Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Why has religion been so persistent?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

The Sunday New York Times magazine today had an article that asks why religious belief is so persistent and prevalent across human history and cultures. The article identifies the answer as evolution. The human brain has evolved in a way where a tendency to believe in a god is hard-wired. Because of this, it is easier and more natural to believe in god(s) than not to believe.

I do not agree with the article on several levels, but the basic question is one that has interested me. Why is religious belief so prevalent across cultures and throughout history?

Edited by Galileo Blogs
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 54
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

One possibility that Richard Dawkins discusses in his book seemed reasonable to me. Natural Selection saw to it that the young who obeyed their parents survived. Why? Because adults know better than children. The more likely a child is to unquestioningly accept what his parents say, the more likely that child will survive. Most people are instructed with religion, as children. Therefore, they accept it and never change from their ways, because their minds are evolved that way. That doesn't answer how religion came about in the first place, but I think it's as good an answer as any to the question of why it has persisted.

But if you want a more concise answer: human stupidity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One possibility that Richard Dawkins discusses in his book seemed reasonable to me. Natural Selection saw to it that the young who obeyed their parents survived. Why? Because adults know better than children. The more likely a child is to unquestioningly accept what his parents say, the more likely that child will survive. Most people are instructed with religion, as children. Therefore, they accept it and never change from their ways, because their minds are evolved that way. That doesn't answer how religion came about in the first place, but I think it's as good an answer as any to the question of why it has persisted.

But if you want a more concise answer: human stupidity.

Belief in a "higher power" derives from insufficient courage to face the task of full individuation. Most people are afraid to completely "cut the apron strings" of their parents and look for the comfort of something to relieve the anxiety of having to make a life of their own. This is a generalization, of course, but fear of the unknown is very powerful. When a person is offered an explanation that addresses this fear, he grasps for the feeling of safety that the family collective once provided. God is his new daddy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One possibility that Richard Dawkins discusses in his book seemed reasonable to me. Natural Selection saw to it that the young who obeyed their parents survived. Why? Because adults know better than children. The more likely a child is to unquestioningly accept what his parents say, the more likely that child will survive. Most people are instructed with religion, as children. Therefore, they accept it and never change from their ways, because their minds are evolved that way. That doesn't answer how religion came about in the first place, but I think it's as good an answer as any to the question of why it has persisted.

But if you want a more concise answer: human stupidity.

To elaborate on that a bit, viewing religion as a primitive philosophy rather then a collection of mystical nonsense helps understand its appeal. Many of the people who become atheists when they are 17 make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water and find themselves in the nihilist position of having to act with no rules for action. Their life, understandably falls apart, then years later when they "find jesus" and start applying christian morality to their lives, their life begins to change for the better. All thanks to god's mystical powers.

The fact that so many embrace religion is a strong testament to the fact that man cannot survive without philosophy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd say that the first reason is that in a certain ancient context, the idea of God was just as plausible as any alternative. In a world of so much that was inexplicable, it seems reasonable that ancient man would think that perhaps some super human was controlling things. Despite all it's crippling effects, whoever originally came up with the God theory was probably looking for reasons, rather than passively accepting things as being without cause.

Religion is much more than just a belief in God. In it's role as ethical philosophy, it fills a vital human need for principles (principles to guide individual actions and principles to use when acting toward others). My guess would be that most religious people in the west think that without God the values they hold -- honesty, productiveness, etc. -- would be baseless.

Finally, I'd question the idea that religion is persistent and not rolling back. The last few centuries have seen more and more educated folk reject the crudest versions, and treat many of the concretes of their religions as being symbolic. (The renewed evangelism of the last 2 decades in the US and the rise of Islamists do not fit that longer-term trend; but, that's a different story.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I appreciate everyone's answers on this topic. Hopefully a few more people will chime in, too. This is a subject that I have wondered about and I haven't found any definitive answers. In particular, I wonder how a "modern man" in a Western society can cling to religion. I have met a number of successful people who still go to church on Sundays or to synagogue. They can be Catholic or Protestant or of a Jewish sect; it doesn't matter.

