A book which has fascinated me since I first read it many years ago is Christopher Dawson's "Progress and Religion", (Sheed and Ward, 1929) especially the second part in which he documents the development of human civilisation upon the basis of religion. This is such a valuable book and I shall upload here, in a series of posts, my own notes on the book, which are a resume of the important points that Dawson makes.
Using the Enlightenment as his springboard, he goes right back to learn from primitive culture, 5000BC.
Religions and the origins of civilisation.
The rational and spiritual elements of a culture determine its nature.
The Enlightenment disregarded religion, and social progress became seen as a direct response of man to his material environment, together with growth of positive knowledge about it.
However, the movement which took place during the Enlightenment is the anomaly. For up to that time religion was always bound to man’s understanding of life. So, the Enlightenment is actually a transitional, unstable phase in human history, which has dislocated the inner and outer worlds of human experience and has proposed today’s dualism, that matter and spirit are two separate dimensions.
There was no dualism in primitive culture; the most important person then was not the “strongest”, but the “holy man”.
Religion is the root of all culture. And the great change which took place in primitive culture was not moving from magic to religion, but the move from magic to priesthood or ritual (ordered priesthood).
The ceremonies of primitive culture gave knowledge of, and control over, nature. This amounted to a form of science that led to agriculture and the domestication of animals. In other words, man began to imitate the processes of nature.
The pivotal development here was the development of priesthood that took place before agriculture or the domestication of animals; priesthood led directly to the development of civilisation. An example of this is the Mayan Calendar. This was not a dating device, but a religious program for each day of the year. Ancient civilisation was characterised by the ritual co-ordination of the social order with the cosmic order.
Ancient ritual culture is the foundation of all civilisation: writing, the calendar, the use of metals, engineering, architecture, and arts and crafts. By the beginning of the third millennium BC, human development was fixed to, and limited by, ritual culture.