Spiritual Development Pre-Adam (Part II) – OpEd


The Biblical and Qur’anic Adam was not the First Homo Sapiens; but Adam was the first prophet of Monotheism who knowingly spoke to the One God and was taught monotheism by God. “And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know.” 

“And He (God) taught Adam the names (of all animals (“God also took all the animals to Adam and let Adam name them. Whatever Adam called the animals, that is what their names are! Adam named all the animals on the land, all the birds in the air, and the fish in the water! Genesis 2:19-20), all of them. Then He (God) showed them to the angels and said, “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.” They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.” He (God) said, “O Adam, inform them (the angels) of their names.” And when he (Adam) had informed them of their names.” (Qur’an 2:30-32) So only when advanced language, with its ability to discuss abstract ideas replaced simple language, was Homo Sapiens able to fully comprehend imageless monotheism, and then Homo Sapiens could be better re-named Homo Religiosus, a term used by some scholars in religious studies and anthropology.    

Most people feel better when they are in control of the important factors in their life. The strong desire for control coupled with belief in good and evil spirits eventually leads some HS intelligent minds to attempt to force a spirit to do what an individual wants it to do. Magic is an attempt to subjugate a force in the spiritual world for another person’s weal or woe. Magic is always dangerous because people believe that the spirits do not like to be enslaved by humans and power tends to corrupt even those with good intentions. Yet many tribal religions still have lots of room for defensive magic and even those religions that condemn magic have occasional practitioners. 

Again, the mind-body placebo effect makes magic effective in some societies where belief in magic and superstitions is widespread and well accepted. Accusations of magic and witchcraft are also widespread in some tribal societies. They can be the result of paranoia or scapegoating as often, if not more often, than the actual incidence of magic. Magic and superstitions are the dark side of HS spirituality.

The stronger the attraction of a special place, the greater the effort that distant clans will make to attend, so gathering spots that are turned into sacred sites of pilgrimage through special seasonal rites will enrich human communities. There are scholars who think that HS advanced trade networks helped them out compete Homo Neanderthals in Europe. The need for all the clans to show up about the same time leads to fixed seasonal holy days and a religious calendar. The need to mark time for pilgrimage festivals led people to study the cycle of the moon and the movement of the constellations and thus move some of the spirit powers into the sky. 

They also started exchanging i.e. trading for desirable objects not found in their usual locale. Seashells, obsidian, red ocher and other materials have been found in campsites and graves more than 100-200 miles away from their closest source. Pilgrimage festivals still have major economic impact and serve in most religions as great sources of religious experience and solidarity. 

The Temple at Göbekli Tepe, located just north of the Syrian border, is the oldest structure in the world. It dates to about 11.300 years ago. Only 10 percent has been excavated. So far only the Temple’s monumental stone structures have been uncovered, as opposed to living areas, but a religious structure which must have been built over many decades shows how important religion was. 

Most but not all, spiritual forces are viewed as personalities. In some cultures an impersonal force (referred to by anthropologists as Mana) is believed to manifest itself in certain individuals or classes of people and accounts for and rationalizes good or bad luck as well as personal, family or clan/class success and failure. Ritual pollution is usually viewed as an impersonal power and its cure depends upon impersonal bureaucratic techniques.  

But in most cultures the spirits are personified and ties of kinship relate the various spirits to each other. And in most of these cultures all or almost all of the spirits are said to be descendants of an original Divine couple, or individual, or egg, or something else. This “creator” god is usually not central to the spiritual realm in later times just as a great-grandparent is understood as being a progenitor who is revered but no longer active or powerful. 

Monotheism does not seem to arise naturally from these creator Gods and there is no tendency for the number of Gods to slowly and steadily diminish until it arrives at one. Since all living beings come from other living beings it is very hard for people to conceive of a sole God who is the first cause of all the observed diversity.  Although in historic times there have been individuals in every society who preach monotheism,  they are almost always reviled and rejected by the great majority of their people. 

Prophets who reveal a book of sacred scripture, are very, very rare and are clearly not the product of natural evolution. This is the major difference between revealed and natural religions. 

In small groups moral values can be based on utilitarian principles like do to others as you want them to do to you, or what goes around comes around. But in larger more complex societies with diverse classes and castes it may be more effective to root ethics in transcendent terms since there are not enough repeat interactions between individuals to validate utilitarian morality. As tribes became larger and villages grew, a judge who rewarded good people and punished evil people helped the community to instill its norms in its members. With the exception of a sociopath, the intelligent minds of HS also have a conscious, self-evaluating, purpose driven aspect that needs to be satisfied because groups with a higher percentage of these kinds of minds were more stable and more effective. Guilt arises from many activities and needs to be atoned for. 

