“So you see systems of thought and religion coming out of the kinds of societies that invented them. The means by which people feed themselves determine how they think and what they believe. Agricultural societies believe in rain gods and seed gods and gods for every manner of thing that might affect the harvest (China). People who herd animals believe in a single shepherd god (Islam). In both these kinds of cultures you see a primitive notion of gods as helpers, as big people watching from above, like parents who nevertheless act like bad children, deciding capriciously whom to reward and whom not to, on the basis of craven sacrifices made to them by the humans dependent on their whim. The religions that say you should sacrifice or even pray to a god like that, to ask them to do something material for you, are the religions of desperate and ignorant people. It is only when you get to the more advanced and secure societies that you get a religion ready to face the universe honestly, to announce that there is no clear sign of divinity, except for the existence of the cosmos in and of itself, which means that everything is holy, whether or not there be a god looking down on it.”
The Years of Rice and Salt is a massive alternative history starting in the 1300s. In this history, Europe is wiped out by the Black Plague and civilization returns from the East. For notes on this book, see The Years of Rice and Salt Trivia & Study Guide.