Unlocking the Mysteries of the Inhabitants,
Languages and Religions of the World
High Gods of Primitive People
The first theory of the origin of religion was the theory of Animism and was presented by E.B. Tylor in his book Primitive Cultures. It was published in 1872 shortly after the publication of Darwin's “Origin of Species” and followed the lines of progressive evolution, starting with savages and ending up with civilized people.
The original religion thought to be held by these primitive cultures was animism. Animism is typically the belief in spirits which can be located anywhere or in anything, a stick or stone, a forest, person, hill or river. Under the animistic model a spirit may be assigned to any department of human activity, whether it is love, sports or war. They may also be assigned to any force of nature, such as rain, thunder, wind and fire, etc. They can also represent any geographical location and patron to any town or province.
This jungle or swarm of spirits, which in most cases needed to be fed or appeased, was thought to be the beginning of religion among primitive men. From this animistic belief religion is proposed to have evolved up to the higher plane of Monotheism growing through various stages of spiritism, dreams, idolatry, polytheism, ancestor worship, magic, fetishism, totemism or nature worship, etc.
The evolutionary view of the origins of religion then, is that religion arose from a primitive animistic culture that ascended up to a plurality of gods and finally monotheism. They assume that the more bestial and ugly must be the oldest, and the better in each case must be the higher and therefore the later stage of development.
However, as ethnologists began to investigate these savage cultures, infected with swarms of spirits and fearful superstitions, they found within the ranks of even the most grotesque savages, hints of a High God and Creator.
Ethnologist Wilhelm Schmidt, in his classic, The Origin and Growth of Religion, stated, “animism does indeed find its ultimate origins in the primitive culture, which has already some idea of a soul; but that its full development does not take place till comparatively late. This alone shows that it cannot be the origin of religion, for it is these same primitive cultures which have developed religion in the form of a clear and decided ethical monotheism. What has taken place is rather that this monotheism, under the influence of animism with its offerings to the dead, its ghostly phantoms, its worship of ancestors and its cult of skulls, has often been overlaid, thrust into the background and stifled. Thus the Supreme Being is obscured and often quite disappears.” (The Origin and Growth of Religion, Wilhelm Schmidt, 1935, p. 85)
Anthropologist Richard Gehman who served with Africa Inland Mission International in Kenya and Nairobi, has done extensive research among African tribes and reported that “throughout Africa there is a widespread belief, to one degree or another, in the Supreme Being, the spirit world and mystical powers.” (African Traditional religion in Biblical Perspective, Richard J. Gehman, 2005, xi)
He stated that,
“Edward Taylor rejected the notion that 'primitive' people had a belief in a Creator God. This did not fit into his evolutionary PARADIGM. Yet the facts are there for anyone who searches.The evolutionary view of the origin of religion dominated almost the entire nineteenth century. However, one of Taylor's most favored pupils, Andrew Lang, after his own researches in ethnology, became familiar with high gods among primitive peoples and began to change his view on the origin of religion.
The evidence worldwide from all the peoples is overwhelming. Man is not a religious animal with religious cults everywhere that have evolved over time. A knowledge and belief in God or divinities is found in every continent and virtually in every corner of our globe. To be sure, we also find universal evidence of man's attempt to escape from God and replace him with substitute idols. Man's knowledge of God has been so corrupted at times that there is little similarity between what we know of God from the Scriptures and what world religions teach. Nevertheless, we discover in the sands of history the footprints of God who continually seeks after a sinful and disobedient people. For the Christian who believes in natural revelation, such evidence is not unbelievable.” (African Traditional religion in Biblical Perspective, Richard J. Gehman, 2005, p. 346)
Lang proposed what may be called the “historical view” of religion which begins with civilized people and degenerates down to savages. When we take the historical view and cast our eyes over the history of our subject we see the same data as the evolutionist but a reverse order in which those religions were actually and historically developed.
The historical evidence of religion is that of degeneration, for as far back as we can look, to the oldest tribes ethnologically speaking, we find one common element, a high God who is considered supreme above all other gods, the Creator and Maker of heaven and earth, the first cause of all that is, who is from time immemorial, beyond memory, and who loves mankind.