Self-discipline provides many advantages for an individual’s survival and success. Most people, and all societies, need the structure of rules, community and divine discipline to maintain self-control. Hunters needed to kill animals, yet they obviously felt ambivalent about it because almost all human societies have rules either about offering some of the kill to the spirit of the animal killed, or a taboo on killing or eating certain animals. There are much fewer rules relating to eating plants. Spilling blood intentionally is fraught with spiritual ambivalence and tension that needs to be dealt with. 

Sex is also never simply a natural act for HS. The mind is always involved. It is not just chance that the first thing HS becomes self-aware of in the Garden of Eden is the shame of being naked. HS is the only living species that thinks it must clothe itself. Evidence of textiles from more than 20,000 years ago has been found in the cold climates of ice age Europe. However, the origins of clothing in Africa are not the result of ice age climate but the result of concepts of modesty. Self-aware intelligent minds became moral minds, which became modest minds. Recent DNA studies of body lice that must lay their eggs in clothing, show that these lice evolved from pubic lice that adapted to clothing that covered the pubic area. This genetic adaptation took place 42-72,000 years ago. Thus, HS have been clothing themselves for at least 42-72,000 years. Long before rules about property became important, rules of probity were important.

The age when sexual modesty became evident is important. The Bible states that the first thing humans became aware of after internalizing the knowledge of good and evil was their nakedness. If this occurred 50-60,000 years ago it fits right in with increasing evidence of more rapid spiritual and technological development. The tool kit of Homo Erectus, a species prior to HS, changed very slowly over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Early HS tools changed more quickly over the course of tens of thousands of years. And HS behavior became much closer to modern humans with the development of ritual burials with grave goods. Humans were buried in an Israeli cave more than 90,000 years ago (Science News 10/29/03). And Near East Neandertals buried their dead in an Iraqi Kurdistan cave 60,000 to 70,000 years ago (SN: 2/18/20).

But about 50-70,000 years ago the pace of change increased substantially for HS both technologically and spiritually. Many paleoanthropologists think that a major improvement in linguistic ability occurred about that time. Physically the HS body has not changed much in the last 100,000 years. The HS body 20,000 years before this transition period (60-70,000 years ago) is not different from the HS body 20,000 years later. But a major change did occur in artistic and other cultural activities. Perhaps the imaginative faculties of HS grew substantially thus causing inspiration and creativity to become more frequent and more rapidly spread. That something very important happened about 60-70.000 years ago is clear even if we do not yet have evidence of exactly what happened. 

I have not devoted much attention to the development of concepts of God in this essay. While beliefs about God are of great concern to revealed religions, most other religions focus much more attention on magic, myth, dietary self-discipline, public and private life cycle rituals, inducing mystical experiences, standards of social and personal behavior, healing sickness and sin, and community ceremonies and celebrations. 

Formal creeds and religious beliefs are a small and recent development within the much larger domain of trust and group loyalty that has been evolving among pre-Adam species for dozens of millennia. Recent brain studies have shown how organic trust and sharing are to human minds. 

Activities that build group loyalty and interpersonal trust enhance individual survival and promote individual spirituality much more than cognitive beliefs and ideologies. But urbanization, writing and mass communications may be changing this. Written revelation introduced a tremendous force expanding the power of religion both in space and time. The impact of religions with written revelations on historic human culture is comparable to the impact of modern science and invention on 20th century lifestyles. Both revealed religions and experimental science together will make the 21st century a turning point in human destiny.

What role does God (the One God of the revealed religions) play in all this? According to Genesis 4:26 humans only began to call upon the name of the Lord in the days of Enosh (Enosh like Adam means human being in Hebrew). That could mean that prior to Enosh/Adam prehistoric religions evolved naturally. Only with the rise of scriptural revelations did the One God penetrate human consciousness. Or it could mean that human consciousness had finally risen to the level of being able to receive Divine communication from the One God. It took over 3,000 years for monotheism to spread world-wide even with scriptural revelations, so it is not surprising that it took over 100,000 years to get humans ready to receive revelations.  

Spirituality among Homo Sapiens has been evolving for at least 80-120,000 years. It is as deeply, if not more deeply rooted, in the HS brain as art or music. Recent studies, especially those on adult twins who were raised apart, suggest genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person’s general religiousness. The idea that reason, socialism or modern science would replace religion has turned out to be a wish fulfillment fantasy of people who bear a grudge against religion. Usually their children or grandchildren return to religion. Religious rituals and ideas are ubiquitous and continue to evolve as the creative intelligent minds of Homo Sapiens encounter changes in their environment. This will most likely continue as long as HS have creative intelligent minds. 

Or as Albert Einstein put it: “What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To  answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in asking  it? I answer, people who regard their own life and that of their fellow creatures as meaningless are not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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