If we want to address the problems created by Mara and Mammon, reviewing Buddhist and Christian views of our human condition is not sufficient: Both are Axial Age religions, based on profound cultural transformations that occurred in the Middle East, Greece, India, and China in the middle of the first millennium b.c.e. In order to understand the worldview and social role of such religions, however, they need to be contextualized within a broader understanding of the evolution of culture generally and religion in particular. That means going much further back into our long prehistory and benefiting from the often-uncomfortable insights of evolutionary psychology.

Why "often uncomfortable"? Despite accepting the physical implications of evolution, most of us remain wary of any psychological explanation of our predispositions that invokes genetics. But cultural influences do not operate on a Blank Slate: They condition genetically based tendencies for how to interact with others. What psychological predispositions are associated with the genes that tend to survive, and do they sometimes include—and thereby perpetuate—the three poisons: greed (acquisitiveness), ill will (violence, war), and delusion (egoism, tribalism)? In our long history, the most important social program attempting to control and channel our conflicting genetic predispositions was provided by Axial Age religions. The Axial Age can be understood as cultural-evolution's way of compensating for the problematic genetic propensities, both individual and tribal, that had originally enabled our species to survive and thrive in very competitive and often-threatening environments—tendencies, however, that not only led to Bronze Age breakdown but now threaten our very existence.


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pp. 227-239
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