The sources of religion

Reading more of Our Oriental Heritage today, I came across a section on the sources of religion, within a chapter on the moral elements of civilization. As with most of Durant’s writing, it was a thoroughly rational discussion, but I must say, I was amused by one of the tales of the origins of death, this one from the natives of New Britain.

The good god Kambinana told his foolish brother Korvouva, “Go down to men and tell them to cast their skins; so shall they avoid death. But tell the serpents that they must henceforth die.” Korvouva mixed the message; he delivered the secret of immortality to the snakes, and the doom of death to men.

While Genesis is a wonderfully written fantasy where a mistake on man’s part (eating from the Tree) causes him to be expelled from paradise, I like the irony of the tale from the natives of New Britain better. In that case, it is a god’s error, not man’s. And of course, once the error is made, there is no recourse. Perhaps this is also an example of the earliest form of bureaucracy.


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