So, this is pretty awesome. I have spent many years reading about the history of religion, and i think that the subject is very interesting. I could have spent all of those years doing nothing except reading about religion, and still only scratched the surface of this:
That’s just a snapshot. To see the whole thing (and to zoom in and scroll around), click here or the image itself. The complex history and sheer number of religious traditions is astonishing to see displayed this way. I could get lost in this image for hours.
Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the fact that we can categorize religious traditions into a tree says something about the nature of religion, and of human culture in general. Human culture, including religion, does not come out of a vacuum. Religion is not revelations from up high, it is natural, organic, and growths from us.
In one sense, religions are beautiful in that they represent not only what is amazing and sublime, but also what is terrifying and dangerous, about our ability to create and to interpret the world. They are windows into our “souls;” glimpses of what we could be–both good and bad. They are dreams and nightmares all at once, prying under our mundane lives into the engines of possibility.
And yet, for all that is good in them, there are paths which can clean up the mess and the grime attached to these fantastic reveries. There is a way to drain out the dirty water of fantasy and to know what is real, and as we advance in our understanding we learn more and more about how to do this. The growth of this religion tree will not cease, but it may be pruned by this method. There will always be branches of this religious tree, I’m willing to wager, but the branches which survive will have to contest with another tree.
Science, empiricism, and skepticism generally owe much of its existence to the intellectual traditions of this religion tree, but it is a different type of organism. Entangled, all too often, with this massive faith tree, skepticism takes root in a part of us which seeks to avoid the siren songs of Nietzsche’s old metaphysical bird catchers. That ground is fertile, but for many it is foreign soil. I hope that changes, because our culture needs better soil, if we are too grow, thrive, and survive.
So, once again I get to quote my favorite passage from Nietzsche, referred to above, because I think it encapsulates my values better than just about any collection of words I’ve yet seen:
To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task