While the belief in spirits, dreams, and diverse other superstitions all played a part in the evolutionary origin of primitive religions, you should not overlook the influence of the clan or tribal spirit of solidarity. In the group relationship there was presented the exact social situation which provided the challenge to the egoistic-altruistic conflict in the moral nature of the early human mind. In spite of their belief in spirits, primitive Australians still focus their religion upon the clan. In time, such religious concepts tend to personalize, first, as animals, and later, as a superman or as a God. Even such inferior races as the African Bushmen, who are not even totemic in their beliefs, do have a recognition of the difference between the self-interest and the group-interest, a primitive distinction between the values of the secular and the sacred. But the social group is not the source of religious experience. Regardless of the influence of all these primitive contributions to man’s early religion, the fact remains that the true religious impulse has its origin in genuine spirit presences activating the will to be unselfish.
Later religion is foreshadowed in the primitive belief in natural wonders and mysteries, the impersonal mana. But sooner or later the evolving religion requires that the individual should make some personal sacrifice for the good of his social group, should do something to make other people happier and better. Ultimately, religion is destined to become the service of God and of man.
Religion is designed to change man’s environment, but much of the religion found among mortals today has become helpless to do this. Environment has all too often mastered religion.
Remember that in the religion of all ages the experience which is paramount is the feeling regarding moral values and social meanings, not the thinking regarding theologic dogmas or philosophic theories. Religion evolves favorably as the element of magic is replaced by the concept of morals.
Man evolved through the superstitions of mana, magic, nature worship, spirit fear, and animal worship to the various ceremonials whereby the religious attitude of the individual became the group reactions of the clan. And then these ceremonies became focalized and crystallized into tribal beliefs, and eventually these fears and faiths became personalized into gods. But in all of this religious evolution the moral element was never wholly absent. The impulse of the God within man was always potent. And these powerful influences—one human and the other divine—insured the survival of religion throughout the vicissitudes of the ages and that notwithstanding it was so often threatened with extinction by a thousand subversive tendencies and hostile antagonisms.