What do you suppose gives rise to and supports belief in God? Obviously in this day and age such belief is deliberately cultivated in the children of those who already have and value it. But its seems belief in gods goes back as far back as we can track and nearly everywhere. Of course it comes in many varieties. But it seems lame to me to attribute god belief to a primitive attempt to explain the natural world. God belief goes back much further than any attempt to explain anything. So what is it about the way we are as people which prompts god belief? I've been thinking about this for a while and have some ideas, but what do you think?
We are all born agnostic/atheist until someone starts telling/indoctrinating us about their mythological beliefs/indoctrinations.
Fear and ego make us suckers for superstitions, and makes us good marks for those wanting to hold onto wealth and power.
Deities seem to have been the best explanation that early Man was able to come up with to explain the world around him. Examples include ancient Egypt, with its subsequent translations into the Greek and then the Roman gods, the Mayans, and the First Australians. As far as I know, the first monotheist was Akhenaten (died around 1335 BCE), and then there was Zoroaster (a.k.a Zarathustra) about 800 years afterwards.
That theism still seems to be embedded in some cultures may be due to tribalism (the need to belong to a band of humans for survival purposes) being stronger than rationalism.
(edited for typo)
Ahh but that assumes people were rational and had time to think about how things work. I doubt that was true back when belief in gods got started. Of course I don't really know which experiences and capacities appeared in what order regarding our development. But I don't think we can imagine people just like ourselves coming up with belief in gods as some kind of ponzi scheme.
@MarkWD Where might Scientology fit into your observations? (I am not trrying to be confrontational, I am just giving free reign to my own sense of curiosity.)
Funny incident from my past.
My mother was a very religious Catholic. When I was a child she sent me to religious instruction at the local church. I was sitting next to my friend Louie who was not too bright. The nun asked Louie....""What is God made of"" She was fishing for a "Trinity" answer...but Louie looked around....then looked up at the big crucifix above us and answered "WOOD"
It wasn't until years later that I realized that Louie had answered correctly.
Until a time machine is built, we will not know how religion began. One of the most plausible theories I have read is that early humans anthropomorphized nature and everything had a soul--I will get to the soul part in a minute. These early beliefs are termed "animism." From there, it is a rather simple step to believe that animals, the weather, volcanoes, et al, needed to be propitiated to keep them from harming humans. Early religions, i.e. Egypt, had loads of anthropomorphic deities which reflect this idea.
Where the aspect of the "soul" comes in is harder to trace. If a person had an NDE and "came back," did that create the idea that "something" existed beyond the body dying? I also think that dreams come into play; there can be no doubt that humans have always dreamed. If Og died and then "came back" in a dream, was he living someplace else? Someday, I will write a paper on this.
@MarkWD The animism theory is not mine, but if someone else has proposed the dream theory, I am not aware of it.
I started thinking about some of these aspects several years ago when I read Inside the Neolithic Mind (I think that it--or The Mind in the Cave).
Human anatomy is still much the same since the Paleolithic/Neolithic. The book mentioned ocular migraines. I get ocular migraines and they consist of an ellipse or circle composed of bright, flashing, jagged lines moving across my range of vision. The center is a blind spot. The book has some cave painting/drawing that look exactly like my ellipse, jagged lines included.
This can attest to our ancestors have ocular migraines, but how would they explain them? Someone is having a "vision," looks at Og, and Og's head has completely disappeared into the blind spot. How would people have explained this in other eras?
Epilepsy was termed a sacred disease by early Greeks. Later, it was considered a form of demon possession. However, a nun--cannot remember her name--had epilepsy and after a seizure, she said god had spoken to her and she prophesied. It might have been St. Teresa of Avila.
That is probably more info than you wanted.
I think the earliest humans realised that without the sun we could not exist ...they therefore regarded the sun as all important, and conferred on it a godlike status. It was the first thing that man worshipped and is quite logical, compared to a belief in any other gods that man subsequently invented, because it is a real entity. The number of mythological, animal and human gods that have been worshipped and revered are countless, and multiplied exponentially with man’s development and imagination. The Abrahamic god is a relatively recent invention which fashioned god into man’s own image and not the other way around.