What amazes me is that people don't take seriously what they hear in the religious services. If they did, they would have to question the many doctrines they hear. They would have to do it, even if they felt religion offered useful moral guidance and a ready-made and valuable social network.

Perhaps that is why it is much easier for someone exposed to Ayn Rand's ideas to be an atheist. Ayn Rand challenges and refutes the morality of Christianity. After her arguments against altruism, Christianity does not even have the alleged morality leg to stand on. Then it is easier to be an atheist.

Nevertheless, for me the essence of religion relies on one thing: faith in a god. If god cannot be proven to exist, the entire religious edifice tumbles. It is amazing how few people see that.

One highly pernicious aspect of widespread religious belief is that most people are contemptuous of philosophical ideas. They sense that such ideas are unreal abstractions, just like the religious doctrines they claim to believe in are. Perhaps this contempt for ideas is related to why so many Americans seem to be pragmatists. They just don't take any ideas seriously. That is also why a religious person can sincerely accuse an atheist of "having his own religion." For the religious person, all abstract ideas have the same unreal quality.

In any case, there is no doubt that religion in the West is highly attenuated. The primary purpose of modern-day religion in America seems to be social and for inculcating "decent" values in children. Its influence is generally limited to just attending Sunday services. Of course, if religion stayed at this level, it would not be a problem in America, but many religious people wish to exercise political power to inject their religion into political life. But that's another discussion...

My interest in this topic also has a very personal element. A sibling of mine who at one time was a declared atheist like myself became a born-again Christian. He says he did this when he had children. He says Christianity provided a moral guide for his children in our permissive culture. He is a bright man and a successful professional, and now he is teaching his kids creationism, among many other pernicious doctrines. In contrast, I was raised in our "permissive" culture and ended up just fine, and kept my reason intact, including an educated understanding of evolution, among so much other science.

When I think about his "conversion", I cannot find the words to say how I feel. :angry::):(

Edited by Galileo Blogs
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My guess would be that most religious people in the west think that without God the values they hold -- honesty, productiveness, etc. -- would be baseless..

I am an atheist and I think that that without God...all values are baseless. don't misunderstand me...some values serve a pragmatic function wich is why they persist across time. For example, I choose to behave in such a way as to ensure my family fare well in the world. I do this, though, becuase it serves the selfish interets of the genes we share. I choose to behave well to my neighbour in an effort to encourage him to reciprocate. Again, at a more fundamental level, I am statistically unlikely to have sex with my sister for genetic reasons similar to the ones cited earlier. There are others.

In a universe without God, none of the above morality has any intinsic value or maining. The universe doesn't care if I copulate with my sister or murder my family. I may care. But this is only because I have a genetic imperative driving me to do so. Alternatively, I may choose, for reasons philisophical, to behave in certain ways that conform to a code of conduct I, or someone else has invented. This last reason is the most noble since it is really based on a dream. However, the dream is one that is voluntarily entered into. An atheist must, if he or she is honest, re-invent his or her morality each day when they consciously re-enter the world. The universe couldn't care less if they chose not to. This is, surely, superior to the morality of a person of religion. Such a person is also dreaming, but is too blind to know that they are.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am an atheist and I think that that without God...all values are baseless. don't misunderstand me...some values serve a pragmatic function wich is why they persist across time. For example, I choose to behave in such a way as to ensure my family fare well in the world. I do this, though, becuase it serves the selfish interets of the genes we share. I choose to behave well to my neighbour in an effort to encourage him to reciprocate. Again, at a more fundamental level, I am statistically unlikely to have sex with my sister for genetic reasons similar to the ones cited earlier. There are others.

In a universe without God, none of the above morality has any intinsic value or maining. The universe doesn't care if I copulate with my sister or murder my family. I may care. But this is only because I have a genetic imperative driving me to do so. Alternatively, I may choose, for reasons philisophical, to behave in certain ways that conform to a code of conduct I, or someone else has invented. This last reason is the most noble since it is really based on a dream. However, the dream is one that is voluntarily entered into. An atheist must, if he or she is honest, re-invent his or her morality each day when they consciously re-enter the world. The universe couldn't care less if they chose not to. This is, surely, superior to the morality of a person of religion. Such a person is also dreaming, but is too blind to know that they are.

when i say that "the universe couldn't care less whther I choose to behave in any particular way...I should also have added... there is no particular reason why I should care either....but, of course I do. For most people, choosing to care is based on either:

1) a fear of religioius consequences

2) a gentic imperative

3) a philisophically based and, thus, invented, code of conduct.

