I had the great fortune to spend six years in New Guinea from 1959 to 1965, at a time when the indigenous people in many areas lived as their forebears had done for many thousands of years. I was an Inspector in the Royal Papua and New Guinea Constabulary, and my duties sometimes took me into areas that were so remote I was literally stepping back in time.
On two occasions I was sent to investigate murders in the land of the Kukakukas, the fearless and feared pygmies of Menyamya. There was absolutely no evidence of prior contact with the outside world. Their cooking pots were made of baked clay, and their utensils were fashioned from bamboo. Axes, for chopping and for killing, were round flat river stones that had been laboriously ground down using other harder stones to form a cutting edge, with a hole bored through the center, also using another stone, to take a handle. The houses were small circular structures on stilts, with woven bamboo walls and thatched roofs. The floorboards were fashioned from very hard Limbom Palm, as were their bows, and arrow heads, that were shaped using an adze, a long cylindrical stone that was sharpened at one end, with the other set into a piece of a tree branch in the shape of a “7”.
The indigenous people of New Guinea at that time were very superstitious. They believed in demons and spirits, and they also believed in dreams. On more than one occasion while investigating reported crimes I found myself at a dead end, only to come to the realization that the complainant had witnessed the event in a dream, which had taken on the reality of life.
I personally did not encounter any evidence of a prior belief in a deity in any of the areas I entered. Religion was introduced into Papua and New Guinea by Christian missionaries, but their message was not always accepted as a viable alternative. These primitive people were told that it was wrong to fear spirits and demons which they imagined existed behind rocks, in caves, or in rivers, and could not see. But nor could they see the Christian God whom they were told lived somewhere up in the sky.
Why this book?
History is the window into our past, but it also assists us in gaining an understanding as to how and why we arrived at where we are today. In many cases it enables us to predict the future, hence the adage: ‘History repeats itself.’
I came to realize that the validity of religious belief could not be effectively debated without acquiring an in-depth knowledge of its history; without comparing the various religious texts; without deliberating the concept of creation in light of modern scientific research; without considering an alternative to Heaven and Hell and to an elusive anthropomorphic God.
We are left to speculate as to when our forebears first developed an awareness of their humanity, and the possible awareness of spirits, demons, and gods, and in what form these elusive entities were perceived. With the advent of writing, and the ability to chisel hieroglyphics into stone, this enduring legacy enables us to trace with a fair degree of certainty the evolution of religion over the past 7,000 years or so.
While the majority of people believe in one version of religion to the exclusion of all others, the history of religion exposes a progression that links polytheism with monotheism and Paganism, with a belief in the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It also reveals the degree to which the various denominations have created, altered, and manipulated the mythology of early religious belief to suit their own agendas.
Chapter 1: The Birth of Religion.
Chapter 2: From Polytheism to Monotheism.
Chapter 3: Religions of the World.
Chapter 4: Hebrew Bible.
Chapter 5: New Testament.
Chapter 6: Holy Qur’an
Chapter 7: Inside Islam.
Chapter 8: Islamic Wars.
Chapter 9: Christian Wars.
Chapter 10: The Afterlife.
Chapter 1, The Birth of Religion, attempts to determine the probable time and place for the emergence of a fledgling belief in an existential force or being that held sway over humans, their lives and their habitat.
The convoluted journey from a belief in a multitude of gods, to a belief in just one God to the exclusion of all others, is addressed in Chapter 2, From Polytheism to Monotheism.
In Chapter 3, Religions of the World, I establish a connection between many of the past and current religious denominations, a list that includes Eastern and Middle Eastern beliefs, in addition to cults and Paganism.
Although certainly not the earliest written religious text, the Hebrew Bible had a profound effect on the Christian New Testament and the Muslim Qur’an, two religions that currently dominate the world scene. The many anecdotal legends it contains have become, to many, irrefutable religious lore.
In Chapter 5, I trace the origins and the process of producing the New Testament, the highly controversial religious text adopted by the Christian movement.
Like its predecessors, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the Holy Qur’an also has a history of conflicting religious interpretations before it became accepted by Muslims as the unaltered word of God. This I address in Chapter 6.
For a variety of reasons, Islam has come to the fore of conscious thought and consideration of many people, but the complexity of the structure of Muslim belief and its effects on the Islamic community, and by extension those who are considered infidels, is little known. Chapter 7, Inside Islam, comprehensively addresses the laws, beliefs, and practices that govern those within what is destined to become the largest of the world’s religions.
Few people are aware of the extent of the Islamic Empire at its peak. It toppled the reign of the Roman Empire, and occupied a vast area of the known world from China to Russia, and from the northern regions of Africa to parts of Mediterranean Europe. The Islamic armies actually occupied southern Italy, including the seat of Christianity in Rome. This remarkable expansion from its humble beginnings on the Arabian Peninsula is addressed in detail in Chapter 8, Islamic Wars.
While the many failed attempts to regain control of the Holy Land from the occupying Muslims accounted for much of the history of wars organized by the Holy Church of Rome, crusades were also launched against states and individuals who were reluctant to adopt Christianity as their religion. A detailed account of this dark history is addressed in Chapter 9, Christian Wars.
In Chapter 10, The Afterlife, I offer an historical rendition of the concept and development of a belief in a life after death, and how, when, where, and why such an event may or may not come about.
There is no advent in history that is more absorbing than the study of the emergence of religion. It is one of superstition, greed, murder, and human suffering, particularly among those religions which have their roots in the Middle East. Considered to have been the Cradle of Life, this ancient area of early human habitation is still being torn apart over secular religious differences. If you are interested in religion, either from the standpoint of devotion, or purely as an interested by-stander, this book is a must-read.
Faith or Fiction? is a stand-alone text that together with The God Alternative, Faith Without Religion, and Decoding the Mystery of Life each form part of a complementary four book series regarding religion and life. I am sure you will find each of these texts to be absorbing, informative, and above all, thought provoking.