Given the sense of security that religious faith brings to people -such as quelling the fear of death, answering many of life's important questions, and in addition, the protection of these things through community, is it likely that religion was a necessary component of the evolving human? Perhaps, the first humans who were able to ask "who am I, and why am I here?" used religious belief to protect themselves from those who lacked this cognitive ability.
If this is true, then doesn't that mean that some or most people cannot help how religious ideas overpower their sense of reason. Science and reason then becomes the scalpal for removing this sense of security.
The questions raised here would require a book to address, and many have been written, thankfully.
My quick points, then:
Religion, as we now know it, commenced as nothing more than a set of superstitions, to help people deal with the unknown (although not the unknowable). Shared superstitions certainly would have bonded people, and shared behaviours would have strengthened those bonds. Way back then, superstitions and rituals aimed at controlling the unknown had nothing to do with morality or controlling the community. All of that came much later. Pooling beliefs and rituals created larger groups with shared interests, therefore boosting the chance of survival in a brutal world. No one much thinks about “why am I here” when they’re preoccupied with killing the next beast or surviving a thunder storm or dying in childbirth.
In short, religion was not in any way necessary for humans to form communities. A shared interest in rock paintings would have been enough to form strong communities and the benefits of the wider group sticking together to survive would have become just as apparent without any belief in Zeus or sacrificial lambs. No doubt a shared interest in rock painting would or did evolve into shared superstitions and rituals. “Hey, last time we painted large beasts, we had a very successful hunt”; from then on, every time they needed food, they would have painted large beasts before they headed out. See how easy it is to commence a religion? It’s not gullibility; it’s just a natural urge for control over events, over the environment, over existence – over survival.
Today, a remarkable number of Americans believe in fairies and guardian angels (about 50 per cent?), but that shared belief doesn’t lead to a shared community, shared commerce and economic benefits, not does it lead to rules and regulations relating to acceptable behaviours and community norms. Only modern man-made religion recognised that a captive community could be controlled, and rewarded and punished, and generally harangued into submission. Religion is a misogynist power structure, which continues to be preoccupied with the behaviours of men, but their real preoccupation is women and women’s bodies.
Eventually, in the modern era, law and medicine took over many of the controls, rewards and punishments metred out by religion – including morality. Thus commenced the watering down of adherence to church dictates. Suddenly there were other sources for demonstrating and enforcing personal behaviours and acceptable community norms. Religion no longer had a monopoly. Science also stepped in, but good science ordinarily doesn’t tell people how to live or behave, but provides the tools to think and to acquire knowledge to make personal choices – the antithesis of religion and churches, which above all else demand total submission and conformance. Religion is anti-individual, with punishment for dissent swift and ugly – if not in this life, then, apparently, in a truly cruel after life!
Religion did, and continues to, offer the protection and economic advantages of a large homogenous community (you can only trust people who share your beliefs, right?), much of that is forced – that’s why most religions have such punitive treatments for those who have lapsed (from Catholics to Scientology, they’re all equally bad – banishment is the threat, and at worst, an eternity in a fiery hell). It’s no longer true, of course, in first world countries, since we now have access to so many economic opportunities and are no longer beholden to a next door neighbour or a small town to ensure we have work or medical care. There is no longer a need to be part of such a group, and the so called moral foundations of religion were always an illusion.
Being able to ask “Why am I here?” (self-actualisation) is not a cognitive advantage for survival, but being able to hunt and gather successfully is, and a larger group, bound by any shred of common belief, will confer advantages that a small family group will concede are valuable, and worth surrendering some degree of autonomy.
So, no, religion was not necessary for humans to evolve, but superstition seems to be innate in humans and an inevitable component of human intelligence. We think, therefore, we see patterns that don’t exist, and enact rituals to confer the illusion of control over our day to day existence.
Religion, on the other hand, rules by threats and fear, offering a sense of community that can be snatched away at any minute: that's not security, that's control and punishment.
Who here has said that religion is the source of all the evil in the world?
American physicist Steven Weinberg: "In the ordinary moral universe the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things, you'll need religion."
The cloak of religion has been used to defend a great deal of evil, in both the ancient and modern worlds.
Have never heard of anyone carrying out evil acts and calling upon their non-theism or claiming they did it for the greater good. Just doesn't happen!
