Why The History of Religions Chart is Nonsense

The history of all religions explained in one fascinating graphic.
Jesus Diaz
Sploid
8 October 2014

I have known some very tech-savvy rabbis, but with the exception of the one or two whose day jobs involve IT, I would not necessarily turn to them if I needed guidance on, say, upgrading my laptop from Ubuntu 12.04 to 14.04. Technology site Gizmodo, apparently, is similarly out of its depth when discussing religion. But that doesn’t keep them from trying.

Jesus Diaz points us to a poster of an infographic created by Simon E. Davies purporting to show the history of all of the world’s religions. It’s cute. It’s pretty. And it is, as you would expect, oversimplified to the point of obfuscation.

For example, suggesting as this graphic does that Judaism sprang whole-cloth from Middle Eastern Shamanism and Canaanite polytheism is downright deceptive, and you don’t have to be an historian or theologian to know it. Abrahamic monotheism was something utterly different from all that preceded it that it should be a branch of its own.

Of course, that would give credence to the concept of revelation, and the pseudo-scientists who look at this chart and nod their heads are likely unready to do that. It would make them sound like (gasp!) believers.

But what really set me off was Diaz’ final paragraph:

Ultimately, the lesson here is that high priests of every religion through the ages have been nothing more than unimaginative Hollywood movie producers with a taste for derivative material.

That flip remark may sound clever to Mr. Diaz and his editors, but it is unmitigated nonsense. I won’t speak for or about any other faith, but a simple perusal of the jacket copy of Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews would put paid to any suggestion that all faiths are derivative material.

There are some things in life that fairly beg to be simplified. And there are others that defy simplification. Wisdom will tell the difference, and wisdom suggests that trying to turn a complex, nuanced subject like the history of religion and turning it into a wall chart is a bad idea.

Far worse, however, is admitting that you have taken theology classes and that you still find all religion unimaginative and derivative. It suggests either a poor school, a poor student, or both.

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