Number 1 is an unconscious social or personal invention (in other words...a dishonest lie) that allows the individual to absolve themselves of responsibility for their action

Number 2 is based upon a real absolution of responsibility and so cannot really be regarded as being the basis for moral behaviour

Number 3 is the only form of behaviour that can be regard as being truly moral.....even if it is merely a conscious invention (in other words...an honest lie)

Edited by SteveCook
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The human brain has evolved in a way where a tendency to believe in a god is hard-wired.

This is really taking something out of context.

My interest in this topic also has a very personal element. A sibling of mine who at one time was a declared atheist like myself became a born-again Christian. He says he did this when he had children. He says Christianity provided a moral guide for his children in our permissive culture.

He does not actually understand what a moral is. An isolated abstraction embedded in a fallacious concept removes the full context from the abstraction and corrupts it.

I am an atheist and I think that that without God...all values are baseless. don't misunderstand me...some values serve a pragmatic function wich is why they persist across time.

Morals are not pragmatic. Honesty and productivity are moral pursuits when set in proper context.

In a universe without God, none of the above morality has any intinsic value or maining.

The above statement is false. In fact religions remove morals from their full context, and in the process cause confusion. Some would say better then nothing.

Alternatively, I may choose, for reasons philisophical, to behave in certain ways that conform to a code of conduct I, or someone else has invented. This last reason is the most noble since it is really based on a dream. However, the dream is one that is voluntarily entered into. An atheist must, if he or she is honest, re-invent his or her morality each day when they consciously re-enter the world. The universe couldn't care less if they chose not to. This is, surely, superior to the morality of a person of religion. Such a person is also dreaming, but is too blind to know that they are.

A moral and a set of morals (forming a code) have an objective origin. You do not invent a moral. It is an objective observation.

Edited by Uberzilla
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why is religious belief so prevalent across cultures and throughout history?
Because a lot of people always (and always will?) want to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of reality. Envisioning "better" worlds and higher orders because they aren't satisfied with this one, etc, etc. Or more of what AS1633 said.

Finally, I'd question the idea that religion is persistent and not rolling back. The last few centuries have seen more and more educated folk reject the crudest versions, and treat many of the concretes of their religions as being symbolic.
But from my observations, the rejections of those crude versions isn't a principled, objective one. E.g. Christians don't say that Abraham was wrong to attempt to sacrifice his son when god said so... they merely mumble that god will no longer ask such things of us (without any condemnation of a god for asking for such things...) Personally, I think religion is just as persistent now with an additional danger of being presented as more rational. Religion, now with only 5% poison.

Nevertheless, for me the essence of religion relies on one thing: faith in a god. If god cannot be proven to exist, the entire religious edifice tumbles. It is amazing how few people see that.
I'd say the essence of religion (and some other things) relies on not seeing the significance of treating some arbitraries as true. They do not see (intentionally or unintentionally) how treating a particular arbitrary claim is true is, on principle, harmful to them.

When I think about his "conversion", I cannot find the words to say how I feel. :lol::worry::(
That's what emoticons are for :D
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd say the essence of religion (and some other things) relies on not seeing the significance of treating some arbitraries as true. They do not see (intentionally or unintentionally) how treating a particular arbitrary claim is true is, on principle, harmful to them.

I agree with this. Your formulation gets to the root of the issue. The thinking problem of Christians (and others) is that they are willing to accept the arbitrary. Doing so is harmful to them, presumably because it weakens both their grasp on reality and their ability to grasp reality.

One often hears how a religious person can compartmentalize. Indeed, they do, but I suspect there are leaky holes in those compartments that result in corrupted thinking in other areas. How leaky one's compartments are depends on the person and the ideas they are trying to segment from reality. At one extreme you might have a successful professional American, a liberal Protestant Christian, where the "leakage" is subtle and not immediately obvious. At the other extreme might be a Muslim jihadist, whose compartments are practically non-existent.

Of course, religion is harmful. Why have to build compartments in one's mind at all?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A moral and a set of morals (forming a code) have an objective origin. You do not invent a moral. It is an objective observation.

Forgive me..I must be misunderstanding you...You can't actually be trying to suggests that a moral code is based upon an objective reality can you?

If you are, then please do explain which of the moral codes of say Christians versus Muslims is the objective one and which is the self delusion?

In an attempt to anticipate your reply, I would might guesse that a possible reply to the above question might be to say that all codes based on a religeous foundation are self delusional. If that would be your response, then perhaps you might like to answer this question as an alternatve:

Which of the two moral codes of say a capitalist versus a socialist....or a humanist versus an objectivist is the objectively based code and which the delusionally based one? Please feel free to substitute any particular philisophical/political/religious code for the ones I have provided

I look forward to your reply

Edited by SteveCook
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am an atheist and I think that that without God...all values are baseless. don't misunderstand me...some values serve a pragmatic function wich is why they persist across time. For example, I choose to behave in such a way as to ensure my family fare well in the world. I do this, though, becuase it serves the selfish interets of the genes we share. I choose to behave well to my neighbour in an effort to encourage him to reciprocate. Again, at a more fundamental level, I am statistically unlikely to have sex with my sister for genetic reasons similar to the ones cited earlier. There are others.

In a universe without God, none of the above morality has any intinsic value or maining. The universe doesn't care if I copulate with my sister or murder my family. I may care. But this is only because I have a genetic imperative driving me to do so. Alternatively, I may choose, for reasons philisophical, to behave in certain ways that conform to a code of conduct I, or someone else has invented. This last reason is the most noble since it is really based on a dream. However, the dream is one that is voluntarily entered into. An atheist must, if he or she is honest, re-invent his or her morality each day when they consciously re-enter the world. The universe couldn't care less if they chose not to. This is, surely, superior to the morality of a person of religion. Such a person is also dreaming, but is too blind to know that they are.

I gather you are not familiar with Oist ethics and it's foundation?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I gather you are not familiar with Oist ethics and it's foundation?

Hello Sophia. I am sorry to say that I am not. However, I would be obliged to you if you could outline it's principles here or, alternatively, point me in the direction of a suitable introductory publication.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Sophia. I am sorry to say that I am not. However, I would be obliged to you if you could outline it's principles here or, alternatively, point me in the direction of a suitable introductory publication.

I highly recommend you going to the source: Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) and Galt's Speech which can be found in Atlas Shrugged (fiction) or in For the New Intellectual (1961) (non-fiction). Another two books worth reading are Valuable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: the Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith.

After you read at least one of the selections above, if you are not convinced, I will be more than happy to discuss it with you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Forgive me..I must be misunderstanding you...You can't actually be trying to suggests that a moral code is based upon an objective reality can you?

Oh, yes we can. That is one of the reasons it is called Objectivism. I was surprised by your previous post, but thought I must have mis-understood what you meant. If in fact you did mean what you said about "without God all values being baseless", then you are in the wrong place if you think we're of the same mind.

What you are describing is pure subjectivism. Religion is intrinsicist in nature. Objectivism rejects the subjective - intrinsic dichotomy, in favor of an absolute moral code based upon objective reality.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh, yes we can. That is one of the reasons it is called Objectivism. I was surprised by your previous post, but thought I must have mis-understood what you meant. If in fact you did mean what you said about "without God all values being baseless", then you are in the wrong place if you think we're of the same mind.

What you are describing is pure subjectivism. Religion is intrinsicist in nature. Objectivism rejects the subjective - intrinsic dichotomy, in favor of an absolute moral code based upon objective reality.

I would be very dissapointed if I thought you and I (or for that matter, any significant number of us) were of the same mind. Apart from being extremely boring, such a situation would be of little value to anyone concerned since it would mean that no learning could take place. A desire to learn from others by listening to their ideas as well as subjecting my own to scrutiny is the primary reason I join forums such as this. I am susrprised by your post suggesting that unless we are of a similar mind I am in the wrong place. Perhaps I too have mis-understood.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Steve, no offense meant. I'm glad you decided to join. As I look at my grammar the dependancy is a bit confusing, so maybe I should clarify.