My conclusion is that there is an inherent need in mankind, a compunction if you like, that we feel we have to look to something outside of ourselves to fill a void in us which needs to be supplied with answers to things beyond our knowledge or comprehension. Science has been able to fill in some of this void, but as yet not completely, and the majority of people prefer the comfort and easy answers that religion and a belief in God brings. Belief that we were created by an all powerful god who controls this life and an everlasting afterlife, if all they have to do is believe in him, is an attractive proposition to most people. On the other hand, the skepticism and doubt of disbelief, which brings with it the risk of eternal damnation and being cast out, is most unattractive, so better to hedge bets and stick with the majority view. Rather that, than take the more rational, reasoned, but less well held view, that belief in god is superstition, and not reasoned thought based on logic and science.
Agree with you totally apart from the suggestion of flawedness
That search for something ‘other’ is the crowning glory of mankind. The context of that ‘otherness’ is a different issue, however.
@Geoffrey51 Perhaps “flaw” was the wrong word...I did cast around for another word, but nothing came to me. I’m changing it to compunction...which I think is nearer to what I meant,
"..we feel we have to look to something outside of ourselves to fill a void in us which needs to be supplied with answers to things beyond our knowledge or comprehension"
This gets at something I've thought about too. When you think about how memory works, dreams, Freudian slips, writer's block and various neurotic compulsions people develop, you realize that there is much going on under the hood of consciousness which makes possible the little bubble of conscious attention which forms the basis for our self identity. We may nominally in charge of these bodies but we don't control everything. We depend on the most salient features of a situation being presented for our attention; we certainly don't exhaustively catalog every feature of every situation consciously - nor could we. The same goes for memory, they mostly just 'spring to mind'.
To me, this internal dependence on aspects of consciousness not directly under our control is part of what drives religious experience. By religious experience I certainly do not mean church going or Bible believing, those are aspects of institutional religion and they played no role in the origins of god belief.
"But it seems lame to me to attribute god belief to a primitive attempt to explain the natural world." Why does that seem "lame"?
I think it is lame because it imagines all our ancestors having what is surely a relatively recent development.
I"m wishing I'd put in the OP that of course the reason for believing in gods had nothing to do with the existence of any gods. That would be absurd.
"God belief goes back much further than any attempt to explain anything."
How would it be possible for you to even know something like this, and what would compel you to make such an assertion?
Who knows? I scoffed at Bible stories at age five. They were like Grimm's Fairy tales.
"Mom, I decided I'm an atheist," I told my mother at 13. "That's fine, honey," she replied calmly. "What do you want for dinner?"
In my 30s, Mom said she became an atheist in nursing school after being raised Catholic. "I realized a woman cannot be turned into salt," she said and laughed.
My parents didn't have a leg to stand on. Dad never went to church. Mom dumped us kids off at Sunday school, then went home.
Guess they hoped us four intelligent, spirited kids would learn to behave ourselves. Didn't work.
Despair. I really think that's the core. most people can barely think within the box much less than outside of it. The false hope given by religion is extremely seductive to even the intelligent, much less, those who dare not even attempt to see reality for what it is.
Perhaps despair enters into it in realizing ones mortality? I'm no fan of religion but it isn't really religion which interests me.
@MarkWD I think realizing one's own mortality has a great deal to do with it, yes, but also an inherent need to feel that there is someone else that should be responsible, other than taking responsibility for oneself. I put a little bit of thought into it myself, and I can't help but imagine early man looking up at the stars, and thinking to themselves, there's got to be somebody to blame other than me.
My question is always: why this particular one ( god, I mean)
That is certainly one of the reasons I would never join any god's fan club. But from the POV of a believer, the question becomes why not this one? That reinforces my suspicion that no god is an entity unto itself. Everyone of them depends on the fertile dark reaches of a human being's psyche to take up residence.
