth.”—Genesis 11:4.
What kind of city and tower were they building? The city, called Babel, or Babylon, was primarily a religious city. No fewer than 53 temples have been found in its ruins. Its worship featured triads of gods, belief in the immortality of the human soul, belief in the underworld, or hell, and astrology. Idolatry, magic, sorcery, divination and the occult all played a major role. The infamous Tower of Babel was not merely a monument or a landmark; other similar structures unearthed in the area indicate that it probably was a ziggurat with several stages, as well as a temple at the top. It would rise above and dominate the city.
What happened to the building project? The Bible record says: “That is why its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth, and Jehovah had scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth.”—Genesis 11:9.
No longer able to communicate with one another, the builders left off their project and began to move out in different directions. Wherever they went, they brought with them their religious beliefs, ideas, legends and myths. Millennia of local development have resulted in the great diversities seen on the surface of the world’s religions. But underneath there are the unmistakable similarities, evidence that they came from the same source—Babel, or Babylon.
Referring to this common source of false religion, Colonel J. Garnier observed in his book The Worship of the Dead: “Not merely Egyptians, Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, but also the Hindus, the Buddhists of China and of Thibet, the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Druids, Mexicans and Peruvians, the Aborigines of Australia, and even the savages of the South Sea Islands, must have all derived their religious ideas from a common source and a common centre. Everywhere we find the most startling coincidences in rites, ceremonies, customs, traditions, and in the names and relations of their respective gods and goddesses.”
Corroborating the above is this comment by Joseph Campbell in his book The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology: “The archaeology and ethnography of the past half-century have made it clear that the ancient civilizations of the Old World—those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, India and China—derived from a single base, and that this community of origin suffices to explain the homologous forms of their mythological and ritual structures.”
The Bible not only provides the background of the great dispersion but also foretells the outcome—the establishment of a world empire of Babylonish false religion. In strong and vivid language she was described as “the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication . . . Upon her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.’” (Revelation 17:1, 2, 5) She wields a tremendous influence over not only the masses but also the political, military and commercial systems of the earth.
What has been the result of Babylon the Great’s long domination over the nations and peoples? Under the influence of her many forms of religion, what kind of fruitage has been produced? This we shall consider in the next article.
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From Babylon religious ideas and myths spread to all parts of the world