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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



     

Part II: Primitive Monotheism and the Origin of Polytheism

Chapter 2

Some Implications

     FROM THIS all too brief survey, several points of importance emerge. Most obvious, of course, is the evidence that at least with respect to man's religious history the theory of evolution is quite contrary to the facts. The most primitive people are still assumed to be a paradigm of early man, since the parallels between their art, their weapons, and their general cultural level and the art and weapons of prehistoric man are pretty well taken for granted. The Eskimo, in particular, is said to give us a very good picture of Paleolithic man. Yet Paleolithic man is supposed to have been almost a gibbering ape except for his possession of some tool-making skills and social organization which the apes never achieved, whereas his modern representatives in every part of the world have a highly developed religious sense which is totally at variance with any theory of animal origins.
     
It is true that today we find these people with religious beliefs encrusted over and almost totally submerged by superstitious fears and distortions that seem to us of the worst kind. It is easy to be horrified by some of their religious practices (ritual cannibalism, for example). But when such practices are compared with modern use of nuclear weapons, they could be more humane when viewed in the light of their object, since in this case it is not so much the destruction of their enemies as it is the acquisition of the strength they admire in them and wish to capture for themselves. And, of course, for reasons already noted, they have tended to neglect the benevolent and merciful heavenly Father of whom they seem once to have had knowledge and whom they believe they need not fear, and seek instead to appease the malevolent and more immediately present evil spirits which they believe they do need to fear.
     
It seems clear now that man must have begun with a pure concept of a Supreme Being, a great God, Lord of all, Creator of

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the world, merciful and just and all-seeing, omnipresent, and omniscient. This was the faith of primitive people whom evolutionists themselves hold to be our "contemporary ancestors."
     Where did this pure faith come from? It was revealed from the very beginning, and such a revelation demonstrates that man's mind at the very beginning was clearly capable of spiritual comprehension. Adam and Eve were not exceptional animals barely escaped from some primate herd, but creatures of another order by an act of divine creation which prepared them to enjoy a unique relationship with God and to be the recipients of a much fuller revelation than appears from a superficial reading of Genesis. They walked with God in the Garden and communed with Him.
     Moreover, as for existing primitive people themselves, I believe, culturally speaking, that they once knew better things.
(36) What the evidence does show is that men may preserve certain recollections of man's original faith if they have not been corrupted by the sophistications of high civilization. Civilization tends rather to cloud than to clarify true faith. Lord John Avebury observed: "Materialism is one of the latest products of the human mind; spiritualism [he did not mean what we mean now by this word] is one of the earliest." Primitive people are far more disposed to attend to matters of the spirit, to accept God as real, than civilized man is. Civilization robs man of his spiritual perception, rather than enhancing it.
     This is an important fact because it is contrary to what we generally assume. It always comes as a shock, for some reason, to find that the cultured genteel individual may be totally untaught in the things of God and even hostile to spiritual truth. It is the "nice" people who are so often spiritually unconcerned. Somehow, God still seems able to speak more easily and directly to people who are less culturally sophisticated. Not many noble are called (1 Corinthians 1:26).  
     As a consequence, one has to face the anomalous fact that in that very aspect of human behaviour which most completely distinguishes man from the animals, namely, his religious sense, man appears to have had his clearest insights when he had, supposedly, barely repudiated his animal heritage. On the other hand, when he had struggled "upwards" after millennia of civilization he had in fact lost his initial vision and become spiritually decadent. At the same time the very people who propose this anachronism would also like us to believe that as man has culturally evolved, his spiritual insights have gradually been purified until he has now achieved a monotheistic

36. Custance. Arthur C., "Primitive Cultures: A Second Look at the Problem of Their Historical Origin," Part II in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company.

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and elevated concept of the nature of God. Yet in the same breath we are assured this process of "improvement" will only reach its climax when man no longer has any such religious beliefs at all! The logical extension of a false premise inevitably leads to such contradictions.
     
Again, the history of man's religious insights underscores a further fact of profound significance. To hold part of the truth but not the whole of it may be as dangerous as holding no truth at all. It is said that heresy is part of the truth carried to its logical conclusion. The great "ecumenical" heresy is that God is benevolent. God is indeed benevolent, though merciful would be a much better word; but God is also just. The unthinking individual who knows only that God is good will be misled into feeling safe no matter what he does. He can with equanimity ignore the worship or recognition of God altogether. God won't mind how he behaves, for no matter what he does he can assure himself that he has had nothing to fear and that God will fully understand even if he forgets Him completely. He need only fear evil.
     
The Christian concept of God as loving and merciful has been welcomed by society because it is such a "comfortable doctrine." Part of the truth carried to its logical conclusion gives an entirely false view of man's relationship with God. And, there is every reason to suspect, it is an entirely unsatisfactory view in point of fact. The very idea of God being displeased with man's conduct, or judging his motives, or intending to reward his life appropriately at some great Assize is safely dismissed. At first, such a liberation from the fear of consequences can be a tremendous relief. But just as the man who falls freely in space is temporarily liberated from the conscious effects of gravity until he hits the ground so a man thus "liberated" from the burden of unforgiven sin will feel a tremendous sense of relief until, suddenly, the illusion of "weightlessness" is destroyed. Most men have this awful sense of "reckoning" at times some with an appalling sense of terror. Psychiatrists actually have been gradually coming to the conclusion that man is unhealthy without some fear of the consequences of sin. Freedom from gravity even in the physical world may yet prove to be unexpectedly upsetting to man's well-being. (37) It is not healthy to live in a dream world where all is forgiven and dismissed as though nothing had ultimate significance nor will ever be brought before some higher Court of Justice.

