The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 7: Global Recognition of the Supreme Being

1. Among Hunter Gatherers

The Supreme Being whom many ancient peoples celebrate, as described in the foregoing pages, is all good, with no admixture of evil whatsoever. He therefore invites complete trust. The typical concept of this Supreme Being is described in these passages taken from Schmidt's Ursprung VI, translated by Brandewie:

Nothing which is morally wrong or shocking is reported of any of the Supreme Beings of the early culture circles [hunter-gatherers]... In the first place we have the total goodness of His very being ... which results in the fact that He allows good, and only good, to come to man. In this context we can also mention the forgiveness [indulgence] and mercy which He extends to those who break His laws, which was revealed already when the first sin was committed and which is later revealed whenever any individual sins are forgiven... This Supreme Being positively possesses all moral virtues which people recognize as such...

Immediately at that time, while He [the Supreme Being] still dwelt intimately with man on earth, He took the moral, social, and religious education of man into His own hands, as it were, and promulgated His laws regarding these activities; He urged man to observe these laws. Whatever relates to morality among these groups of ancient peoples is always referred back to this first giving of the law, to this first education, and this is done expressly, time and again. The transmission of these laws is passed down continuously from generation to generation, in the education which individual families give to their children, and in the ritual when the young men and women are ceremonially initiated into adulthood.

The Supreme Being still educates men in their moral duty in as much as He controls the observance of His moral laws. He can exercise this control in such an intensive way because of his omniscience... The Supreme Being is considered omniscient precisely by reason of His power to exercise this control over morality.

He also furthers the moral education of men inasmuch as He punishes the wrongs which He knows have occurred. In the present life He does this by sending sickness and death. On the other hand, He rewards people who observe His law with health and long life... This set of beliefs goes back to the very earliest common religion and is not, therefore, merely a regional variation. The first sin of man in "paradise" was punished, according to the North central Californians and the oldest Algonkians, with the entry of death and physical evil into the world. In addition to this, the Asiatic and African pygmies say that God left the earth where He had dwelt up to that time (Brandewie 266-269).

The Supreme Being ... is not content merely to be man's model. Immediately after He had created man, He took it upon Himself to educate man and teach him how to practice this morality. He reinforces this teaching by moral laws, while promising a reward to those who willingly follow His commands. He does not abandon the wicked, however, if they repent and try to improve, a point which is made by a number of early groups. Once this life, the time of testing, is over, however, He does not hesitate to repay those who were morally wicked with the kind of punishment which they deserve (Schmidt, Ursprung VI, 479-480; Brandewie, 273).

Schmidt summarizes comprehensively an overall view of the core contents of the religion of many hunter-gatherers in the following paragraph:

As regards to the content of the oldest religion, we observe that the earliest religions always contain two very important and basic teachings. These are found in such a complete way and are so widespread that they could scarcely have been the results of man's own effort... The two basic teachings are:

1. The Supreme Being is good to man; He is loving, benevolent, and caring for man.

2. The Supreme Being is also morally good in Himself. He is holy both in regard to the absence of any evil, and in the positive sense of being good (See Schmidt-Brandewie ibid.)

Schmidt equates the religion of hunter-gatherers with mankind's oldest religion. Whether we accept this contention or not, is not relevant to the present writing. We rather refer to all true religion as one and the same, revealed once to Adam and Eve, cultivated by many through the ages (but abandoned or deformed by others), and perfected 2000 years ago by Christ the Son of God. The concept of the Supreme Being which Schmidt found among hunter-gatherers as a result of his vast research, is basically not unlike that which is reflected in the Book of Genesis.

Hunter-Gatherers Did Not Lack Intelligence

If current assumptions that agriculture and herding were invented only 10,000 years ago are true, then our first ancestors were likely hunter-gatherers who lived from the bounties of uncultivated nature. In this sense we may regard them as technological primitives. It does not mean, however, that they were underdeveloped humans, like intellectual and volitional cretins. From the logic anchored to original sin we can draw out the inference that they thought and spoke as adults, essentially as adults of our day.

