From ‘..ites’ to Rites

In these papers 78 through 96 of The Urantia Book, spanning some thirty-seven thousand years of Urantia history, we see migration propelling late-stage human biological evolution, and we see the ensuing interplay with formative civilization and religion which can be called social evolution. We see fragments of society and their corresponding fragments of religion sorting themselves out over time ever so gradually towards functional civilization and effective religion.

The description presented in these papers is quite detailed so there is much that admits an interesting comparison with existing knowledge and recent research even if this means restricting our study to the more conventional parts and omitting those parts that appear only in The Urantia Book, such as the specific “races of color” or biological intervention by an Adam and Eve.

For existing knowledge let us look first at the Bible, whose early books from Genesis to Leviticus refer to a similar transition from biological evolution or creation, through a period of tribal migrations and conflicts between peoples, the Canaanites most famously, and on to descriptions of the Israelite religion.

Actually, Canaanites and Israelites are only a couple of the ‘-ites’ mentioned in the Bible. A quick count of The (entire King James) Bible turns up 227 ranging from Aaronites to Zorites. Even the much shorter history found in the Book of Mormon still mentions about fifteen ‘-ites’ ranging from Amalekites to Zoramites [[i]]. This surprisingly large number of ‘-ites’ preserved within the otherwise highly condensed scriptural accounts of history suggests that its writers took the view that these many peoples needed to be remembered even if only in passing, a view also evident in the preservation of so many individual names in famously tedious passages of “begats”.

The Urantia Book, while mentioning some forty-three ‘-ites’ ranging from Adamites to Yahwehites takes the different view that, “It would be fruitless to attempt to enumerate the many racial groups”[[ii]]. Indeed at the time of publication the obvious, biblical method of tracing the lineage of racial groups was not up to the task of understanding late-stage evolution. There was too much circular logic and uncertainty in associating the found remains of individuals with racial traits which were themselves an evolving, moving target.

So let us now consider the contribution of recent research and scientific methods that can measure the relationships of individuals directly so their evolution can be observed without being confused by errors in assigning those individuals to populations or racial groups. With sufficient data the existence of such groups might sometimes be inferred but importantly the method does not rely upon recognizing groups at all. Thus, the stated fruitlessness of “enumerating the many racial groups”, though effectively true enough, is not as final as it might have seemed at the time of publication.

An appreciation for some of the current scientific methods and their applications can be found in a recent article by Ann Gibbons in Science Magazine [[iii]]. Radioactive isotopes of carbon provide the time-line in the now-familiar manner. Analysis of DNA enables the genetic similarity of individuals to be measured without knowing any other connection. And its limits of reliability are understood quite well such that care can be taken not to exceed them. Less familiar is the analysis of stable (non-radioactive) isotopes; in this case the relative amount of the several isotopes of strontium and nitrogen which characterize region or diet.

Stable isotope information takes us slightly beyond genetics and history to touch upon habit and lifestyle. For example, whenever a specimen contains DNA quite different from its neighbours it can reasonably be supposed that the individual migrated there in its lifetime. But if in addition to different DNA that individual has a different stable isotope composition, then migration is moderately certain.

Suppose the remains of a female who grew up on a local farm is found beside a genetically different male who grew up somewhere else. We would recognize the obvious story-line and we might imagine a tall stranger, perhaps on a horse, hunting far from home, who notices the farmer’s daughter and who decides to stay. To be sure, that story is familiar enough as is the entire human tendency to split into tribes, to explore, to hunt and to merge again. So let us remember that the scientific objective it not so much to discover the stories as to work out their distribution in space and time.

Such added information about habit and lifestyle also brings the scientific work to about the same level of detail as the reader of The Urantia Book encounters there. The following observations are therefore of interest.

We note that the migrations into Europe occurred in three waves.

  • 19,000 to 14,000 years ago: Hunter-gatherers from the Middle East since the last glaciation.
  • 9,000 years ago: Farmers from north-west Anatolia i.e. from around modern Greece and Turkey, mixing slowly.
  • 5,000 years ago: So-called “Yamnaya” invasion of Herders from north of the Black Sea, mixing rapidly.

Of these the third wave of migration does indeed somewhat parallel The Urantia Book‘s “Andite conquest of Northern Europe” [[iv]], where, it may be recalled, the term “Andites” refers to a people already highly blended in stages from pre-existing Nodites, Andonites also implying a substantial admixture of “Adamite”, the violet race descendants of Adam and Eve.

We may also note that both accounts agree on another point, that certain anomalous-looking populations are not genetically separate as tradition has it, but rather just differently proportioned blends of much the same parent populations. For example, both accounts seem to agree that the Basque people of Northern Spain are local populations that blended less with some of the later invaders; with Yamnaya in the one case and with Andites in the other [[v]].

