Every night I read a chapter from Richard Dawkin’s marvelous new book: “The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution.” Dawkin’s tale starts with us, Homo sapiens, and traces our evolutionary path backward in time through each divergence from a common ancestor, or Concestor.
It just takes 39 steps, or rendezvous’, to meet up with the primal Eubacteria. This is as distant from modern humans as Dawkins goes; our nearest ancestors, whom we meet at Rendezvous 1 between 5 and 7 million years ago, are chimpanzees and bonobos—with whom we share Concestor 1.
People are far more evolved than chimpanzees and bonobos. And human civilization, taken as a whole, evolves far more rapidly than any animal culture.
Consider what astounding scientific advances have occurred in the past few hundred years. Consider how much more complex and sophisticated are human cities compared to medieval towns. Consider how technological growth has produced computers than soon promise to surpass human intelligence.
Then, consider how little religions have evolved in the few thousand years of recorded human history. The foundational scriptures of every major religion have changed little, if at all, during centuries or millennia. Further, it isn’t possible to discern any upward trend in religious expression. Some of the most ethereal, profound, and esoteric spiritual teachings are the oldest; some of the most crude, simplistic, and ritualistic spiritual teachings are the newest.
Godchecker.com currently lists over 2000 gods to choose from, with more being added all the time. Which, if any, is a true god? No one knows. Or at least no one can prove that he or she knows. Species evolve as they become better able to survive and prosper in a physical environment. Religions don’t evolve because there is no evident metaphysical environment where the degree of attunement to spiritual reality can be tested.
Maybe Jesus was the son of God. I don’t know whether he was or not. And neither did anyone else know for sure while he was alive, including his closest disciples. And neither does anyone know for sure now.
The same uncertainty applies to every other prophet, saint, guru, sage, and otherwise holy person. There simply is no proof that their spiritual evolution is greater than that of other people. Granted, they may appear to be better human beings—kinder, wiser, more loving—but it isn’t possible to assess the degree of their divinity. For the consciousness (or soul) of one person is not directly accessible to another person.
So arguments continue about which is the best religion. People have supplanted chimpanzees and bonobos as the most intelligent species on the planet. Findings of modern science have replaced pre-scientific notions about how the laws of nature work. But there is no criterion, and there never will be, by which a particular religion can prove itself superior to any other religion. The proof of the pudding, it is said, is in the tasting. This applies equally to spirituality and gastronomy. Tasting, whether it be associated with eating to sustain the spirit or the body, is a subjective experience, not objective. You cannot taste for me and I cannot taste for you. Conscious experience cannot be reduced to outward observations. You can see me eat, but you don’t know what I am tasting.
Evolution on the material plane occurs when a physical entity becomes better adapted to a physical environment. This can be observed. Evolution on the spiritual plane occurs when a non-physical entity (call it "soul") becomes better adapted to a non-physical environment (call it "spirit"). This cannot be observed. If it could, it wouldn’t be spiritual, for spirit is not matter.
So this is why religions can’t evolve: their purported goal is spiritual development, yet this cannot occur within the bounds of materiality. Holy books, rites, rituals, prayers, icons, pilgrimages, worship, service—all of these things and practices can be observed with physical eyes. Thus they keep us confined to the realm of matter.
A particular religion will change in concert with social, political, and other earthly conditions; it can’t change to become more attuned to whatever lies beyond the realm of time and space, for experience of spirit can be had only by conscious individuals, not unconscious organizations.
This is why the Church of the Churchless preaches the gospel of spiritual independence. Attach yourself firmly to a religion and you are guaranteed to travel nowhere, for religions don’t evolve. They don’t spiritually grow. They don’t arrive at a genuine godly destination.
Individuals do. Or so I believe. But not organizations. Spiritual advancement is a solitary affair. Not lonely. Solitary. Once that is accepted, real progress can be made on a spiritual path.
I’m attracted to spiritual teachings which recognize this. Most religions and metaphysical systems don’t. They preach freedom from illusion and untruth while doing their best to keep people behind the bars of dogma, obedience, belief.
Here’s an excerpt from Ray Grigg’s book, “The Tao of Zen.”
Both Taoism and Buddhism experience from within systems of understanding that must finally negate and abandon themselves; both practices can only happen when they are free of the constraints of themselves. Much of Taoist literature is an admonishment against becoming caught in any system, whether moral, political, philosophical, linguistic, or religious. With such freedom, belief is replaced by experience.
…To become a pure Buddhist, a Buddhist must ultimately renounce Buddhism just as the Buddha renounced self and all attachment. This principle pervades Taoism as well. Taoists cannot live Taoism if they hold to the system called Taoism. Individuals who practice either Taoism or Buddhism are inevitably inclined toward inconspicuousness and, finally, invisibility as the system that contains them dissolves itself.