A hunter-gatherer way of life does not at all exclude normal intelligence on part of the population, nor the warmth and altruism characteristic of monogamous family life. Hunter-gatherer Aborigines in Australia, for example, are expected to learn the intellectually challenging intricacies of customs and obligations associated with intermarriage, which are so involved that they confound anthropologists who seek to penetrate and categorize the system. Researchers who lived among them find that:

They are wonderfully observant of nature and have a systematic understanding of their natural world... The Groote Eylandt Aborigines, who are not exceptional, also possess a prodigious reserve of knowledge about the natural environment...They can distinguish and separately name no less than 80 types of birds, over 100 sea creatures, more than 120 kinds of trees and plants, some 50 varieties of shellfish, and 50 species of land animals (Robert Brain, The Last Primitive Peoples, 46).

Even if our Adam and Eve were not supermen, if they were normally adjusted to each other in a monogamous marriage and if they educated their children properly in human behavior and in the divine revelation, that was enough to start off the human race in the right direction. They could establish future human culture in no other manner than through educating their children and grandchildren. They could not yet establish vast government bureaucracies nor found universities. Their abilities to establish social and ecclesial structures would be limited to the situations familiar to them in their families and small social groups. But the structures and cultures they began to establish there, in accordance with principles of truth, justice, human rights, of duties to God and to man, assisted by revelation and by the infused virtue of wisdom, were the foundations upon which future civilizations could build.

Hunter-gatherer societies today, we know, have very well established social systems in which major social interactions are regulated. It is a mistake to think of Adam and Eve as lawless contenders, where the fittest survive by law of tooth and claw. By constituting our first parents in the state of holiness and justice, God made them founders of civilization, of societies and nations which can live by law and order and in relatively peaceful cooperation.

Civilization is Built on Respect for the Supreme Being

Because humans, in primitive society as well as in the electronic age, feel a compelling need to know who made them, why they are alive, what is right and wrong, where they go after death, therefore the revelation which God initially gave to our first parents contains exactly the basic information which each new generation seeks to know most of all about the meaning of life on earth.

2. The Supreme Being in Traditional Religions

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a seminal document on Traditional Religions on November 21, 1993, which highlights recognition of the Supreme Being among people of Traditional Religions. Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Council, is a native of Nigeria, and Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, M. Afr., the Council's Secretary, signed the document. Their knowledge of the subject includes first hand experience.

By Traditional Religions the document refers not to those world religions which have spread into many countries and cultures, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslimism, but folk religions which have survived in their original socio-cultural environment. Traditional in this sense means preserved in the localized cultural matrix. These Traditional Religions embody "a clear belief in One God, in a Supreme Being who goes by such names as Great Spirit, Creator, the Great One, the Mighty Spirit, the Divine, the Transcendent, the One who lives above, Heaven, etc." (No. 3). Besides belief in the Supreme Being, there is also a belief in other beings which may be called spirits. Departed adult ancestors are also objects of belief.

Cult or worship is directed generally to the spirits and the ancestors and sometimes to God. "The moral code is regarded as that which has been handed down by past generations and sanctioned by the spirits and the ancestors, and occasionally by God" (No.3). The riches of the content of these religions is found not in books or articulated statements so much as in cultural celebrations, stories and proverbs, and are conveyed through attitudes. Only rarely do they trace their origin to a founder. Some of the major values are as follows:

4. In many traditional societies there is a strong sense of the sacred. Religion permeates life to such an extent that it is often difficult to distinguish between strictly religious elements and local custom. Authority is not seen as something secular but is regarded as a sacred trust. People of Traditional Religions show great attention to the earth. They respect life and celebrate its important stages: birth, entrance into adulthood, marriage, death. There is a strong sense of the family, which includes love of children, respect for the elders, a community link with the ancestors. Symbolism is important for interpreting the invisible world and the human being's relationship with it. There is an obvious love of ritual.

