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GODS’ WRATH Beliefs in all-knowing, punitive gods helped turn hunter-gatherer groups into large civilizations, a new study suggests. Here, a papyrus manuscript from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead shows a line of Egyptian gods (top) ready to judge whether the dead Theban scribe Ani should be admitted to the afterlife or sent to the underworld
Beliefs in all-knowing gods that punish wrongdoers helped enable the rise of modern civilizations, a new cross-cultural study suggests.
Cooperation among throngs of strangers in expanding societies required a common faith in moralistic gods, say sociocultural anthropologist Benjamin Purzycki of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and his colleagues. To believers, these gods were concerned about good and bad behavior, knew what everyone thought and did, and punished selfish transgressors in a big way.
“A large part of the success of human civilizations may have lain in the hands of the gods, whether or not they are real,” writes evolutionary biologist and political scientist Dominic Johnson of the University of Oxford in an accompanying commentary in Nature.