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Did The Fear Of Death Create Religion Or Did Religion Create The Fear Of Death?

I have heard many people say that man created religion because of ignorance and the fear of death. But when I was religious I feared death and now that I am not religious, I have no fear of death.

By ThomasMeador
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Probably both, but death anxiety is universal. A study was published in the journal Religion, Brain, and Behavior --- a meta-analysis of 100 existing science articles on people’s experience with death anxiety. Researchers analyzed data on over 26,000 people between the years 1961 and 2014. They found that very religious believers were not afraid of death. They also found that to be the case with strong atheists. People who didn't hold a strong worldview experienced death anxiety. Quote:

"What seems to protect atheists and religious people from their crippling fear of dying isn’t what they believe but the fact that they believe in anything at all. The researchers note that this is the central concept in “Terror Management Theory,” which has been proposed to explain how exactly humans deal with the crippling reality of wanting to live but knowing they’re going to die. The theory says that we do so by bolstering our “worldview”: When we’re faced with the terror of death, we try to root ourselves as firmly as possible in what we believe (regardless of what it is), and this staves off our fears of dying. Almost 100 percent of the studies that were robust enough to test this idea supported the theory.”

The researchers did mention that the results can’t be considered definitive because it wasn’t totally inclusive — it counted mostly American beliefs, and dealt only with Abrahamic religions.


@ThomasMeador and @tsjames -- my thanks to you both for your feedback.


I'm pretty sure privilege was the motivation behind the creation of religion. Someone wanted to take advantage of others and sold them on the fact that they'd be rewarded after death.

mt49er Level 6 Nov 1, 2017


but it did manage to get us to perform wonderful acts of craftsmanship and music plus keep us from acting out our base desires when we really knew nothing of the world around us so kudos to those who lead us out of the darkness


I think religion started as lessons taught children of their ancestors and the world to learn and cope. The beliefs of the most prominent family in a group were the ones perpetuated. Everyone's different but I know many theists who find comfort in the thought that when they or their loved ones die they will go to heaven. Although history shows people also used religion to control other people and governments.



Paul Level 5 Nov 1, 2017

You may be interested to know that the oldest religious facility ever found (70 KYA) is a cave in Botswana with a big stone python. It was used as a more or less funeral home. The cave even had a little office for the director. But of course, grave goods go back further than that. I'm guessing that once you have awareness of the self, you also get fear of losing the self.

andygee Level 7 Nov 1, 2017

Good question! Both I think, they are certainly self-reinforcing of each other. It's the same as 'which came first, the chicken or the egg' - does it really matter, probably not, we just have to deal with both things regardless.

Hugene2002 Level 7 Nov 7, 2017

Some human anthropologists suggest that religion developed when speech did... a result of the frontal cortex of the brain growing bigger. So questions about the sun, rain, and yes - death - created superstitions that evolved into religion. They essentially anthropomorphised the elements into gods.

That to me makes the most sense.

Hominid Level 7 Nov 4, 2017

I think the fear of death helped create religion as an explanation as to why there is a fear of death.

SamL Level 7 Nov 2, 2017

It depends - organized religion was created to legitimize the absolute role of monarchs. Spirituality might have many roots - need for continuity, attachment to loved ones that died. I think it is a bit simplistic to put it all under umbrella of "fear" a'la "grave is a cradle of gods".

Woland Level 3 Nov 2, 2017

That is a really interesting question. I think its a mixture of both. I would imagine in the beginning religion was mans first attempt to explain unanswered questions and over time became corrupted by the leaders of the groups and as time went on it was discovered that by focusing on death it was possible to get people to follow orders much easier if there was consequences to their actions that are much worse than could be imagined to take place on earth. I view the heaven/hell concept as the carrot and stick that keeps followers in line. It is the sickest part of religion in my opinion.

Lucas20520 Level 6 Nov 1, 2017

death is scary. we all know its the end. religion just used that fear of the end to gain more power over us

markdevenish Level 7 Nov 1, 2017

Personally I feel that the fear of death was likely the cause of early religions, but once established then it became a self reinforcing loop.


My vote is on the former.


Now you have stopped looking for a way to escape death & have accepted it as a natural part of the process which every living thing will experience.

atheist Level 8 Nov 1, 2017

Somebody answered "Yes." I say "No." I don't see the relationship between religion in general and death, either way.

dustindareawf Level 4 Nov 20, 2017

I must agree. Same thing happened with me! There is no way anybody living can tell me what happens when you die!

Tsnow70 Level 1 Nov 15, 2017

Dear Sir, I apologize for my last answer. I wish I could remove it. I had a moment.
I beleive religion has made man to fear death if certain restrictions were not met. I'm sure not all of them created the fear of death. I personally don't know this answer. I feel superstition has a way of being passed down from generation to generation. Early centuries had different demands of their culture and they may of had to burn a body or place coins on the dead persons eyes or even build platform's to place the dead. I didn't have a father that would help me understand my fears. It could be that he didn't understand his. I was scared by the movie
The exorcist. Not today though. I did beleive this could be real by the church I attended that spoke in tongues. I know their game now. It all about fear to control. With a little love thrown in as a feel good. These types of churches make an impression on young people. It can really screw your head up. I watched my dad rock back and forth saying oh god, oh god as he set in a recliner as he was dying. He was out of it with the fear of hell. I couldnt help him. He was so rotten in his life and he knew he was in some kind of trouble.

BucketlistBob Level 8 Nov 15, 2017

I would wager the most accurate response to this question is 'yes'.
Seriously, though -- I imagine a thorough investigation into the true history of humanity's religions would reveal it happened both ways, and varied based on the local structure of society, government, economy, law, etc.

hrichardson8 Level 2 Nov 15, 2017

The real fear as a child was the back of my fathers hand. I know his game today. He wanted us out of the house so he could tackle mom. Us outside to molest my sister. Later on it was my other younger sister. Hmmm... im going to stop right here so I can cool off.

BucketlistBob Level 8 Nov 14, 2017

Fear obviously existed before the invention of religion. Religion likely only compounded it with silly beliefs like hell, perhaps the most inhumane teaching of the founder of Christianity.

Benelailax Level 2 Nov 14, 2017

RELIGION created the fear of death...BECAUSE death in ancient times was a welcomed time..people knew it was natural and apart of the balance of nature...

Ravenwolfcasey Level 6 Nov 14, 2017
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