I've been ruminating about "gods" and religions, how people dream them up and their nature through history. Like much of my thinking, it comes easiest while I'm engaged in something physical, like the carpet I worked on yesterday and the bumper crop of Mulberry leaves I was vacuming up today and turning into mulch.
The average person doesn't spend much time on such reflections and I probably wouldn't either were it not for my past associations and activities. It's impossible to be embroiled in a super-fundamentalist cult for over twenty years and not have religion occupying a significant place in your memories and the concepts you've had to mull over and analyze incessantly for decades. It's led me into very deep historical, religious and pschological study and never-ending analysis.
Our instinctual search for order and patterns, coupled with our vulnerability in a dangerous world and ecosystem led our primate ancestors to seek something to explain and hopefully offset the natural vulnerability we all feel. I think that situation led to what seems like a "hardwired" proclivity toward religion.
Humans want answers. There's always someone who will come along and supply what that individual decides are the answers. In the early group and clan societies, the strongest and wisest or most vociferous and communicative took care of and tended to rise to leadership over the weaker, more reticent and more vulnerable in their group. Some of them became legends around the campfires and, like Elvis, the stories got bigger and more marvelous with the telling. I've often said that, in an earlier, less recorded and literarily fixed age, Elvis would have joined the pantheon of gods. We see the same force at work in the sometimes largely fictional stories about the founders of our own nation.
Just as Roman emperors were exhalted to the position of gods, some of the legends of these exemplary individuals and their families led to deification. It took the form of a holy family, even among the ancient Isrealites. It's clear that the Israelites didn't start out as a strictly mono-theistic people. They also had a god family, known as the Elohim. El Elyon was the patriarch and Ashtoreth was his wife. He had several children, like Baal, Yahweh, Anath, etc.
It wasn't until after the Babylonian captivity, during which the Jews had been subjected to Persian Zoroastrianism, that mono-theism became the totally dominant approach of the Jewish nation. All the other Elohim suddenly were shoved aside and Yahweh became the one and only god. It was only after that time that what we now know as the Old Testament began to be constructed in the form we know today. The polytheistic overtones still can be seen in the modified Babylonian creation account in which the Elohim says, "Let us" do something.
Men always create gods in their image, not the other way around. That reversal of the actual reality is common in both politics and religion. The ancient gods that still haunt the faiths of today far more than people realize were usually just ordinary people who had been raised to the level of immortality and semi-omnipotence. I say semi-omnipotence because all devotees to regional gods were constantly afraid that a more powerful god might thwart their god, and that was a good "copout" for the priests and shamans. It persists in our dualist perception of God and Satan being at war and Satan sometimes coming out on top. That whole concept comes straight out of Persian Zoroastrianism.
When one thinks about it, the ancients had a very convenient way of justifying their own failings and inadequacies by holding up these powerful conceptual concoctions as models. The Greek pantheon, and competing pantheons, were filled with gods who were all too human. Randy old Zeus and his counterparts in other mythologies, as well as their quarreling families and associates could serve as a justification for just about anything.
I can picture a philandering husband telling his outraged wife, "Look, honey, I'm only mortal. If Zeus can't keep 'it' in his pants (or whatever Zeus wore), how can a mere man like me do any better?"
So, today we have several evolved religions on this small planet. All the writings attributed to the Old Testament developed enturies after what they purport to record and some of those events have been shown to be either total fictions or massive non-factual fabrications of quite different events. The New Testament wasn't gathered together in anything near its present form until the fourth century -- a time approximately equal to the elapsed time between the first American colonies and now -- in a time of no news services, basically no written records, and a Roman world afflicted with hundreds of competing religions and wandering teachers of multitudinous ideologies looking for followings.
We have a more reliable backup of religious writings connected with Islam and Mormonism than we have for either Judaism or Christianity. We wouldn't even have Christianity if desperate imperial god Constantine hadn't forced the issue by his imperial decree when he ordered the Council of Nicea. Want an eye-opening expose of that? Go here: http://www.nexusmagazine.com/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=70