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【English/日本語】Read an English book📖英語の本を読もう📚Sapiens―chapter#12 Religion

英語でSapiens を読もう📖#12


For English learners!

Hello everyone, how’s your English learning journey going?😃 Reading an English book is sometimes a long journey. You might inadvertently stop if you are alone. But no worries. You are at the right place already. I would like to explore an English book here so that you can try reading the book with me. We are not alone. Let’s enjoy a fun time reading!

The book, which I picked up this time, is called Sapiens, published by Yuval Noah Harari. The Amazon Kindle link below allows you to read up to chapter 3. Today, I am covering chapter 12.

You can check out my recommending strategy of reading as well as a bit of information about this book with a link below. Okay then, let’s get started📖






Ch.12 The Law of Religion

🦧第12章 宗教という超人的秩序

Grasp the structure!🦧構成を把握する

To grasp the chapter, you just try to see its hierarchical configuration. I strongly recommend drawing it either physically or virtually.


Example of the unifier: Money
  • In the Medieval market in Central Asia
    • Syrian merchants
    • Chinese silks
Example of the unifier: Empire
  • Kublai Khan’s Army’s invasion to Japan
    • Mongol cavalrymen
    • Chinese foot soldiers
    • drunken Korean auxiliaries
    • sailors from the South China Sea
    • engineers from Central Asia
    • tall tales of European adventurers
Example of the unifier: Religion
  • The holy Ka’aba in Mecca
    • Islam’s holiest shrine
    • a party from Mesopotamia
    • a weather-beaten Turkish patriarch
    • a group of Muslims from the African kingdom of Mali
    • brothers from India
    • mysterious spice islands further east
What can be religion?
  • Definition
    • A system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.
  • Criteria
    • Religions hold that there is a superhuman order, which is not the product of human whims or agreements.
    • Religion establishes norms and values that it considers binding.
  • Quality to unite a large expanse of territory
    • universal: it must espouse a universal superhuman order that is true always and everywhere.
    • missionary: it must insist on spreading this belief to everyone.

  •  🚧工事中 🚧

  • interests
    • a multitude of other beings, such as animals, plants, fairies, and ghosts: equal in status to Homo sapiens.
      • forbid to cut down a particular tree
      • forbid to hunt a particular animal kind
  • features connect forager’s life
    • spent entire life with in a habitat: foragers needed to understand the super human order that regulated their valley and adjust their behaviors.
    • the middle position of the food chain: Sapiens hunted sheep as well as tigers hunted Sapiens.
    • most of their needs could be met by local spirits within limited territories.
What did the Agricultural Revolution bring?
  • features connect farmer’s life
    • own and manipulate plants and animals: farmers needed to degrade them as property from equal members of a spiritual round table.
    • desire to ensure the fecundity of the flocks: originate gods to mediate between humans and the mute plants and animals in exchange for everlasting devotion.
    • once kingdoms and trade networks expanded, Sapiens needed entities whose power and authority encompassed a whole region.
The initial religion: polytheism
  • controlled by a group of powerful gods
    • the fertility goddess
    • the rain god
    • the war god, etc
  • in exchange from devotions and sacrifices to rain, victory, and health.
  • animism remained an integral part of polytheism.
    • good enough for the mundane needs of ordinary people
How did Sapiens perceive the world?
  • Animists
    • humans were just one of many creatures
    • lost their stature and became extras or silent decor
  • Polytheists
    • the world is a reflection of the relationship between gods and humans.
    • the status of the humankind was exalted
    • prayers, sacrifices, sins, good deeds determined the fate of the entire ecosystem.