It is the fear of death I am convinced...they want to believe that the ride doesn't end...its a primal fear, so mankind created a God(conveniently in his own image...and conveniently white also) that promised eternal life ... That's why the Religious sect is and always will be so fanatically bonded...its not about LIFE...it never was...its about DEATH...its easier for most people to face the inevitable if they believe there is a never ending life...throw in a "GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD...i.e...GOD FORGIVES YOU YOUR SINS" and you have the perfect scenario for a following...makes it real easy to get 10% of your money also.
The idea was not bad in essence but history reveals the abuse that was and still is going on...only now it is more blatant and scandalous...look at what's going on in the White House with Paula White ? did I get her name right...the bitch is such an obvious charletan it's not funny but people are buying into it...its gotten really pathetic...
In the early religions of Egypt and Sumeria, common people did not go to paradise; in fact, in some variations, no one went to a paradise. At first, only the pharaoh could be resurrected in Tuat; then, his family and finally, anyone who afford to be embalmed. It was not paradise, though, but a continuation of this life.
In an early version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, all of the crawled on the ground drinking dust and eating clay. A later version had some rewards, i.e. men with lots of sons sat at tables laden with food.
Not a lot of comfort there.
Even in Judaism, some scriptures claim that the dead know nothing. There was not a concept of resurrection until after the captivity in Babylon where the Jews were very, very liked exposes to Zoroastrian beliefs.
Im with you...interesting and important question. Of course, I don't have the answer, but here are a couple of the random, quick thoughts I've had.
Because as humans, we know in a simple, absolute way, that things can be invisible, transparent, unseen and still real, its IS actually fairly logical to extrapolate that dieties of all kinds exist.
Cuz as children, generally speaking, our parents help us feel safe, we wanna experience those feelings all the time ..but we need something bigger than ourselves to pull that off...oh, heck, make it omniscient, like momma and daddy FELT when were little too. Oh,geepers...hello god
I believe the truth about God (However you define it) is that it rested once creation was finished. Biblically the 7th day. Every thing we need is now here and always has been. The rest is up to us to understand as much about life, physical matter, etc. as we can through philosophy, science, self examination and by any other means.
. Prior to the development of these types of inquiries however, man struggled with the idea that things exist, so who or what was responsible for all this and who or what created us. Surely it had to be a superior being. The rest of human history is an exploration of creation as well as that which was pre-existent. Most want to know who God is. There is no answer to that question though, because God isn't a who. Its a what.
@anglophone Yes it created itself. all matter was created by itself. Previously however it all existed in another state of being (energy). God or whatever, exists in this pre-matter realm as well. It's just a principle that allows this creation to occur in a predictable manner. This principle stilled the waters (chaos) biblically.
@anglophone The same way everything is created and then evolves. It started out as pure energy then its vibrations slowed forming matter. The universe formed itself by following a set of universal principles or guidelines. I'm not a scientist so I can only speak in general terms. God (or whatever term you wish to use for it) didn't create these universal rules. God (or whatever) is the universal principle behind the creation of everything. The Christ Spirit talked about in the bible is merely mans higher consciousness that allows us to be co-creators within the structure of this universal principle. God creates nothing, everything follows various principles to create itself.
@anglophone It mostly just has to do with cause and effect, as far as the practical applications go. However, it is true that anything man creates starts out as an idea first. Nothing we create starts out any other way. Ideas are pure energy created in our minds. This same principle could be applied to the universe.. The universe began as pure energy as well.
@Seminarian You have failed to identify any universal principles. Your claim falls.
(Edited for typo)
@anglophone I think you are mistaking me for some kind of Extreme Religionist. I just like talking about this stuff and none of these concepts are my own.. Everything I've said is pretty standard Mystic Christianity. Much of it came from Plato.The only thing I know for sure is that we should treat others as we would like to be treated and respect all forms of life. As a species nothing is coming to save us so we have to take care of each other and our planet as well.Peace?