Ethnological research has undeniably verified this fact. During the days of discovery, when travel began to increase, “civilized man” began to find out that he was not alone in the world, but lived among a thousand other cultures more “primitive” than he. Although his culture had not “arisen” to the higher plane of Europeans, and he was stricken with animistic beliefs, yet among these exceedingly primitive peoples and savages, whether the Australian aborigines, the African bushmen, the Indians of the Americas, high gods were found who were regarded as creators, the founders of the moral code and as kind and good, and were regarded as the “fathers” and therefore could not be the products of a long process of development.
However, the evolutionary view convinced anthropologists that there were different races of humans resulting in the terrible fruit of racism. Certain tribes such as the African Negroes, Asian Mongoloids, and Australian Aborigines were sometimes considered to be missing links or less evolved humans, and were treated in barbaric ways.
If religion began with the relatively pure and moral form of monotheism, it must degenerate. The decades during and after Darwin wrote his Origin of Species, progressive evolution undertook to supplant real history especially in the field of religion and its influence can be widely seen in the works of ethnologists. As progressive evolution became the only criterion for determining the order of stages in religious development, the idea of steady development from lower to higher took its grip.
However, not all succumbed to this view. Ethnologist Paul Radin stated, “Most of us have been brought up in or influenced by the tenets of orthodox ethnology and this was largely an enthusiastic and quite uncritical attempt to apply the Darwinian theory of evolution to the facts of social experience.” He came to recognize, however, that this was a large mistake and until mankind recovers from the confusion and darkness of evolutionary thought no true advancement would ever be attained. He goes on to say, “No progress will ever be achieved, however, until scholars rid themselves, once and for all, of the curious notion that everything possesses an evolutionary history”. (Primitive Man as Philosopher, 1927, P. Radin, p. 373)
E.B. Tylor's Animistic theory greatly influenced the world during the heyday of evolutionism and has all the marks of its origin especially in its assumption of an upward development of mankind. However, his theory, like Evolution lacked any proof that the stages of progress or series of steps have any historical connection with one another; and as Schmidt says, “is founded purely and simply on the psychological plausibility ... [that] depends on the assumption that the simple always precedes the complex.” (The Origin and Growth of Religion, Wilhelm Schmidt, 1935, p. 81)
E. B. Tylor was aware of high gods amidst primitive peoples but alleged that the Supreme Being found amidst the primitive peoples was due to missionary activity. However, this has been proven wrong time and again because many of the primitive tribes which have the knowledge of a Supreme Being are known to have never come into contact with modern man.
When Andrew Lang wrote “The Making of Religion”, purporting therein that the origin of religion was monotheism and from that pure and high faith it degenerated down to animism, it was not readily accepted by his peers. One sympathizer stated, “To have admitted among primitive peoples the existence of monotheism in any form would have been equivalent to abandoning the whole doctrine of evolutionary stages.” (Primitive Man as Philosopher, P. Radin, 1927, p. 345)
Ostracism from the world of academics is no new phenomenon if one takes a position against the evolutionary stages of life in favor of the creationist and historical world view. Sadly, many were not prepared to take that position.
It was not until twenty-five years after Lang published, “The Making of Religion”, that his intuitive insight was corroborated by other trained ethnologists and more accurate data obtained, that no one seriously denied that many primitive peoples have a belief in a Supreme Creator. The investigator brought up in the usual doctrines of Evolution was amazed to find, amidst the lowest of savages, culturally so backwards, that a religious stage so high exists. So much so that many leading investigators have now cast off the yoke of evolutionism and are now taking the more realistic approach, taking into account the historical method of research pertaining to origins, rather than the imaginary view of Evolution.
In the whole domain of ethnology the old evolutionary view is bankrupt. The facts prove that the Supreme Beings have been independently existent and real from time immemorial and that these “high gods” occupy a place of their own in the religious conceptions of savages. They owe their genesis neither to spiritism, dreams, idolatry, magic, fetishism, totemism, ancestor worship, nature worship or polytheism, but proceed from an independent and specific source, and from that time became subdued and thrust into the background.