  •  🚧工事中 🚧

The inner logic of polytheism
  • ignorant and childish idolatry: Western monotheistic brainwashing
  • ⭕The supreme power of polytheism is devoid of interests and biases, therefore it is unconcerned with the mundane desires, cares, and worries of Sapiens.
  • ⭕The supreme power of polytheism for renouncing all desires and embracing the bad along with good.
  • ⭕All mundane desires and fears are meaningless and ephemeral phenomena.
Examples for the supreme power of polytheism
  • classical Greek polytheism
    • an omnipotent and all-encompassing power: Zeus, Hera, Apollo
  • Nordic gods
    • the cataclysm of Ragnarök
  • Yoruba of West Africa
    • the spreme god Olodumare
  • Hindu polytheism
    • Atman controls the myriad gods, spirits, humankind.
The supreme power and the partial power
  • The supreme power
    • not concerned mundane desires and fears
    • completely disinterested power
  • The partial power
    • have interests and biases
    • can be made deal with and relied on for help for such mundane things
    • smaller powers
    • the plurality of gods
  • The insight of polytheism
    • conductive to far-reaching religious tolerance
    • inherently open-minded
    • rarely persecutes ‘heretics’ and ‘infidels’
    • not require other to convert their gods and rituals
Contrast: Christian violence
  • Who: Cathorics v.s. Protestants
  • Why: the slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion
  • Protestants believes:
    • Christ did a lot of thing to open the gates of heaven, such as being incarnated, tortured, and crucified, deeming sin and that thereby everyone who prfessed faith in him deserves to heaven.
    • Cathorics magnifies their own importance and implies that Christ’s suffering are not enough.
  • Catholics believes:
    • Even though Crist sucrificed himself for the gates of heaven, still one have to participate in church rituals and do good deeds.
  • How many:
    • Christians killed the millions for 1500 years.
    • Polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians for 300 years.
  •  🚧工事中 🚧

The advent of monotheism
  • Some people became so fond of a particular patron that they drifted away from the basic polytheist insight.
  • Their god possesses interests and biases as well as the supreme power of the universe.
  • The followers beseech the supreme power for their mundane needs.
  • Polytheism gave birth here and there, but they remained marginal because they failed to digest their own universal message.
    • Judaism’s message was for only Jewish people: local monotheism
The big breakthrough of Christianity: missionary
  • began as an esoteric Jewish sect
  • convinced Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was their long-awaited messiah.
  • the necessity of missionary activity: this is something everyone should hear about, not just Jews.
Islam follows Christianity
  • Christian served as a role model.
  • began as a small sect in a remote corner of the world
  • conquered an immense empire from the Atlantic Ocean and India strangely and swiftly.
  • the monotheist idea played a central role in world history.
Monotheist’s characteristic
  • far more fanatical and missionary than polytheists
  • legitimacy of monotheistic faith accept neither partial supreme power or any other supreme power.
  • be compelled to discredit/exterminate all other religions.
One god power worked
  • in the first century, there were hardly any monotheists.
  • around 500 A.D., the Roman Empire was a Christian polity.
  • by the end of 1000 A.D., most people in Europe, West Asia, and North Africa were monotheists.
  • by 16th century, monotheism dominated most of Afro-Asia.
  • Today, most people outside East Asia adhere to one monotheist religion or another: the global political order is built on monotheistic foundations.
Animism, polytheism v.s. monotheism
  • animism
    • survived within polytheism
  • polytheism
    • survived within monotheism
      • a chasm between theological theories and historical realities, because it was difficult to digest the monotheist idea fully
      • Christianity developed saints, from polytheistic gods: expelled through the front door and took them back in through the side window
        • cities, towns, professions, even diseases had their own saint.
        • did not merely resemble the original polytheistic gods
  •  🚧工事中 🚧

  • birth:
    • polytheism gave birth to dualism as well as monotheism.
  • concept:
    • the entire universe is a battleground between good and evil.
  • people’s concern
    • The Problem of Evil: why do bad things happen to good people?
    • ➜Because this is God’s way of allowing for human free will.
    • ➜But, there is only good. If there is no options, we cannot choose and there would be no free will.
    • ➜There are good and evil: two options, therefore, free will works.
    • Dualists’ answer: bad things happen even to good people because the world is governed by good God and Evil.
  • who governs the world? (the Problem of Order)
    • Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order.
    • There is a single omnipotent God who governed the univers and He is evil.
History of dualism
  • Zoroastrianism
    • flourished for more than thousand years
    • a prophet named Zoroaster was active sometime between 1500 B.C. and 1000 B.C.
    • in Central Asia
    • world is a cosmic battle between the good god Ahura Mazda and the evil god Angra Mainyu.
    • exerted a major influence on almost all subsequent Middle Eastern and Central Asia religions.
    • inspired other dualist religions: Gnosticism, Manichaeanism.
    • be overrun by the monotheistic Muslims and the dualist wave subsided.
    • today, only a handful of dualist communities survive in India and the Middle East.
Dualism and monotheism
  • monotheis absorbed numerous dualist beliefs and practices
  • monotheists believe in a powerful evel force
    • ex.) Christian: the Devil or Satan
  • humans have a wonderful capacity to believe in contradictions; a single omnipotent God and an opposing power
  • monotheists have gone so far as to imagine that the good God even needs our help in its struggle against the Devil
    • jihads
    • crusades
Gnosticism and Manichaeanism
  • sharp distinction between: spirit and soul are created by the good god whereas matter and bodies are created by the evil god
    • body and soul
    • matter and spirit
  • monotheists could not help but be captivated by dualist dechonomies in order to adress the problem of evil.
  • cornerstones of Christian and Muslim thought
    • heaven and hell
Monotheism is…
  • a kaleidoscope of…
    • monotheism: the monotheist God
    • dualism: the dualist Devil
    • polytheism: polytheist saints
    • animism: aminist ghosts
  • syncretism
    • the simultaneous avowal of different and contradictory ideas
    • the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources
    • might be the single great world religion
  •  🚧工事中 🚧