@anglophone Thanks for the convo. I can deal with negativity as long as it helps me reach level 7. After that everybody can just suck on it.
The best explanation for the origin of religion, I found in Paganism/earth-based polytheism: survival. If hunters failed to get enough meat and the food gathering or harvest was poor, people starved or couldn’t fight off illness each winter. Naming elements and natural forces, anthromorphizing them...gave a sense of control and a feeling of connection. What pagans call the ‘wheel of the year’ is a seasonal agricultural calendar, which still reflects into modern holidays. December 21–Yule, March 21, approximately Easter. Actually, the date for Easter is based on the vernal equinox: it’s the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Very Xtian, right?
Yes, very Christian and a different date for Jesus and the resurrection every year. Strange that in modern times we know exactly when uncle Charlie died.
Makes a lot of sense to me, though I'm less interested in how institutional religion got started than I am in religious experience itself. But institutional religion is pretty much all we confront nowadays.
@MarkWD I only know what religious people in my family/friends circle say. I was taken to evangelical church from birth to age 17...but I’ve never believed. So, I’ve spent many hours observing behavior that I think is illogical at best, and crazy at worst! Plus, I’ve studied history and world religions, and I realized that most religious people know very little about their faith.
Whose quote was it, that knowledge is the enemy of faith?
I imagine what the folks I know say about their experience is somewhat widespread: they feel comforted, safe, cared for/about, get a sense of control in a chaotic world, enjoy and value the sense of community (my brother’s entire social life, his family’s, is the church, for example). Some ‘true believers’ think they are helping others, and I’ve seen that there are many who do: charity, running food banks, etc. In less recent times, that would be pooling resources so the community has a better chance of survival.
I could be entirely wrong, but those are my thoughts.
"What do you suppose gives rise to and supports belief in God?"
The evolved trait of belief in agency behind events, because once upon a time it was safer to assume the noise in the bushes was a lion. If we were wrong, that is a type one error and you live to reproduce.
If you did not believe it was a lion and it was, thats a type two error and your dead before breeding, your genes die with you.
Over time it became an evolved human trait to assume an agency behind events, eventually those were explained with myths, which became religions and also evolved.
That seems spot on to me. Especially once human beings became concerned with encroaching tribes and warfare it would become very advantageous to be able to put yourself in the mind of your enemy to anticipate what they might do next. It isn't a huge step from there to infer intentionality behind events and surely that way would seem to lead to belief in beings one could not necessarily see. I see this rather than some instinctual impulse to explain the natural world as leading to god belief.
It gets passed down through families and communities. It doesn't blossom from nothing for each generation.
And yet it did bubble from nothing multiple times and in lots of places before it ever became institutional. That is what I find so thought provoking. I certainly don't think it was because there are any gods and some of them thought they'd introduce themselves.
Most people aren't very clever and even those who are have a deeply fearful monkey brain buried deep down inside them that is part of our primal survival instinct - the idea of an all powerful being that can be appeased, bribed and flattered is therefore quite appealing to human beings. The all powerful being explains phenomena in nature that we do not have a deeper understanding of and it gives comfort when the inevitable hardships and death that are inherent in our lives become difficult to bear.
I think of it as a security blanket that we create to provide comfort and the religion that springs from it is just the natural outcome of people using that need for comfort to extort power from others.
Yep, monkey brain riding on a more primitive mammal brain attached to a lizard brain. Pretty complex in there. I wonder what they all do and who in charge.
I have always thought religion is just bad science, a lazy attempt to explain what science hasn't revealed yet. As for the masses of believers I attribute to Stockholm Syndrome.
It is human nature to look for a cause/reason and to assign agency to events.
When we see no immediate cause we assign agency to some force with intent. And, because we have the ability to ask questions, we want answers. Maybe the branch didn't just fall on Ug's head, maybe something made it fall. Maybe it was because he did something to anger this force? What can we do to appease this force? And, because we have the ability to tell stories, and to embellish, and to believe nonsensical things, these forces were personified and became gods.
