92:3.1 The study of human religion is the examination of the fossil-bearing social strata of past ages. The mores of the anthropomorphic gods are a truthful reflection of the morals of the men who first conceived such deities. Ancient religions and mythology faithfully portray the beliefs and traditions of peoples long since lost in obscurity. These olden cult practices persist alongside newer economic customs and social evolutions and, of course, appear grossly inconsistent. The remnants of the cult present a true picture of the racial religions of the past. Always remember, the cults are formed, not to discover truth, but rather to promulgate their creeds.
92:3.2 Religion has always been largely a matter of rites, rituals, observances, ceremonies, and dogmas. It has usually become tainted with that persistently mischief-making error, the chosen-people delusion. The cardinal religious ideas of incantation, inspiration, revelation, propitiation, repentance, atonement, intercession, sacrifice, prayer, confession, worship, survival after death, sacrament, ritual, ransom, salvation, redemption, covenant, uncleanness, purification, prophecy, original sin—they all go back to the early times of primordial ghost fear.
92:3.3 Primitive religion is nothing more nor less than the struggle for material existence extended to embrace existence beyond the grave. The observances of such a creed represented the extension of the self-maintenance struggle into the domain of an imagined ghost-spirit world. But when tempted to criticize evolutionary religion, be careful. Remember, that is what happened; it is a historical fact. And further recall that the power of any idea lies, not in its certainty or truth, but rather in the vividness of its human appeal.
92:3.4 Evolutionary religion makes no provision for change or revision; unlike science, it does not provide for its own progressive correction. Evolved religion commands respect because its followers believe it is The Truth; "the faith once delivered to the saints" must, in theory, be both final and infallible. The cult resists development because real progress is certain to modify or destroy the cult itself; therefore must revision always be forced upon it.
92:3.5 Only two influences can modify and uplift the dogmas of natural religion: the pressure of the slowly advancing mores and the periodic illumination of epochal revelation. And it is not strange that progress was slow; in ancient days, to be progressive or inventive meant to be killed as a sorcerer. The cult advances slowly in generation epochs and agelong cycles. But it does move forward. Evolutionary belief in ghosts laid the foundation for a philosophy of revealed religion which will eventually destroy the superstition of its origin.
92:3.6 Religion has handicapped social development in many ways, but without religion there would have been no enduring morality nor ethics, no worth-while civilization. Religion enmothered much nonreligious culture: Sculpture originated in idol making, architecture in temple building, poetry in incantations, music in worship chants, drama in the acting for spirit guidance, and dancing in the seasonal worship festivals.
92:3.7 But while calling attention to the fact that religion was essential to the development and preservation of civilization, it should be recorded that natural religion has also done much to cripple and handicap the very civilization which it otherwise fostered and maintained. Religion has hampered industrial activities and economic development; it has been wasteful of labor and has squandered capital; it has not always been helpful to the family; it has not adequately fostered peace and good will; it has sometimes neglected education and retarded science; it has unduly impoverished life for the pretended enrichment of death. Evolutionary religion, human religion, has indeed been guilty of all these and many more mistakes, errors, and blunders; nevertheless, it did maintain cultural ethics, civilized morality, and social coherence, and made it possible for later revealed religion to compensate for these many evolutionary shortcomings.
92:3.8 Evolutionary religion has been man's most expensive but incomparably effective institution. Human religion can be justified only in the light of evolutionary civilization. If man were not the ascendant product of animal evolution, then would such a course of religious development stand without justification.
92:3.9 Religion facilitated the accumulation of capital; it fostered work of certain kinds; the leisure of the priests promoted art and knowledge; the race, in the end, gained much as a result of all these early errors in ethical technique. The shamans, honest and dishonest, were terribly expensive, but they were worth all they cost. The learned professions and science itself emerged from the parasitical priesthoods. Religion fostered civilization and provided societal continuity; it has been the moral police force of all time. Religion provided that human discipline and self-control which made wisdom possible. Religion is the efficient scourge of evolution which ruthlessly drives indolent and suffering humanity from its natural state of intellectual inertia forward and upward to the higher levels of reason and wisdom.
92:3.10 And this sacred heritage of animal ascent, evolutionary religion, must ever continue to be refined and ennobled by the continuous censorship of revealed religion and by the fiery furnace of genuine science.