The religions of natural laws
  • spread through Afro-Asia
    • Jainism, Buddhism… India
    • Daoism, Confucianism…China
    • Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicureanism… the Mediterranean basin
  • the superhuman order governing the world is the product of natural law
    • Gods are no less than humans, animals, and plants.
  • the central figure
    • Siddhartha Gautama
    • a small Himalayan kingdom young prince
    • around 500 B.C.
  • what suffers humans….
    • an inseparable part of the human condition
      • anxiety, frustration, discontent
    • haunted by ceaseless cares, worries, until sickness, old age, and death
  • traveled as a vagabond
    • to investigate suffering
    • to meditate on the essence, causes, and cures for human anguish
    • to come to the realization that suffering is
      • ✖ caused by ill fortune
      • ✖ social injustice
      • ✖ divine whims
      • ⭕ the behavior patterns of one’s own mind
      • ⭕ mind reacts with craving and craving always involves dissatisfaction
      • ⭕ mind is always dissatisfied and restless
      • ⭕ person does not crave cannot suffer
Gautama’s realization
  • to exit the vicious circle
    • to accept thing as they are without craving
    • to train mind to experience reality as it is without craving
  • a set of ethical rules
    • to ground the meditation techniques in a set of ethical rules meant to make it easier for people to avoid stoking the fire of craving
      • killing: craving for power
      • promiscuous sex: craving for sensual pleasure
      • theft: craving for wealth
  • to attain nirvana
    • craving is replaced by a state of perfect contentment and serenity
    • fully liberated from all suffering
    • to experience reality with the utmost clarity, free of fantasies, and delusions rather than misery
    • to become ‘Buddha’= ‘The Enlightened One’
  • a universal law of nature in Buddhism
    • suffering arises from craving
    • the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to fully liberated from craving
    • the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is
    • known as dharma, 梵, ダルマ
  • premodern natural-law religions
    • being Buddhist and worshiping of gods
      • the Hindu gods in India
      • the Bon gods in Tibet
      • the Shinto gods in Japan
    • pantheons of Buddhas and bodhisattvas (菩薩)
      • enlightened beings
      • who forego the liberation out of compassion in order to help others.
      • many Buddhists began worshiping them, asking them for help not only in attaining nirvana but also in dealing with mundane problems
  •  🚧工事中 🚧

