What Paleolithic Burial Sites Tell Us about Human Spirituality

After dismantling some recent attempts by scientists to explain the origins of religion, Russell Saltzman suggests a theory of his own:

The role of death in religious or spiritual awareness is an element not entirely overlooked, but it is never accorded a primary role in the development of religion, beyond cryptic acknowledgment that the practice of burial may suggest the spiritualization of death. When our ancestors understood the finality of death, something got knocked loose in the lower-Paleolithic mind, something requiring a ritualization of grief. . . .

The first intentional burial of anatomically modern humans was found at the gates of Europe, in Israel at the Skhul and Qafzeh caves on Mount Carmel, [having taken place] roughly 100,000 years ago. Fifty thousand years on, human burials become more elaborate with the use of red ocher. By 40,000 years ago . . . burials were marked by more ocher, grave goods, [and] Venus figurines, all matched by compellingly complex cave art and swift technological developments.

And there is this: burial marks a felt loss, a sad wistful yearning never satisfied, something that must be expressed spiritually and addressed. This is a human need that arose 40,000 years ago, to voice our heartache and sorrow. But to whom may we finally, ultimately address it? Is there a prehistorical analogue to Martin Buber’s I and Thou? God speaks to humans in wrenching natural events, like death, as senseless then as today. Perhaps it is there, in that hammering grief universally shared, that God created a meeting ground for conversation with an early humanity, a revelation disclosing the ultimate Thou giving solace to my devastated I.

Read more at First Things

More about: Archaeology, Death, Martin Buber, Prehistory, Religion & Holidays, Science

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy