Where does religion come from?

Where does religion come from, is it something that is innate to us as human beings, part of our DNA, part of our genetic makeup?

One of the best expositions I have come across on the nature of religion and its origin is by the Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón in his novel The Angel’s Game.

… generally speaking, beliefs arise from an event or character that may or may not be authentic, and rapidly evolve into social movements that are conditioned and shaped by the political, economic and societal circumstances of the group that accepts them.

A large part of the mythology that develops around each of these doctrines, from its liturgy to its rules and taboos, comes from the bureaucracy generated as they develop and not from the supposed supernatural act that originated them. Most of the simple, well-intentioned anecdotes are a mixture of common sense and folklore, and all the belligerent force they eventually develop comes from a subsequent interpretation of these principles, or even their distortion, at the hands of the bureaucrats. The administrative and hierarchic aspects seem to be crucial in the evolution of belief systems. The truth is first revealed to all men, but very quickly individuals appear claiming sole authority and duty to interpret, administer and, if need be, alter this truth in the name of the common good. To this end they establish a powerful and potentially repressive organisation. This phenomenon, which biology show us is common to any social group, soon transforms the doctrine into a means of achieving control and political power. Divisions, wars, and break-ups become inevitable. Sooner or later, the word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds.

Christianity has strayed so far from that of its founder, named in his name, but now the followers of the church than of its founder, particularly in its dogmas and who is to be excluded rather than who may be included, that its founder would have difficulty recognising what has evolved from what at the time was a small, obscure Jewish sect.


It is the prevailing social condition and the need to maintain control that determines God is male, not some hidden truth as we cannot know the unknowable.


To quote again Carlos Ruiz Zafón from his his novel The Angel’s Game.

The main pillar of every organised religion, with few exceptions, is the subjugation, repression, even the annulment of women in the group. Women must accept the role of an ethereal, passive and maternal presence, never of authority or independence, or she will have to take the consequences. She might have a place of honour in the symbolism, but not in the hierarchy. Religion and war are male pursuits. And anyhow, woman sometimes ends up becoming the accomplice of her own subjugation.

The Virgin Mary may be revered in the Catholic Church, but she has no authority. Islam goes further than most in repression of women.

The Anglican Church in England has only in the last ten years allowed women priests. It still does not permit women bishops.

In several of his novels, Paulo Coelho discusses the feminine side of God – Brida, By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Witch of Portobello.


On his blog, Paulo Coelho has recently initiated a discussion on the feminine face of God.


The Cathars treated women as equals, did not require priests to interceded on their behalf with God. They were exterminated by the Catholic Church. The word becomes flesh and the flesh bleeds.

Hildergard von Bingen touched upon the feminine side.

Jesus treated men and women as his equals. Mary Magdalene was one of his disciples. When the men deserted, the women remained at his side.

Religions rooted in the natural world, have a feminine side, often a Mother God. A Mother God who looks after all the natural world, not a chosen people.


Worshipers may have been cowed into good behaviour by hell and damnation preachers who promised everlasting damnation in hell, but they were not inspired. It is stories that inspire us. Above all else, religious texts are great heroic stories.

One of the greatest story tellers was Jesus. Not the great heroic tales of the Old Testament, simple tales that people could relate to. That more than anything explains his growing band of followers. That and his eclectic tales, tales that do not make sense when looked at with cold logic, more like Zen Buddhism, the sound of one hand clapping. This is not so obvious in Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, but try the Gospel of Thomas.

A Thousand and One Nights kept a sultan captivated.

One of the greatest books of religious prose is the Bhagavad Gita.

A more modern tale is The Alchemist, a modern fable telling us of the quest of Santiago and how he learns to read symbols, learns how to communicate with the Soul of the World. It is the simple nature of this narrative that has made it the most popular novel by Paulo Coelho, whereas in contrast The Witch of Portobello was not as popular, and yet it contains much of the same elements of mysticism.


Follow the discussion of The Alchemist on the blog maintained by Paulo Coelho and note how many people say it inspired them, how many people it changed their lives.


