Back of History: The Story of Our Own Origins

By William Howells | Go to book overview

15
The meaning of religion

Is life complete with food and society? It is for the monkeys, but then the monkeys have no culture, and we have lots of it. Culture consists, as I have said more than a few times, of patterns, or abstract ideas which are translated into concrete objects or actions. Now that man has become able to handle such patterns he can no longer take them or leave them alone. Instead, he must accept them as his way of understanding his whole universe. And this in turn has brought him the most abstract, non-animal side of all his culture: his religion.

This is a sort of top level of culture, symbolic in nature, and so above the technical and social levels. Man meets some of his problems with concrete tools, which are so easily perceived and comprehended that apes may imitate their use. (Be it remembered, of course, that the tools themselves are the products of abstract ideas.) He meets other problems--raising children, let us say--by various practical rules (though rules are more abstract than tools) which he follows to give his society more definite shape. Now man's handling of abstract ideas shows him still other things which no animal can recognize, and which correspond to nothing concrete.

For example, an animal may be aware of what it is like to be hungry or sick, while a man may be aware of what it is like to foresee being hungry or sick and to be apprehensive about it. But this is something he cannot lay his hands on or give orders about. He cannot pull it down from its abstract state. He must rise to its level with cultural weapons of a symbolic kind. In the awareness of such things as sickness and hunger mankind has

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Back of History: The Story of Our Own Origins
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Books by William Howells 2
  • Title Page 3
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Content 9
  • Prologue 13
  • The Nature of Human Life 17
  • 1 - The Coming of Mankind 17
  • 2 - The Meaning of Society 31
  • 3 - Culture: How We Behave 45
  • 4 - Language: How We Talk 56
  • The Old Hunters--The First Step 69
  • 5 - Early Tools: The Lower Paleolithic 69
  • 6 - Early Men 82
  • 7 - The End of the Stone Age 101
  • 8 - The Last Living Hunters 118
  • The New Farmers -- the Second Step 135
  • 9 - The First Food Growers: The Neolithic 135
  • 10 - The Spread of Modern Races 154
  • 11 - Asia and the Western Farmers 168
  • 12 184
  • 13 - African Herders and Gardeners 206
  • The New Societes 223
  • 14 - The Organization of Society 223
  • 15 - The Meaning of Religion 241
  • 16 - Inventions and Changes 255
  • The New World 17 the Oldest Americans 273
  • Cities and Bronze-The Third Step 315
  • 19 - The Cradles of Civilization in Asia 315
  • 20 - Egypt, Crete and the Beginnings of Europe 336
  • Epilogue 353
  • Author's Note 363
  • Index 365
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