The importance of religion
  • theist religions
    • focus on the worship of gods
    • losing importance→secularism
  • natural-law religions
    • intense religious fervor
    • do not like to be called religions
    • refer to themselves as ideologies
      • liberalism
      • Communism
      • capitalism
      • nationalism
      • Nazism
a superhuman order and a religion
  • Islam
    • the superhuman order governing the world as the edict of an omnipotent creator god
  • Buddhism
    • the law of nature was discovered by Siddartha Gautama
  • Soviet Communism
    • the super human order of natural and immutable laws that should guide human actions
    • the law of nature was discovered by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
    • holy scripts and prophetic books
    • its holidays and festivals, such as the First of May and the anniversary of the October Revolution
    • theologians adept at Marxist dialectics
    • a commissar who monitored the piety of officers and soldiers
    • martyrs, holy wars, and heresies, such as Trotskyism
    • a fanatical and missionary religion
  • ⭕human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order: not legislated by humans
  • ✖theory of relativity is not a religion because they are no human norms and values
  • ✖football is not a religion because nobody argues that its rules reflect superhuman edicts
Religion and ideology
  • god-centerd religions
  • godless ideologies that claim to be based on natural laws
Syncretism everywhere
  • a Buddhist could worship Hindu deities (polytheism)
  • a monotheist could believe in the existance of Satan (dualism)
  • a nationalist, who believes in the existence of an American nation with a special role to play in history, can be a free-market capitalist, who believes open competition and the pursuit of self-interest are the best ways to create a prosperous society as well as a liberalist, who believes that humans have been endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
Humanism: the humanist religions
  • whorship humanity
  • Homo sapiens has a unique and sacred nature
  • the supreme good is the good of Homo sapiens
  • it has split into three rival sects
    • liberal humanism
    • socialist humanism
    • evolutionary humanism
liberal humanism
  • human rights
  • ‘humanity’ is a quality of individual humans: seek individual freedom
  • the liberty of individuals is therefore sacrosanct
  • honor and safeguard human sanctity
  • the free and sacred nature of each individual is a direct legacy of Christianity
    • Why is Sapiens so special? Because, Sapiens have eternal souls that given by a Creator God.
socialist humanism
  • ‘humanity’ is collective rather than individualistic
  • sacred the species Homo sapiens as a whole: seek qualities between all humans
  • inequality is the worst blasphemy against the sanctity of humanity: the universal essence of all humans should be privileged
  • built on monotheist foundations that all souls are equal before God
evolutionary humanism: the Nazis
  • the chief commandments
    • a different definition of ‘humanity’: a mutable species that can evolve or degenerate
    • the main ambition is to protect humankind from degeneration and encourage its progressive evolution
    • Homo sapiens appeared as superior kind, while inferior kinds such as the Neanderthals became extinct.
  • the most advanced form
    • Aryan race
  • the degenerate kinds
    • Jews
    • Roma
    • homosexuals
    • the mentally ill
    • they had to be quarantined and exterminated
  • scientific knowledge in 1933
    • belief that white race was more superior was widely held among most Western elites
    • Western scholors used orthodox scientific methods and published studies that allegedly proved that white race were more intelligent, more ethical and more skilled than Africans or Indians.
    • Politicians ristricted and regulated to prevent the adulteration and degeneration of the white race
    • sociological and political developments were far more powerful engines of change
  • biologists answer in 1945
    • the differences between the various human lineages are far smaller than the Nazis postulated
Darwinian evolution and humanism
  • the logic of evolution
    • natural selection must be allowed to weed out unfit individuals and leave only the fittest to survive and reproduce
  • Liberalism and Communism
    • they allowed unfit individuals not only to survive but also reproduce, therefore undermined natural selection
    • it would lead humankind become less and less fit with each passing generation, which could lead to its extinction: conflict the natural law of natural selection
  • future evolutionary humanism
    • many contemplate using biological knowledge to create superhumans
    • human behaviour is determined by hormones, genes, and synapses, rather than by free will: convenient discoveries
    • even though judicial and political systems try to stick to the traditional Christian belief in a free and eternal soul, how long can they hold up being seperated from biology?

  •  🚧工事中 🚧

Summarize the chapter concisely🦧章を簡潔にまとめる

To summarize, check the hierarchical configuration and make sentences with important points of each.


Religion is one of the three great unifiers of humankind. Religion should have a superhuman order, binding norms and values, and quality of universal and missionary. The Agricultural Revolution seems to have been accompanied by a religious revolution. While animists saw themselves as one of many creatures, polytheists exalted their status and see the world as a reflection of the relationship between gods and humans. As of the characteristics of polytheism, its supreme power is devoid of interests and biases, and it has far-reaching religious tolerance. Polytheism was also the birth of partial power, which has interests and biases.

Christianity was born as monotheism from esoteric Jewish when it was equipped with universality and missionary. Islam follows it. Today, most people outside East Asia adhere to one monotheist religion. Dualism was also born from polytheism, and monotheism has syncretized rituals and practices from different sources including dualism.

Meanwhile, Buddhism is non-theist religion. It is based on a universal law of nature ‘suffering arises from craving, and in order to liberate meditation is needed.’ As time went by people began worshiping enlightened beings to asking not only for attaining nirvana but also for dealing with mundane problems.

Lastly, godless ideologies, humanism, is flourished and centered in the age of growing secularism. Humanism is based on the natural law that human has a unique and sacred nature. It has three sects: liberal, social, and evolutionary humanism.





Make questions to discuss🦧ディスカッション用の質問を作ろう

To discuss, make questions. It gives you a great topic to talk about in English.


Interpretive question 解釈についての質問

What does it mean? How are the parts connected? what is the reason for people’s actions?

There is more than one possible answer, but the viewer’s opinion is based directly on the text.



