Reading through Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion". I cant help but notice that he buys into the anthropological myth that religion is somehow universal. I would like to bring that hypothesis into question. It is easy to assume, when raised in modern western culture, that religion is universal. Being constantly surrounded by superstition and religiosity there appears to be no doubt that religion is universal, but that would be to blind oneself to the rest of human history. Even theories that try to explain how religion is beneficial, using theorys such as group selection, but all of these theories focus on modern religions. We have to keep in mind the fact the humans have been anatomically modern for about 200,000 years, and so only goin back 6,000 to the origin of the monotheistic three and hinduism, does not necessarily reflect the whole of human kind.
It is well known that many ancient cultures had interest in natrue and a special place in their hearts for astronomy. Now while writing was used 160,000 years ago it did not become common until approximately 10,000-12,000 years ago. So, this leads to the question of how these ancient peoples could keep track of star patterns and botanical information. This brings me to a method of memorization that has shown it self to be at very lest just as universal as religion seems to be, if not more, and that is the pneumonic device. Using a story to explain a phenomena is much simpler than memorizing the phenomena itself . So from this a story can arise about heros and gods and different spirits and such. They key difference being that while the stories are just the same, they are not believed to be factual in and of them selves but are simply ways in which people memorized observed features of the physical world.
I do admitt this is not a completely new idea in the sense that religious stories reflect physical and natural phenomena, but it is different in the understanding of what the stories mean. Perhaps only recently have people generated the lie that these stories are more than just an easier way to remember the complex interaction of constelations and planetary bodies in space, per the view of earth. Now the incentive to take these stories and lie about them is very obvious once you note the correlation with agriculture and religion arising at similar times, because being in the religious clergy allows one not only to avoid the physical labory of the layperson but it also allows them much political and economic control of well intentioned people who simply evolved to believe their parents warnings of danger (a much more parsimonious explination of belief rather than justifying the belief in specifically religion simply the trust of social elders, particularly in the realm of life and death.).