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Discussion 4 to Talk Back 38
Early Religious Beliefs

by Jeff Hiatt

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Being Christian is a belief, but it is a belief taught to them through a person's upbringing. It's not something you would possess naturally without your upbringing. I believe I was "raised" as a Christian before I was old enough to think for myself in this regard.

As far as human groups that did not create god, Joseph McCabe wrote in The Origin of Religion about various people including the Yahgans of Tierra del Fuego that did not believe in god.

Here is the applicable excerpt from the Secular Web :

In Tierra del Fuego there are three peoples. It is the lowly Yahgans who interest us. They seem to have degenerated in many respects, but there is no trace of any degeneration from a higher religious level. Fortunately, they were thoroughly studied for two years (1882 and '83) by two able French scientists long before modern ideas could reach them, and these men, Hyades and Deniker, say: "We have never detected the least allusion to any kind of cult or religious idea." They quote a missionary, T. Bridges, who had, before them, spent twenty years amongst the Yahgans. He says:

"They have neither hope nor fear beyond the grave. For them there is neither God, nor good, nor evil, nor spirits to fear apart from the phantoms which may injure them in this world. Death is the end of existence, and they have no idea of a spiritual life or of the composition of man from a body and a soul."

Here let us pause for a moment to point the bearing on another issue of religious controversy. It is constantly said that no tribe ever lived without a belief in God. Even Professor Leuba strangely says, in his "Psychological Study of Religion," that this is correct. It is very far from correct.

I do not see, in any case, what consolation a Christian can derive from the assurance that the very lowest of savages share his belief in God. It might, perhaps, be urged that this universal belief points to either a primitive revelation or an "instinct" in human nature. If the latter view be urged, we may say that an instinct which is so strong in the savage and so feeble in modern civilized man is scarcely entitled to respect. And if it be held rather that the universality of belief points to a primitive revelation, we can only regret that the revelation did not contain also a warning that worship should be kept free from bloodshed, human sacrifices, and all the monstrosities of savage religion.

In point of fact, it is false that all nations or peoples believe in God. I have just quoted a most experienced and devoted missionary saying that the Yahgans had no religious belief whatever, and missionaries never err on the side of Rationalism! We shall see that not one of the peoples described in this chapter believe in any kind of God, and even higher peoples, whom we shall describe later, have no God or gods. The human race does not begin with Monotheism, or a revelation, and degenerate from it. On every strict test of facts, it begins without religion, then believes in spirits of the dead, next in Polytheism, and finally in Monotheism.

But in the quotation about the Yahgans there is a reference to "phantoms which may injure them in this world," and it may be thought that here we have a rudimentary religion. Hyades and Deniker also say that they found certain ideas that might be referred to superstition, though their origin was the fear of maleficent individuals. The Yabgans attributed disease and death to certain "wild men of the woods." Some of the Yahgans had seen these horrible monsters, who sometimes stole their children and often descended upon them during the night. But there is here no religion. Hyades and Deniker say in the end: "The Fuegians commonly believe that these wild men are the Alakolups." And the Alakolups are simply a neighboring people of higher culture. In short, the Yahgans have little magic and no religion. They have never speculated on dreams, shadows, or powers of nature. Such was primitive man.