It is part of our genetic makeup that we need narrative. We live through metaphor, that is how we explain and understand the word around us.

In short we all love a good story and religion caters to that need. Furthermore, it is sinners who are converted, not saints.

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9 Responses to “Where does religion come from?”

  1. danceswithcrayons Says:

    Lots of interesting points you have shared here Keith!

    Each of us has an experience and life is a great teacher.

    Here is where I am, at the present moment (a work in progress):

    Part of yet all of, none of, and more than simply: a gender, a skin color, a religion, a personality, words, a socio-economic class, a culture, a tradition, a preference, a geographic location, a pain, and even, a ritual. What do I believe in?

    The power of Love. It feels so good that we want to define a source that is felt but never seen!

    Not that any of the above is ‘wrong’ because all are paths. Many of these paths bring people together to celebrate and express gratitude. Alone-ness, or a simple stroll in the woods with a friend and even sporting events can bring us to loving energy!

    Those that walked before, shared experiences, hopes, dreams – personal ways that led to a reunion with LOVE; some say a god of their understanding (and this happens often, during some very troubled times). Once feeling connected with to or by LOVE, because it means so much, we like to establish a way to reconnect – we BELIEVE! Others notice a change for the better and are inspired. Some then go on to encourage others to try likewise, to lessen suffering perhaps, and provide hope.

    Sharing or giving back as best we can, is a huge part of living. I realize in sharing anything – that what helps me, may or may not be useful, to another. My path is not ‘the’ path, although just as valid as everyone else’s. As long as I feel love (god), I am, and can choose to remain, a prayer in motion each day. How each person chooses to give or express joy and love, is unique!

    People, throughout time, have intense, life-changing experiences! So can little children, without ever having known religion or a ritual. Sometimes personal or group miracles happen too; something seen or done beyond explanation, where a person or people can suddenly overcome an adversity or pain. Through appreciation, people want to remember, share and honor the miracles.

    We can, at any time, stop causing harm to ourselves. I choose to live. And want to love and be loved! But do not want or need definition or approval or permission – from a religion or a church or anyone, to be ‘me’. Men, Women, Children and the Earth have been owned as property, disrespected, tortured and denied basic human dignity throughout history, and survived in spite of it all. Isn’t this a miracle?!!

    When my back caved in and it was no longer possible to dig in the dirt physically, I found another way to enjoy this experience. Improvise, create. The metaphor is important Keith, agreed wholeheartedly!

    History: Remnants of the past and part of the struggle to survive. What worked, and what did not. Mistakes and happy accidents. We are humanity:

    A gift, living in the present.

    Thank You Keith. Much Love, Jane : )

  2. Assembly of good Christians Says:

    There one reference to Cathars in Keith’s document.

    The term “Cathars” derives from the Greek word Katheroi and means “Pure Ones”. They were a gnostic Christian sect of tolerant pacifists that arose in the 11th century, an offshoot of a small surviving European gnostic community that emigrated to the Albigensian region in the south of France.The medieval Cathar movement flourished in the 12th century A.D. throughout Europe until its virtual extermination at the hands of the Inquisition in 1245.

    There are an ever increasing number of historians and other academics engaged in serious Cathar studies. Interestingly, to date, the deeper they have dug, the more they have vindicated claims that medieval Catharism represented a survival of the earliest Christian practices.

    Thank you!
    Brad Hoffstetter
    Communications Division
    Assembly of good Christians

    Some credible sources:

  3. eunus noe Says:

    I’m reading this book too.
    nice work!
    –will look into your blog too.

  4. Süleyman Akdoğan Says:

    Among the religions, Islam reveres women most. Before Islam, Girls were buried alive. But, İslam has stopped it. What you know about İslam is completely wrong.

  5. Süleyman Akdoğan Says:

    There is not even a country in the world reflecting Islamic belief. If we gather and experience Islam, women rights will automatically be protected.

  6. Süleyman Akdoğan Says:

    Thanks for the link I am going to read them one by one:))

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