My opinion: In order to let the argument objectively, an author’s opinion is usually not subjective in an academic book. So is this book. However, in the third section in which the author describes the differences between polytheism and monotheism, the author began the first paragraph by describing that monotheistic Westerners see polytheism as ignorant and childish. “The Benefits of Idolatry” seems that he asserts sarcastically that something the Westerners called Idolatry is much more peaceful than monotheists’ bloody greed. It’s might reflect the author’s sarcasm.


five questions for discussion🦧ディスカッション用の5つの質問

How does this make me feel? What does it remind me of?

There are many correct answers that are related to one’s experience; they can be found outside of the text/speech.

  • Have you ever…?
  • Does it make you angry when…?
  • Which part did you like?
  • How hard was this to understand?



  • こんな経験ありますか
  • こんなとき、怒った気持ちになりますか
  • どのパートが気に入りましたか
  • これを理解するのは難しかったですか

What does it say?

One correct answer is found in the text.

  • Who is …?
  • What happens first?
  • Where are …?
  • What is the difinition of this word?



  • これは誰?
  • 何が最初に起きた?
  • これはどこですか?
  • この言葉の定義はなんですか?

What does it mean? How are the parts connected? what is the reason for people’s actions?

There is more than one possible answer, but the viewer’s opinion is based directly on the text.

  • Why did the speaker…?
  • What can we say about the speaker’s point of view?
  • What is the significance of the title?
  • What did the speaker mean when they said…?



  • どうして話者は...?
  • 話者の視点について、どんなことが言えますか。
  • タイトルにはどんな意味があるでしょう。
  • 話者が...といったのはどういう意味でしょう。

What is the message beyond this presentation? What are the greater issues or questions this piece deals with?

The presentation is not directly referenced in the question. There are many possible answers found outside of the presentation, but it’s a starting point.

  • How do people…?
  • Why do people…?
  • What is the truth about…?



  • 人々はどうやって...?
  • どうして人々は...?
  • ...の真実は何でしょう?

How effective is the presentation in whole or in part? Why did the speaker/author make these choices and how well do they work?

Many possible answers can be found outside of the presentation but it’s a reference.

  • Is it realistic when …?
  • How does the speaker use … to show …?
  • Would this be better if …?
  • Is the speaker biased towards/against…?



  • この箇所は現実味がありますか。
  • 話者がこの...をどのように表現しましたか。
  • もし...であればもっとよかったですか。
  • 話者は...の考え方に偏っていますか。

Expressions and terms🦧覚えておきたい単語・表現

Pick some terms that you are unfamiliar with from sentences you high-lightened and memorize them because you need them to discuss this chapter!!


termexample sentence
idolatryWesterners see polytheism as ignorant and childish idolatry.
Animists thought that humans were just one of many creatures inhabiting the world.

The fundamental insight of polytheism, which distinguishes it from monotheism, is that the supreme power governing the world is devoid of interests and biases, and therefore it is unconcerned with the mundane desires, cares, and worries of humans.
Dualistic religions espouse the existence of two opposing powers: good and evil.

Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion. They are no less syncretic than monotheism and popular Buddhism.
The last 300 years are often depicted as an age of growing secularism, in which religions have increasingly lost their importance. (the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions.)
All humanists worship humanity, but they do not agree on its definition. Humanism has split into three rival sects.


As it is easy to guess, it has a big volume for breaking down the history of religions. Especially the aspect how a religion transforms their creed along time is not the information you easily get lectured from its believer, who usually mainly know about the current knowledge.


As a person who was born and bred in East Asia, I’ve been familiar with Buddhism and feeling that God is not something real in my life. I didn’t know fully the natural law of Buddhism, therefore it was really interesting. As the author stresses the importance of meditation as a part of its natural law, I found Buddhism very interesting in terms of a religion that provides a practical method to intervene cognitive activity of human beings. As I discussed in the discussion section, the author doesn’t have a particular positive position toward monotheism, according to my Wiki-search regarding the author, he is into meditation. Did you notice he has a particular interest in meditation from his writing? I wouldn’t have noticed, haha.


Almost forgotten to mention, but how did you like the author’s position that considers ideologies as religions. I kind of like it. When he started to argue the importance of fictive language for Sapiens, I’ve felt that religions and ideologies such as capitalism, socialism, are quite alike. Even so, it was really interesting that this chapter ends with humanism. I’ve never heard of humanism. What do you think of humanism?