The Urantia Book
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A Synopsis of Paper 86: Early Evolution of Religion

Primitive people lived in constant danger. Their struggle for survival depended on factors over which they had no control. Chance played such a large role in early human life that people lived in continuous anxiety. Most people died violently; natural deaths were so unusual that people thought they were caused by spirits.

Helplessness against the forces of nature impelled early man to seek to understand supernatural phenomena. Belief in the afterlife began when people dreamt of deceased tribesmen. Belief in the soul started when men observed that breath was present in living creatures but not in the dead; they speculated that the breath lived on as a ghost after death. Disembodied ghosts were thought to be responsible for all inexplicable events.

Primitive people thought that the soul could escape the body during fainting, sleeping, comas, death, or sneezing. Dreams were thought to be adventures of the soul. People believed that disembodied souls could enter animals and inanimate objects. Shadows were feared and mirrors were regarded with superstition.

The religion of ghost fear led people to believe that a spirit world controlled human destiny and that they could appease the spirits by regulating personal conduct. Rituals helped to relieve people from their unrelenting fears by helping them believe that they had the power to influence their own fate.

The idea that specific actions could help one avoid angering wandering ghosts was the seed of the concept of right and wrong. From this humble beginning, human ethics were born. Mortal minds began to prepare for the bestowal of true spirit forces, the indwelling fragments of God who have labored ceaselessly to transform the fear of God into the love of God.

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