The Gibbons article also explains an anomaly in the flow of research and it’s one that I think readers of The Urantia Book would find relevant to an appreciation of the times and attitudes prevalent since the book’s publication.

The subject of human migrations in Europe seems to have languished for much of the post-war period instead of developing steadily with emerging methods as expected. And the reason seems to be a reaction against the use of ancestral territory claims and adoration of historical figures to promote German militarism towards the middle of last century. The scientists or their funding institutions were probably not being especially noble or political, perhaps just tired of providing the same old, convenient excuse for war-making especially when there were plenty of similar but less-controversial research topics to pursue.

Gibbons tells of the original, remarkable event that fed this dangerous war propaganda all too easily. In the first place, back in 3 A.D., there was the spectacular Battle of Teutoburg Forest recorded by Roman historian Tacitus in which a local Germanic tribe called Cherusci and its leader Arminius defeated three Roman legions. In the second place, myth-building enthusiasts of the fifteenth century re-invented the hero Arminius as Germanic super-hero Herrmann. In the third place, National Socialists of the twentieth century completed the myth by anointing the super-hero Herrmann as an archetype for their Aryan master race.

But despite the ensuing post-war inertia, eventually, since about 1990, researchers were drawn to fill the obvious gap and we finally learned the valuable lesson that the ancient populations migrated so far and became so blended that all ancestral claims in Europe are quite spurious.

The Urantia Book comments freely and often on the relative performance of the various racial groups and so today’s reader may judge it racist by reflex. These days even the idea that civilization requires an adequately developed population to sustain is borderline controversial. And yet most of the race-related comment merely attempts to document the sometime success and often-time failure that underlies the evolutionary struggle. At the very least there is a sincere lack of prejudice in that remarks about racial groups are so consistently made after the fact based upon average performance taken over millennia.

One exception might be the “violet race after Adam”, which from its origin was always expected to perform better than others, though even in this case The Urantia Book account remains unsentimental and ever-willing to accept any outcome, opining that, “Race admixture is always advantageous in that it favors versatility of culture…” [[vi]].

That cultural aspect is really the subject of all the remaining papers in the selection, particularly the concepts and practices (rites of the ‘-ites’) that make up religion. While there is no science explaining how these concepts first arose, we do have some ideas about how they perpetuate and evolve. The word “meme” was invented to describe a social analogue to the biological gene, being a particle of culture that is sufficiently self-evident and appealing to people that, like the gene, it can persist, passed to successive generations relatively unchanged.

For readers of The Urantia Book the meme is at least a helpful device for highlighting the evolutionary trend in the vast array of ideas that make up religion. For me it adds real depth of meaning to the term “evolutionary religion”, not just the religion of an evolutionary creature but also religion as the product of its own corresponding evolution. Such is the beauty of appreciating culture being assembled from pieces held dear by each of its component peoples.

The series of papers dealing with relatively discrete, “elementary particles” of religion is very amenable to this approach. After understanding even a few of these, especially with some sympathy for how the early humans understood them, the modern reader can enjoy assembling them into meaningful combinations. I find that perceiving them as memes gives the reader an additional grasp of the natural, evolutionary reality behind those combinations.

For example, from my reading I might recognize sin as an enduring concept to do with wilful departure from the lawful operation of the universe. I might gain an appreciation for the sense in which sacrifice expresses indebtedness or gratitude. I might also become aware of the atonement concept, the need to be on good terms with God. From that position of understanding I can go on to imagine how these memes in use by many people over time would evolve into another sin-sacrifice-atonement meme which is practically an entire functional religion in scope.

A glimpse of how our genes and memes came together, such as these Urantia Papers provides, goes to the fundamental reasons for reading history. I hope these few additions have contributed to keeping that glimpse clear with respect to our current ways of thinking, which I see as a worth-while and ongoing task for every reader.

[i]            The Book of Mormon 4 Nephi 1:17 refers to a happy time when “There were no robbers nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites not any manner of -ites; but they were in one the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” This is probably what originally prompted me to notice the proliferation of biblical ‘-ites’.

[ii]           The Urantia Book [Paper 80:3.2, page 891.3]

[iii]          Gibbons, A., 2017. “Busting the Myths of Origin”, AAAS Science Vol. 356, pp. 678-681.

[iv]         The Urantia Book [Paper 80:5.8, 894.1]

[v]          The Urantia Book [Paper 80:9.11, page 898.6]

[vi]         The Urantia Book [Paper 79:2.7, page 880.5]