Why do we have religion?
If you've studied ancient cultures, then you know that every one of them practiced some sort of religious activity, even those predating recorded history, we can assume. Now, there are plenty of cultures who left no known records of anything they did, ever. But it is not reckless to assume that they possessed many of the same characteristics of the cultures before and after them. One could point out a modern country today, Sweden, for instance, for its unique absence of faith. They are, however, indeed unique.
So why, when we look at man's past and present, and foreseeable future, do we see so many religions? It is obviously in our nature to attempt to assign cause to the events we see take place. We see purpose where there is none, look for answers when something we cannot explain happens. It is intrinsic. When early societies experienced storms, they did not know that it was a combination of winds and a sensation of water going up to the sky and then falling due to its weight, called rain. They thought there was a magic creator who brought these things specifically to that one group of people. They established rules and laws in accordance to their beliefs. (Sometimes for power and control of the masses, but this not the topic of this writing.)
Here's a hypothetical
So, why aren't we born skeptical and with a thirst for knowledge of things outside our own realms of existence? Let's look at a situation borrowed from Richard Dawkins' genius book, The God Delusion. A boy grows up in a tribe in Africa where the elders rule the tribe and their religion rules them all. Growing up, the boy is taught basic, useful things that he needs in order to be successful making it past childhood. Such advice includes to stay out of the crocodile-infested river, how to take care of the agriculture, and to slaughter a goat once a month in order to bring rain by appeasing their creator. Now, why would the boy ever doubt their elders and parents when they receive such advice? To set up an imaginary scenario:
Elder: Never swim in the river across the field, as many crocodiles inhabit the area.
Boy: Oh, seems logical enough. After all, I could be eaten.
Elder: Provide water to all your food so they can grow and you can help feed the village.
Boy: Right, the plants probably need water for nourishment, like all living things.
Elder: Once a month, you must sacrifice one goat on this altar to please God so he will grant us rain.
Boy: Ok... uhh, wait. How would killing a goat bring the village rain? And why would God need a goat sacrifice? What is the reason for that? Also, how do you know such things? Did God tell you this? I'm a bit skeptical about this whole thing....
See? It does not seem likely that such an encounter would ever take place. It is all, as stated in Dawkins' book, about how children are born with the brain that is fit for sculpting. They will, naturally, take anything that their parents, or other authority figures, say without any consideration or doubt. If you give men a dozen healthy newborn babies and a patch of land isolated from society, they could raise them to believe in any god, any religion, any superstition imaginable. You could tell them that there are neighboring tribes that are their enemies then train them for war. Such is the reason that religion is still around and has prevailed so well in spite of many scientific advances that have eliminated many of the reasons for religion in the first place.
In order to put it in another light, think of why moths fly into the flame of a candle. (Credit to be given, yet again, to Richard Dawkins who introduced this to me through his writing.) Moth's naturally use the moon's light in order to navigate through the air in the night. Their eyes are specifically evolved to do this, so why do they fly directly in candles or bug lamps? Moth evolution has granted them this advantage in the night, yet flying into a flame is a misfiring of this evolutionary skill. That is to say, a trait that has prevailed in moths that normally assisted their survival, in this case, has harmed them. Comparably, the evolutionary trait of children being dependent on and obedient to their parents. We, as K-selected organisms, need care into adulthood and, as intelligent organisms, we are smart enough to question such effects but often dumb enough to assign them false causes. Check out my next Hub for more on that.
Other social issues
- The Poverty in the Republican Field for a Plausible Candidate
A quick and comic look at the GOP's laughable field of candidates.
- A Quick Response to a Common Argument Made by Pro-Lifers
A too often used question meant to trump all logical debate is defeated.
- Is Literature always subjective?