Dr. A. W. Nieuwenhuis states, “This being the way events have moved, we can explain the remarkable fact that the idea of the [Supreme Being] and the worship given to him fall into the background in proportion as the ideas of spirits become more numerous and include more of the special parts of nature, having greater importance for the people in their daily life.” (Man As He is; His Doctrine in Pagan Worship, p. 30, 1920)
The great ethnologist Wilhelm Schmidt saw in Lang's theory a realistic and historical approach to the beginnings of religion. “But it is just at the most primitive levels that we find the religious element still in greater purity and comparatively uncorrupted, both in elements being still clearly distinguishable. But then, according to Lang's theory, the mythical element begins to develop more and more strongly, intrudes more and more upon the religious, overgrows it, and finally covers it so as nearly to strangle it altogether.” (The Origin and Growth of Religion, Wilhelm Schmidt, 1935, p. 179)
Nevertheless, the fact that all primitive peoples and cultures, isolated from one another and literally worlds apart, retain in their religion a high god or Supreme Being would prove that the resemblances between them could not have arisen en route independently, but owe their origin and existence solely to a historical connection from which they have all wandered in the distant past, namely, as the first verse of the Bible declares, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1).
The notion of high gods is found among all primitive peoples with whom we have close acquaintance. Also, in the great majority of primitive cultures is the figure of the Supreme Being who created the primal pair from whom the tribe descended.
If man was originally created by God in the beginning, how is it that he became so far removed from the knowledge of Him and fellowship with Him? The apostle Paul summarized the descent of man and what happen many years after man's creation saying, “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
In keeping with the historical method, we find that man has not evolved upwards from a bestial and primitive culture but has descended down into the depths of darkness when he chose not to glorify Him as God, to thank Him for all His wonderful benefits and to give Him the honor He deserves.
In departing from the knowledge of his Creator they had become fools of the baser sort, descending into a dark abyss absent of light and the true knowledge of God who alone could illuminate his darkened mind and elevate him to great things through the wisdom and knowledge that only comes through knowing Him.
When we see video documentaries of savage tribes it is regularly suggested that these have not evolved as high as civilized man, when in fact, these tribes have descended down to that level when they departed from the one true God. Physically and mentally they had the same capabilities as “modern man” but their judgment had become skewed and they began to reap the consequences of bad choices leading to an increase in corruption with each generation.
Paul goes on to say, that since, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28). He would not restrain their free will but allowed them, “to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), and to reap what they have sown, leaving them in their pitiful state, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18).
However, God would not let them alone forever. He is longsuffering not willing that any should perish, and undertook to call the nations back to Himself. Of all the nations that were formed at Babel, God chose the nation Israel, not so much to give and illuminate them through His Word, but that the world through them might receive His Word. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10).
They were called out of the darkness by God who had chosen them to receive and transmit the knowledge of God to a world that had turned away and forgotten Him after their rebellion at Babel.
However, we cannot deny that even the Revelation of God given to them began to degenerate as influences from pagan nations began to infiltrate them along with their own sinful natures warring within their souls to turn back to Egypt, and the One True God of Israel began to be idolized and mixed with swarms of other gods so that even Israel began to turn away from worshipping Him. The prophets of Israel were always at war with these evil influences trying to bring them back to a pure and true worship of their Creator.
For those who remain ignorant of history and of their Creator, through the influence of Evolution, one may think that religion has advanced to a higher plane. Outwardly it may appear to be more splendid and ornate. However, as civilization and social conditions advanced, the blending of barbaric absurdities and rites took place. Formalistic rituals, fashionable vestments and lofty temples had the appearance of a greater and higher plane, but inwardly it was more debased and exceedingly distorted, descending from purer and simpler beginnings, resulting in the degeneration of the one true faith.
Since New Testament times when Jesus Christ came into the world to give Light and hope to a perishing people, it did not take long before His Light began to diminish and once again mankind began his descent into that period known as the “Dark Ages”.
The apostle Paul foretold of this saying, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).
Peter also foretold of this cancer that would spread throughout the church saying, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).
By the time Jude wrote his epistle, this was already taking place. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4).
The “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) began to be corrupted, this time by false teachers and prophets who brought in damnable heresies. This was the complaint of the Reformers who tried to bring back the pure worship of Jehovah from a caste of pagan priests that were in the guise of Christianity.
Howbeit, the Reformation is now over and we are once again sinking into ever lower depths as Christianity takes up the banner of toleration, syncretism and pluralism, seeking entertainment and pleasure, and the uplifting of self rather than God. Some would call this revival, as many are now filling their pews to see the latest drama or musical, or to check out the latest trend, but in the last days the Bible tells us a great apostasy would come before Christ returns to set up His kingdom.
Jesus asked, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) Many of the Scriptures reflect that this will not be the case.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof… Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth... men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith... But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1-13).
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1, 2).
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3, 4).
Last Update: 10/09/2011