At some point, people began to look for natural answers. They often got them wrong, but they were at least looking.
Today, we know about gravity and what causes clouds, and rain and earthquakes, and what stars are , and what causes diseases etc...etc...
Sadly, even with all we know, people still fall for nonsense.
Confirmation bias, our natural capacity of recognizing patterns and the fact that a false positive is in general less costly than a false negative.
The case of false positives and negatives.
The high grass shakes, can be wind or tiger.
It is wind and you stay: true negative - Best case scenario, you survived and spared energy
It is wind and you run away: False positive - you survived and spent a little extra energy
It is tiger and you run away: True positive - You survived and spent the energy necessary to do it
It is tiger and you stay: False negative - You die
See that in this situation statistically running is the best option always because no big harm will happen and you avoid the worst possible outcome.
Now instead of letting people choose always and risk death, someone will link a supernatural history to say that grass shake=run away. The ones that believed in this will survive more often than the ones that take individual decision and eventually don't run from a tiger.
At this point you introduced a false positive in the culture.
Accumulate those false positives for generations and you have a religion!
And then you have things like the separation rules from people that follows Judaism are false positives of some hygienic rules that now we understand. and if allowed them to avoid a lot of diseases that attacked other people.
You can even make a pigeon develop a religion:
Now Imagine our brain that is far better at recognizing patterns (even if false ones) dealing with a complex world.
One pother example: We have a city where plague already killed a lot of people and we are the immune descendants.
A strong militaristic tribe from far away put our city under siege.
We pray to our gods to free us from the invaders.
They die of the plague because as they come from far away they have never had contact with our diseases.
The siege fails THUS our god is true.
The infidels learn how powerful is our gods, they start following the god (we are all polytheistic anyway), after a generation they rebuild their army with the descendant of the survivors (thus with some immunity to the disease).
They besiege our city again, this time they also pray to our god, and the plague is not that strong on them, they conquer us. THUS Our god is confirmed to be the strongest god...
That is how gods of metallurgy became powerful also, because tribes that discovered bronze, iron and steel had a huge advantage of the other ones that it could only be attributed to the god of metals.
BONUS: Societies with strong religion have a bonus on political cohesion, so they could better organize work, public administration, armies over larger and more numerous empires.
This makes strong religions seems to be a bless to people as the tribe with strong religion could take down the less organized tribe with a weak religion.
As you can see religions also developed and grew by evolutionary mechanisms.
Religion began as a reaction by primitive minds to fear. They lived in a world of deadly creatures, diseases they had no idea how to cure, natural phenomena that could destroy them. They created entities in their frightened minds that they could entreat or petition for their aid to protect them from these things. Then some enterprising Neanderthal figured he could use this to his advantage and became the spokesman for these supernatural beings. The rest, as they say, is history.
"God belief goes back much further than any attempt to explain anything."
Agreed. Ancient hominids probably didn't care for explanations, they just wanted to make it to the next day. We appear to have an innate fear of animals with fangs and claws, and those who survived likely carried superstitious fears regarding natural events like earthquakes, volcanoes and violent storms. Paranoia can confer a survival benefit. Believing that someone (or something) is relentlessly trying to kill you tends to keep the group on the alert. My assumption is that superstitious belief in spirits is as old as language, which began with gestures, grunts and hand signals. However, it is actually not natural to be a monotheist--polytheism has been the norm.
There are advantages to polytheism in terms of understanding ourselves and others since the interplay of these differing deities provide a more dynamic model for our complexity. But I suppose monotheism is the better tool for unifying a culture and making more fit for survival against rival groups.
I see the early beginnings of language the way you do and I think our ancestors were far less capable of using symbolic language to make fine points. But once we began to do so things sure took off quickly. I think all we are doing here is spitballing ideas and it has been fun for me.
Perhaps. What about the first believers, back before any organized religions? What got into those people to believe in such strange things?