JS - This isn't quite right. Let us get our philosophical cards in the right order before the conversation goes completely into the world of Cranko (the game played in M*A*S*H in which everyone makes up the rules). An atheist is a person who asserts atheism, which is a simple statement: there are no gods. That is it. One should not confuse atheism with humanism or objectivism or other philosophies associated with it. An atheist is free to associate with any other philosophy or belief system and still be an atheist. Perhaps there are atheists who say that religion causes all problems. I have not met any, but maybe there are some. That assertion is not a direct logical consequent from atheism. Most the atheists I have met regard secular humanism as the best ethical philosophical system, though obviously not all do. A fundamental tenet of secular humanism is that there are two kinds of evil: natural evil and moral evil. The first is simply those natural forces in the universe that cause harm - disease, earthquakes, the vacuum of space, etc. These things cannot be held responsible for the evil they do, so they are not morally evil. Moral evil occurs when beings capable of understanding the harm that they can do go ahead and do the harm. Religion is a product of humans, of beings capable of understanding the harm they do. Religion as a system directs people to do demonstrable, preventable harm to others. When Moses orders the Hebrews to kill all the Midiantes including boys and women who have had sex, leaving only the girls and virgins to be taken as sex slaves (Numbers 31:7-18), it is clear that Moses knows what he is ordering, knows the harm it will cause, but orders it anyway. This is a clear moral evil, perpetrated for a religious purpose and held for centuries as a righteous act from one of the holiest (most religious) of all men. No atheist that I know would claim that only the religion be condemned and not Moses. None would blame only the religion. The typical secular humanist would say that both the religion and the man are evil in this case, the man for doing it and the religion for providing the false justification for it. But the point is absolutely clear, and every secular humanist would have to agree on this: Moral evil always involves choice, by definition. Finally, we must make clear that religion is not just the set of ideas that a group of people assent to. There would be no way to differentiate religion from philosophy if that were the case. Religion is also the community of people who assent to the religious ideas. In the case just described, the religion is partly to blame exactly because religious followers are willing to act upon religious ideas and religious authority. In this way, religion itself must share the blame. Finally, freedom to choose is never freedom from responsibility for the choice.
I really wish there was a "like" button here.
Susan, I agree with your wanting a "Like" button.
David, when you wrote,
"The typical secular humanist would say that both the religion and the man are evil in this case, the man for doing it and the religion for providing the false justification for it."
You definitely rang chimes in my head. I am feeling a rant coming on so I wll pause a moment and breath.
There; A parent, a family, the neighbors, the community, the town, the churches all believe things that are just plain sick, foolish, ignorant, outrageous and sanctified by religious dogma and leaders and preachers and teachers of that community. A small town, infected with religion, can cripple untold numbers of people and feel justified in doing it. The notion of man as over the woman is insane. Let that man try to have a child without a woman, we would laugh at him. But he can subjugate his wife and thus own her body, mind, emotions and future. We wonder why women go into depression and anxiety. Wouldn't any sane person do so if prevented from reaching one's potential simply because of her gender?
Your words rang true for me; they describe, not blame. You are better than I; I want to sash out their guts from voice box to pelvis.
Yes, Evil concepts make people evil.
Joan - I understand your pain. I sometimes think the same in dark moments of despair. I just remember that things are in general much better now than they were just a few decades ago, and unaccountably better than they were just a few centuries ago. Things are not perfect. There is still too much to be frustrated about. But, we can now point out the problems and speak to the solutions in a fair degree of comfort, which our ancestors could not have done.
David, your comment perfectly describes our current situation and things are better. My mother and grandmothers could not say and do the things I am doing; I stand on their shoulders, even as they had been silenced and made impotent.
"There is still too much to be frustrated about. But, we can now point out the problems and speak to the solutions in a fair degree of comfort, which our ancestors could not have done."
We can challenge failures of institutions, i.e. religion, politics, and economics, without being burned at the stake. Having voice and using it, if based on critical thinking with focused action, can bring about preferred change.
Mahatma, I respectfully disagree, and I could be wrong, I have been many times in my life.
Religion, its principles, teaching, preaching, and followers, based on an external power provides an opportunity for a scoundrel to lead and the people to follow. The first scoundrel was Paul and his teachings about women. It just goes on from there. Just listen to the rhetoric of present day political discourse in the USA ... I feel disgust and shame as I listen to the debates and campaigns. How many churches and churched people stand up against the insults on women? How many religious confront them publicly to challenge their principles?
No, religion is the culprit. Lies, distortions, denial, fabrications, selected memory, cherry picking scriptures ...
Have I mentioned that I want to hunt down the men who did this to you and torture then kill them?