Humans create religions in an attempt to make sense of the world and encourage social stability. They base their ideas on current scientific/intellectual and moral standards, combining current ideas about the world with what they consider plausible speculation about the unknown (and it is precisely 'the unknown' that they desire to explain or have explained).

In the case of constructing an explanation for the origin of the universe and human life, and what happens after death, in the absence of relevant evidence, widespread ideas about deities and the afterlife were available as models - all major religions have basically similar explanations of how the world was created and the afterlife, only the details are different. (Deity creates heaven and earth, creates man in his image, establishes cloud or feasting hall with carousing, virgins or harps where pious men can spend eternity after death.)

Adlerian psychology describes ‘guiding principles’, constructs that people create to help them make sense of the world and then assume to be true (and act accordingly, etc.). People establish these guiding principles in response to psychological and intellectual impulses and in accordance with their existing understanding of the world. Most of the guiding principles we use in everyday life tend to be fairly reasonable, being based on evidence and rational thought. In the case of Creation and the afterlife, however, these factors are necessarily absent (obviously - they don't exist).

Normally, guiding principles are adapted and discarded in light of new evidence or more advanced understanding, but this is not possible in dogmatic belief systems. The fundamental flaw of major religions has not, therefore, been their failure to provide accurate explanations, but their inflexibility: 'this is the true God, you must worship him!' In a manner similar to the friction that develops between religious (dogmatic) morality [see my discussion at] and social reality, the explanations provided by religion become increasingly at odds with scientific/intellectual standards, resulting in a decidedly negative influence on the intellectual development of both individuals and society in general. This is why religious superstition should be actively opposed - its potentially damaging effect on clear thought is a real and significant social and psychological problem.

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Comment by Sigmund on March 14, 2010 at 3:46pm
true (same goes for moral evolution) - though to me the fascinating point has always been how 'flexible' religions turn out to be. rationalising is evidently easier than letting go and moving on (even if it's to a nother convenient fiction)
Comment by Matt on March 14, 2010 at 6:17am
You can corroborate what you have just said by looking at the births of religious movements. More often than not, when a new religion pops up or a new culkt schisms off, this tends to go hand-in-hand with socio-cultural revolution. It is like all the need for change builds up against a dam of dogma, breaks through, and establishes a new set of rules more suited for the current environment. This in turn becomes the dogma that the next revolution rebels against, because the new set of rules, like the old, is posited as being the absolute unchsanging truth, applying to everyone.

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