Sunday, March 4, 2007

Why is Religion?

Animism Buddhism, Christianity

Hinduism, Islam, Judaism

It’s time for OFD to tackle a thorny issue – religion. As experts in the analysis of human nature, behavior and meaning development, we think there are few themes as culturally universal as spirituality.

It’s bound to be a controversial topic given that even among those that do believe in God, there is pernicious disagreement about which is the right one (historically a major cause of war). Then there’s the 16% of the world population that don’t believe at all, yet questioned as to they've opted out. A disbeliever can be threatening to one that does.

The nature of this topic demands we resist being emotional in either content or expression in our discourse, for we believe that this tendency is all too present in discussion about religion, and serves only to cloud clarity of thinking and divide those otherwise engaged in productive debate. We will state our findings simply and, we hope, without bias.

According to Wikipedia there are 6 main religions in the world (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu and Animism). In human nature – across each of these brands of religion – there are also six reasons why religion exists:

1. Hope
Many followers of a religion also seem to have a life that is lacking in creature comforts, who are struggling with the basic challenge of staying alive at a subsistence level. The role of religion is to given hope that an individual and their family’s circumstances will improve, either in this world or the next.

2. Existential angst

The fear of the great unknown that surrounds us – more specifically death – is a great concern and conscious preoccupation. The role of religion in providing an explanation of an after-life is to assuage the fear and comfort a troubled psyche.

3. Sense of community and connectedness

Humans are fundamentally social animals. It is more than merely sharing company that people need: it is a drive to feel connected. The experience of isolation and loneliness are severely damaging to mental health and wellbeing and a religion provides a sense of togetherness and belonging of a very particular kind. It is a connection about our basic collective existence. As such it is a bond that runs much more deeply and more meaningfully than, say, through following Nascar races or ‘Scrap booking’ however much these activities may provide a sense of community.

4. Awe and appreciation

The world is too beautiful and complex that it is impossible for it to have occurred by random. This is a central tenet of proponents of Intelligent Design, who deduce that they and their surroundings are the direct consequence of act of deliberate creation by a single authority. This in turn produces an awe for the maker. The role of religion is to be a belief system supporting the need for an external cause, or force for existence.

5. Ego
Though this was originally coined the ‘id’ by Freud (see blog post ‘Can there be passion without ego?’) ego is a drive operating at the subconscious level and represents the pursuit for inner desire and accomplishment. As consumed as it is with its own satiation, the ego cannot believe that it is merely an accident of history, that its existence has no meaning. The role of religion is to meet the need for each and every life to have purpose. It gives a feeling of being special, important and planned.

6. There is a God

This is indeed a plausible option. Even Richard Dawkins – in a welcomed act of humility – was graceful enough to acknowledge that he can’t be certain God doesn’t exist. Unfortunately for religious followers, the nature of religion as a belief system does not endear non-believers towards them, because it relies exclusively upon an absence of evidence (“faith is enough”) or circumstantial ‘evidence’ at best (the interpretation of something good being ‘planned’ - such as a miracle, or a direct result of a prayer). Neither pass the basic test of causality.

Readers are invited to provide additional explanations for the why religion exists throughout the world. In the meantime, OFD can merely observe that there are more explanations for the existence of God which are rooted in human nature and the way the psyche is wired (see 1 to 5 above) than the actual existence of a numinous being, though one does not preclude the other.

1 comment:

greg said...

Here's an interesting one:

Yes. Humans need all these things and they try to fill those needs with God. But what of - instead of man creating a God to fill the need in his life - God actually creates Man with a need to fill his own emptiness with God?

Greater minds than I have wrestled long and hard and I can't pretend to know the answers - but I do know how I answer the question for myself.