I’ve adressed it a few times before, but this is evidently going to be a centerpiece of the neo-darwinian playbook for some time so I better dust off the ol’ cut,copy,paste keys on the keyboard and get ready to repeat myself. I was reading Evan’s blog the other day and came across the following in one of his posts around Easter:
I’ve come to the realization that there is only one thing that people use religion for: Comfort.
It’s comforting to think that there’s somebody out there who really, really loves you.
It’s comforting to think that there’s some nice place you go when you die.
It’s comforting to have a community of people believe something for no reason than they heard it from somebody else, was raised that way, or read a book about it.
It’s comforting to have a support network, to have something to pray to, to have an out for your fears, frustrations, hopes.
It’s comfort I don’t really need. It’s comfort I can live without. You want to talk to yourself and tell the imaginary guy how you’re feeling, who you’re thinking about? I’m cool with that. We’re human beings, we don’t do rational things all of the time. It’s not “rational” to believe in a God, but it sure is comforting.
In our time of need? “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”
In times of thanks “Thank you God, thank you God…”
In times of uncertainty “Give me strength, Lord…”
And on it goes. And it’s all very comforting. And it’s all very nice. And it’s a fine way to live your life. But it’s also psychologically taxing to children, it’s power than can corrupt absolute, and it’s a little silly in the scheme of things.
–Evan Erwin, http://www.misterorange.com/2007/04/easter-and-scope.html
This idea that people believe in religion because it makes them feel better and more comfortable with this cold, cruel universe is of course not a new one. Freud brought it into it’s modern incarnation in 1913 with Totem and Taboo and modern physicalist philosophers have struggled to explain religion in evolutionary terms as well. Daniel Dennett wrote a book last year called Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon attempting to do just that. It was summarily given an absolute bashing by the New York Times. Their review is excellent and rare for a simple book review.
Going back to Evan’s comments, their are a few immediate problems. First, if theistic belief was only found in a rural, Inherit the Wind type, old-time religion setting then his comment that people “believe something for no reason than they heard it from somebody else, was raised that way, or read a book about it” might hold up. That’s not the case though. Religious belief crosses every historical, cultural, societal, classical and vocational line. Not only that, but individual religious belief systems criss-cross over the same sets of lines. We find Baptists in India, hindus in America, Christians in China, Bhuddists in Russia, etc. Like I’ve said before, in order to believe this, we will have to say that some of the most intelligent people in history must be guilty of just believing something “because they heard it from somebody else.” That’s a very, very hard pill to swallow.
To be continued…