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.
Susan, yes, you have mentioned that. I have always known you and I are shoulder to shoulder, not to oppress others or dominate, but to claim our own being.
David, I value your clarity with careful expression of ideas. You make good sense and I would love to have you over for coffee and scones and a good chat.
"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."
I am one who believes that religion causes dysfunction in individuals and communities. When an individual believes a personal god responds to prayers, provides guidance, judges "good and bad" people, places women in a subordinate role to men, that names homosexuals an abomination, and provides a place in an eternal furnace for bad ones and some mansion in the clouds, or wherever, for good ones, that there will be an Armagedon and rapture, that life is eternal, loved ones welcome newcomers to the mansion, or that Bronze Age philosophers have answers for people of the 21st century, and their version of science is good enough to teach in publicly funded schools, I make the claim that religion is to blame and the source of evil.
Community, whether family, neighbors, villages, nations, or the earth, is what I seek and I think a lot of others seek. Community made up of people who participate together, for the good of all, provides the guidance, support, encouragement, public service without all the baggage.
Churched and unchurched people are capable of evil. It is when the church authorizes dominionism, attempts to kill beliefs of people who differ from them and provides justification to proselytize while robbing people of their natural resources, they do vast harm. American natives and Hawaiian religion and lifestyle are perfect examples and others exist.
You seem to be equating religion with an actual supernatural deity. When we blame religion for something we are blaming an institution not an invisible entity.
I've been following this discussion and would like to throw my 2 cents in here. Human freedom is always confined by culture, religion, education, social norms, geography, etc. What child indoctrinated by religion has the advantage of freedom of choice? The choices we make are always infuenced by many factors that lie outside of us. As much as I want to claim pure objectivity and clarity of thought, I am truly confined by experiences, education and many other factors.
J.S. It seems the FREEDOM of choice you speak of is a myth. As others have stated here, religion cannot standby as an innocent bystander. Mankind commits evil, and history tells us that it is often religious ideas that serve as the motivation and inspiration.
Susan, I said it. Just look at each of the continents and the killing going on in the name of some deity, in whatever form. So, I spoke with hyperbole, but start with evil in families and the domination and exploitation of women, the abuse of children, the judgments of "differences" even if in one's own home. Then look at communities and a factions that fight over whose god is better or some fool demonstrates his obedience to authority by praying in the middle of the football field. Disgusting to say the least. Then go to state, then federal, then world relationships and people are either fighting for the better god, or "god given rights" claiming rights to water, or soil, or air, or fire in the name of their deity.
Yes, I exaggerate, but just look, listen, hear, feel? Do you sense peace and justice caused by a belief in a god?
Not much to add to the great insights discussed by former posters. This discussion does bring to mind a terrific RSA Animate presentation: The Empathic Civilization. For those of you who have not already seen it, it is well worth the ten minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
Essentially, discoveries in neurobiology demonstrate that we are wired to seek belonging.
It is a fascinating question. I have seen hypotheses for an evolution of religion ranging from "as a psychosomatic pain killer" to "advantageous hyperactive agency detector." Some of the hypotheses have some explanatory power in of themselves and others that describe it as a deleterious side effect to something else that was selected for.
My bottom line, I haven't seen enough data that would convince me one way or the other (I'm not even sure that a complex social phenomena such as religion can be captured with archeological evidence).
Having said all that, I think the social cohesion model is just as valid of a candidate as any of the others I have read about.
JJ - This is precisely the point Dennett makes in "Breaking the Spell." There are many interesting, provocative theories regarding religion's origin, but none yet can be thought of as close to definitive since not enough of the right kind of research has been done. Dennett opts for a multiple-biological-environmental cause leading to a meme that replicates and evolves in human society theory, but he stresses that this is pure hypothesis begging for real research.
Science and reason offer more comfort by making the world understandable and predictable, and it will replace old attempts at bartering with mythological gods created to maintain the fantasy of having control. How many virgins does god want to settle his wrath coming out of the angry mountain? One per day, until the rumbling stops, with a bow while covered in ash.
JS, it seems as though you experience many of the same feelings I have and had. There is so much chaos going on as I try to sort out what happened, why, and what I have to do in order to be break out of my love/hate relationship I still have with religion.
One experience I had may help you sort your memories. I did a research project in China, met women whose feet had been bound when they were 4,5,6 years old. Their mothers wrapped their feet in order to keep them small, no more than three inches. The tradition of the wealthy was to make their daughters desirable for marriage. This deliberate crippling caused life-long pain, especially along the spine because of their balance problems. In 1917, the footbinding practice became illegal and mothers refused to bind their daughters' feet. I met one old lady in a hospital and she told me her mother committed a crime against her when she was four by binding her feet, but the real crime was binding her mind.
That is what religion does, especially when born into a religious family. Terrible things may be said and done in order to fulfill the expectations of whatever religion. As an individual matures, some learn their upbringing did not help him/her develop mentally healthy, mature, adult skills. So, the job becomes one of relearning better ways to live in society.
Frankly, my favorite books and videos are by Christopher Hitchens. I know, people will tell you he was an angry, vindictive, alcohol drinking, chain smoking sot who spewed out venom ... and that is all true. However, He nailed issues exactly where they belonged. His anger is catching, but if you have a safe, supporting environment, you will get through all the bad stuff and be on to better things.
Here are just a smidgen of Hitchen quotes:
The 20 Best Christopher Hitchens Quotes
My other favorite is Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson - Beyond Belief (2006) - Part 1
JS - I am not myself a convert to atheism. For as long as I have been aware of religion, I have rejected it. I suppose I feel too comfortable in my atheism. For a couple of "soft" books to get you into the right mindset, I recommend William Lobdell's Losing My Religion and Nica Lalli's Nothing: Something to Believe in. I also recommend you find a cd or dvd of Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God.