RELIGIon is A universal and varied phenomenon. While there have been those who have rejected all religion and espouse atheism, they have been for practical purposes a very small minority until recently. The attempts since the Enlightenment in Western Europe in the 1700s to foster a belief in atheism has met with little success, except among educated elites in the more advanced industrialized countries. During the time of Communist domination in the Soviet Union or in Communist China, as well as other Communist countries, the attempts to suppress religion have almost completely failed.
For much of humanity, especially among tribal peoples, spirits are viewed as the animating part of nature. There are believed to be spirits in rocks, trees, plants, animals, or the forces of nature. Placating these spirits, which can be deadly, is a part of the acts of worship of many different groups of people. This may involve sacrifices to quiet a volcano, or the sacrifice of young men and women to the water god at the bottom of a well in order to bring the rains. Many of the religions of the Middle East in ancient times were fertility religions. Baal worship was done with cultic sexual practices that were believed to affect nature with fertility.
Among many peoples around the world, shamans, witch doctors, or medicine men have been the chief spiritual leaders. Shamans, who would beat drums and were transformed into a dancing bear or a seal or some other totemic animal, led the Inuit of northern Canada. The shaman, in a transformed and trance-like state, would then go on a spiritual journey where he would meet spirits in the spirit world who would be able to give him (or sometimes her) knowledge of the causes of sickness, the absence of the fish, or the failure of crops among people living in more temperate societies. The shaman might also wrestle with evil spirits that were causing nature to war on humans.
Other ancient religions, such as those of the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, believed that dramatic events in nature were messages from the gods or spirit ancestors. For the Chinese, natural events could be signs that the ruling dynasty had lost the mandate of heaven. Signs such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, fires, or other natural disasters, especially if accompanied by events such as an unexpected arrival of a comet, were among the signs that said the ruling dynasty should be replaced. Virtually all of the movements that changed dynasties in Chinese history were religiously inspired.
The Chinese philosophy of Daoism (Taoism) founded by Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, taught a philosophy of living in accord with nature. The sage, or just the common man who sought wisdom, would live wisely if he or even she went with the flow of nature. There was therefore a rhythm to life that led people to live according to nature.
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