The document points out certain "shadows" of these religions, such as inadequate ideas about God, superstition, fear of the spirits, objectional moral practices, the rejection of twins in some places, even occasional human sacrifice.

From my experience in the Japanese culture, the Vatican document is right on target regarding some of the "shadows" mentioned: belief in fortune telling, fear of evil spirits, the practice of appeasing aborted babies lest they wreak vengeance on their family, superstitions about numbers, attention to lucky and unlucky days, prejudice against orphans and against girls born in the unlucky "year of the fiery horse," assessment of characters based on the year of the zodiac in which a person was born, etc. etc. Although most Japanese people term themselves as both Buddhists and Shintoists, nevertheless beneath the flag of these recognized religions the people participate in less heralded but almost universally cherished observances and attitudes. Awareness of the Supreme Being comes easily to the surface on occasions of funerals, births, marriages, and natural catastrophes. Everyone appears to take recognition of the Supreme Being for granted. For example, when a Prime Minister was being attacked during an interrogation because he had not foreseen certain tragic events, he fired back: "I'm not God!" The nation enjoyed the exchange which made the evening news. The response takes for granted that everyone knows that only God is omniscient.

The Vatican document notes that, despite the adjustments which followers of Traditional Religions make due to contacts with Christianity, with other religions, with Western culture, with modern technological developments, with urbanization and migration, the influence of the inherited Traditional Religions remains strong, especially in moments of crisis. The herald of the Gospel, continues the document, should give attention to the Traditional Religions and the cultures which enshrine them. "Christianity should aim at influencing the whole of life and producing integrated persons, rather than have people live parallel lives, at different levels" (No. 8).

The widespread existence in society of these traits of Traditional Religions suggests derivation from a common origin in the remote past. I believe it can be no other than the primeval revelation which God gave to the founders of our human race. We recognize that various foreign and unauthentic accretions have encrusted the originally pure belief. Yet, deep down, many followers of Traditional Religions possess a ready sense of belief in an absolute Supreme Being, who anchors for them absolute truth and absolute moral values which are unchanging. This awareness of the Supreme Being continues to nourish goodness in the human family as a whole. It is open to further development and perfection through acceptance of the Gospel.

The root and trunk of the primeval revelation is kept alive and ever fresh in the hearts of many, I believe, by Christ and His Spirit. Surely, many people cherish a profound sense of the Supreme Being deep down in their hearts, even though externally they profess to be Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Confucianists, Animists - any name religion. We Christians, too, are nurtured by our belief in the message of Genesis as well as in the message of the Gospel, the latter being built upon the former. As Christ stated: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17).

Outreach to Inheritors of the Primeval Revelation

The Vatican, some years ago, changed the name of the "Pontifical Council for Non-Christian Religions" to its present title "Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue." The Vatican does not make such changes without a reason. The newer title reflects awareness, we assume, that Christ is entirely in charge of the human race. Therefore no real religion which is a bridge between God and man exists in the entire world which is non-Christian in nature. Christ is not "one of the ways to God" but is THE way, the one and only bridge between people and God. He is the WAY to the Father. All who are saved, are saved through Christ, whether they are explicitly aware of it here on earth, or whether they are not yet aware of it. The change of names made by the Vatican brings us one step closer to those of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not yet aware of their Christian benefits.

The prayer of the Our Father is the kind of prayer that the people of Tierra del Fuego can pray with us, which the Lenape have been praying in their own manner for countless generations, which all believers in the primeval revelation can pray together with Christians.

During the millennium solemnities, shall we not celebrate our family relationship with a heightened awareness of the family gift shared by all of us together, the gift of the primeval revelation given to our first parents whom we traditionally call Adam and Eve? Shall we not pray and sing and dance with gratitude to the Supreme Being who escorts us into yet another millennium of continued life on the globe He so kindly preserves for us? For He is the Lord, the Mighty God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Next Page: Chapt: 8 Creation in Genesis
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17