The great contribution of religion to human civilization was the birth of a great idea (myth): WE LIVE FOREVER.
There are huge challenges to be surmounted proving this idea, like: if we live forever, why then do we have to die? And why aren’t there any people around who are living forever?
Putting aside for the moment a reply to those questions, let’s first trace, as best we can with fact and imagination, the birth of the idea of being able to live forever.
First, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) described life before humans began organizing themselves as: “solitary, poor, nasty, short, and brutish”. (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.)
Second, eventually in the early Mesopotamian area ( modern day Iraq) the idea that there has to be a better life than the cruel one they were living was created. (Sumerian Creation Tablet, 1600 BC.)
Third, spiritual leaders like Jesus began teaching that there was a supreme being living in heaven who is preparing a place of happiness for us after this life. (The New Testament, The Book of John.)
Fourth, religious innovators like Joseph Smith tempted us with the idea that not only could we live forever with God, but we could become gods ourselves with our own heavens and worlds. (The Doctrine and Covenants of the LDS Church.)
Fifth, modern day scientists, like Stephen Petranek and Helen Blau, explain how breakthroughs in science will allow us to live on different worlds, and that our lifespans will be dramatically extended. (References: How We’ll Live On Mars; and Telomere extension turns back aging clock . . ., Stanford Medicine News Center, January 23, 2015.)
And with this last point we come full circle. Humans will live on different worlds, and will continue to live longer and longer lives. Whether these new worlds will be like heaven, and whether we will eventually live forever on these new worlds, have yet to be tested; but, there is no denying, we have come an extraordinary distance since life was “solitary, poor, nasty, short, and brutish”.
Religion gave the human race a great idea. We humans have taken that idea and have run with it. We have turned an extraordinary idea, a myth really, into a real life reality.