37. M.D. Canada, vol.11, 1968, p.70.

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     One of man's strange problems is the persistent feeling that in some way he really ought to be punished and not merely forgiven, otherwise he cannot forgive himself. To feel the urge to punish oneself, to make some kind of expiation, while at the same time believing that there really is no one in heaven or on earth who cares whether such an expiation is made can be very disturbing. It leaves man with a sense of guilt but no sense of sin -- the modern dilemma. We are so constituted that there is a greater sense of release in falling down before a God of justice and appealing for mercy, than there is in trying to persuade oneself that no wrong has been done at all because there is no ultimate source of righteousness. The burdened conscience remains as a mockery, but it remains burdened. So the most primitive people, like the most civilized, have never been quite able to rid themselves of the feeling that it is necessary to make sacrifices which cost something. But because God is thought of as benevolent only and therefore not requiring sacrifices, such sacrifices are made to devils for to whom else can they be made?
     
So, originally, man's faith in the goodness of God was balanced by an equal knowledge of His holiness and justice. But one of the effects of civilization was to "play down" the more demanding side of God's nature, until His justice has become entirely lost sight of and conscience has become the plaything of cultural values which are relative. Nobody minds one saying today that God is love, but one is not considered very civilized if one says that God is also just. In short, a part of the truth is a dangerous thing, and we need to restore the equally important truth that God is not only benevolent and forgiving but just and demanding also. I suspect that rather extraordinary things would happen for good, if God's ministers were once more to proclaim the message of judgment as Jonathan Edwards did. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . . .
     
And this brings me to the final point. As we have seen, there is every reason to believe from the study of the "faith" of primitive people that man once shared a revelation of the nature of God and man's relationship to Him. Yet we know from Scripture that even by the time of Abraham there was scarcely an individual alive to whom that revelation was of any vital consequence. How did this come about? Is revealed truth itself powerless? The answer, I think, must be Yes, such truth is powerless. It is powerless, unless it is freshly revealed in every generation and to the individual personally. A knowledge of the truth, no matter how precise and accurate it is, if it has been acquired merely by oral transmission or by reflection, is powerless to engender genuine spiritual understanding. The truths

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we inherit do not provide real insight. Thus the same truths may survive for several generations and yet be spiritually sterile, and being sterile will become of little consequence, something preserved by habit but without power to affect conduct. One sees this in the lives of young people who have been brought up in a godly Christian atmosphere, where they have become familiar with truth, the real significance of which is lost to them entirely, because they have been taught only by man and not by the Holy Spirit.
     
This is what I mean by the necessity of inspiration. We may be told a saving truth, perhaps in Sunday school, until we are word perfect, and yet be totally unresponsive to it, until one day the Holy Spirit opens our understanding. It is clear that the Holy Spirit cannot open our understanding to truths that we have never heard, and to this extent the memorization of Scripture is a kind of guarantee that at least the vehicle for the communication of spiritual insight will be available to the Holy Spirit. The danger, however, is that truth with which one becomes familiar in this way may cease to convey any meaning whatever, so that the mind becomes hardened against that which ought to enlighten but doesn't. It is even more unfortunate that the Truth itself acquires the reputation of being inconsequential by reason of its powerlessness. The crucial point here is that spiritual truth is powerless, and it is even a hindrance unless and until the Holy Spirit has opened our real understanding to its true meaning. Though this may appear as bordering upon heresy, it seems to me that there is more hope for those who have never heard the truth of the gospel than there is for those who have heard it all their lives. Perhaps, in the wisdom of God, there is more hope for the present generation of biblical illiterates than for the generation which lived in the borrowed light of Victorian times.
     
Thus, in summary, the evidence shows unequivocally that man cannot have evolved in his religious insights in the kind of a way he has evolved in his technical skills, for example, because while these skills steadily improved, his insights did precisely the opposite. Man evidently started with a vital faith in God and a conception of his own relationship to Him that must have been revealed, since it has never been improved upon nor even maintained unless continually strengthened by or confirmed by revelation.
     
In the possession of a capacity for spiritual understanding man is a unique creature, but he is also a fallen one, constantly needing the renewing of his mind because constantly plagued by the noetic effects of sin. Neither the enlarging influence of civilization, which

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frees him from some of the burdens of daily living, nor the softening and restraining effects of culture, which set some limits to his evil propensities, are adequate to dispel his spiritual blindness or set him free from superstition, fear, and idol worship.
     
The original revelation of which so many nations and tribes have a dim recollection must be renewed by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the individual to be effective in transforming his life, enlightening his mind, and bringing peace into his soul. Without this divine inspiration, neither traditional knowledge nor personal reflection will return man to fellowship with his Creator. Except a man be born again (John 3:3), he cannot see nor can he enter into the kingdom of God.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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