I found this picture at http://savagemike.tumblr.com/post/176870564/evolution.
As you might imagine, I have found a couple problems with this picture:
- It shows a visual manifestation of humans getting better and more upright, connecting changes in our physiology with “advances” in our belief systems.
- Monotheism is depicted as a necessary step towards atheism
- Tribal animism is depicted as the least “evolved”
- All four creatures in the picture have penises (unless those are supposed to be our vestigial tails?) *I know that's the "M" but seriously, I'm sure this artist is capable of better.
What this tells me:
- The person who drew the picture was a man
- He connects his sex with the generic depiction of a human being
- He also connects the creation of Western civilisation with “evolution”
- He considers a category of religion that is responsible for millions of deaths, oppression, imperialism, and violence, to be more evolved than a category of spirituality that is grounded in respect for human and all other life
Let me be more specific. He quotes Dawkins, whom I respect a great deal, along with a man named Ibn Warraq, a secularist and active critic of Islam. Though I assume Dawkins would acknowledge that "evolution" does not by any means equal progress, Dawkins specifically refers to a progression from animism, to polytheism, to monotheism, and then onto atheism.
This is an obnoxiously presumptuous attitude that I have to say I'm a bit surprised by. Our global culture may have moved in that specific direction, but I would argue that our evolution towards monotheism was quite a regression. We started with a universal spirituality that respected all living beings, and saw symbolic spirits in observable natural phenomena (e.g. wind, water, trees...). We then "progressed" to a category of cults and superstitions completely devoid of any reason and separated from the physical world. Monotheistic deities even made a point to no longer be on this earth, but rather to be in some intangible place in the sky; in other words, we dissociated ourselves from our world and went off into la-la land. And at the same time, we—surprise!—separated ourselves from each other. We began dominating the earth, and each other. We oppressed other humans from other cultures that we regarded as weak or inferior and we treated women and children differently from men.
Now for Warraq. He has the unimpressive and simplistic idea that “monotheism is in its turn doomed to subtract one more God and become atheism.” It is just as difficult to subtract one god from a monotheistic religion as it is to subtract millions from a polytheistic one. Actually, I would argue it's more difficult. And it is a million times simpler to move from animism to atheism. I would consider myself an animist, a pantheist, and an atheist. Animism is the belief that everything living (or even everything in existence) has a "spirit." This does not have to be superstitious, unlike with polytheism and monotheism. It is rather like pantheism, the belief in god or gods as nature itself. We do not attribute supernatural abilities to nature; we simply revere it as it is; an amazing thing with awesome power. The relationship between both biotic and abiotic elements of an ecosystem is fluid, lifelike, changing, and worthy of reverence; yet none of it goes beyond the scope of the scientific method.
As for polytheism: gods in polytheistic religions and spiritualities are much more down-to-earth than the Judeo-Christian God could ever hope to be. In most polytheistic religions, gods represent certain aspects of nature itself, though usually with a supernatural slant. In Hinduism, Brahma is the god of creation, Shiva the god of destruction, and Vishnu the god of preservation; together they balance each other out. They each come to earth regularly and interact with the physical world. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the goddess of the earth itself. You do not need to look up into the sky and speak to a God whose whereabouts are never actually known; if you wish to speak to Gaia, she is right there beneath your feet.
Then came the monotheists. A group of people wandered the desert and became weary from their lack of resources. Everything seemed cruel to them; life seemed cruel. So they changed their gods to fit the cruelty they saw. They developed a philosophy of cruelty that involved more self-involvement and survival instinct and less interest in the good of all creation. They pushed their gods away from the earth and their minds left as well. They became disoriented and dissociated from reality, soon their gods formed a mass of one omniscient, omnipotent, abstract God beyond human comprehension. That is the culture that created our highly-evolved monotheistic culture today; a random group of unlucky people who succumbed to the cruelties of an arid climate. Now we must all pass on the abuse of this culture: their feelings of futility—that things are the way things are because God wants it that way; their fear—that God is judgmental and cruel and you must walk on eggshells around Him; and their self-hatred—that God loves and forgives you despite the fact that you were born into sin beyond your control. And don't forget their hatred of others—that God does not forgive those who do not believe the same things, or act the same way that his followers do.
Yes, I can see why that God—the one that has always been at odds with science, reason, and empiricism—that God was a necessary step towards atheism: a lack of superstition, lack of futility, lack of fear, and lack of hatred.
Just because a culture is powerful does not mean it is best. Just because a culture dominates and destroys all others does not mean it is part of progress in any sense.