We don't have to be of the same mind to co-exist here. However, if you believe that you are on a forum where most people would partially agree with that sentiment, then you are probably not going to like it here much. That statement is on a topic that is very fundamental to the Objectivist ethics, and your position it 180 degrees (well, since it's a trichotomy, maybe 120 degrees) off the mark from it. You will find a great many people here who are Objectivists and therefore of the same mind about this position. That's not particularly disappointing if you think that ethics is actually based on an objective reality since that reality must have some fundamentals that are the same for all.

If you would like to debate that point, we do have a debate forum for such purposes. You'll find many people happy to take the other side.

If you want to hang out and kick around some ideas or try to learn a little about Objectivism, great! You'll find people who are happy to engage you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Without God...all values are baseless. don't misunderstand me...
Apparently too late! :lol: Part of that may be due to some inaccurate(?) words you used, though.

Some values serve a pragmatic function which is why they persist across time. For example, I choose to behave in such a way as to ensure my family fare well in the world. I do this, though, because it serves the selfish...

In a universe without God, none of the above morality has any intrinsic value or meaning. The universe doesn't care if I copulate with my sister or murder my family.

When the folks around here speak of "pragmatic", they mean myopic expediency e.g. stealing lunch because you forgot to bring your wallet, and not a case of buying lunch because you're hungry.

On the other hand, when you used "pragmatic" here, I think you mean serving a purpose or contextually beneficial, and are using it in contrast to "intrinsic" (i.e. not valuable through serving a purpose). Is this correct?

I note that a universe without intrinsic values (as our godless one is) is not the same as a universe without objective values. Contextual values can be objective even if they aren't intrinsic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apparently too late! :lol: Part of that may be due to some inaccurate(?) words you used, though.

When the folks around here speak of "pragmatic", they mean myopic expediency e.g. stealing lunch because you forgot to bring your wallet, and not a case of buying lunch because you're hungry.

On the other hand, when you used "pragmatic" here, I think you mean serving a purpose or contextually beneficial, and are using it in contrast to "intrinsic" (i.e. not valuable through serving a purpose). Is this correct?

I note that a universe without intrinsic values (as our godless one is) is not the same as a universe without objective values. Contextual values can be objective even if they aren't intrinsic.

You are correct in your interpretation HunterRose. I do mean pragmatic as being contextually beneficial.

Regarding your last paragraph. I am intrigued by this. Please forgive my ignorance regarding its underpinnings. I would be grateful if you could unpack it a little for me.

Edited by SteveCook
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a bit sleep deprived right now though, so I may not make the most sense :lol:

Attaining values requires attaining subvalues. If I'm trying to live, eating food is an objective value - objective in the sense that my goal of living requires eating food.

Eating food wouldn't be an intrinsic value - e.g. people committing suicide doesn't require eating food, and so wouldn't be a value in such a context.

'Course, this alone wouldn't say how to determine whether living or committing suicide is itself an objective value. It just says that, in the context of an existing value, there are objective (sub)values.

Which of the two moral codes of say a capitalist versus a socialist....or a humanist versus an objectivist is the objectively based code and which the delusionally based one?
That's the more complicated question. In terms of capitalism/socialism, we would determine whether an economic system is a means to our end. Without digressing too much, capitalism is an objective value toward prosperity, and socialism an objective value toward material mediocrity equality.

Since you're determining the objectivity of a value in terms of higher values, there is a potential difficulty in eventually having to determine the objectivity of a value that has no higher value. I don't entirely agree with Objectivism's answer at this point, so I'd just as soon not be the one to explain it. But it has been delved into fairly regularly around here. Look up just about any topic in the ethics subforum that has "ultimate value" or "life" in the title. This seems a good one at a quick glance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Forgive me..I must be misunderstanding you...You can't actually be trying to suggests that a moral code is based upon an objective reality can you?

If you are, then please do explain which of the moral codes of say Christians versus Muslims is the objective one and which is the self delusion?

In an attempt to anticipate your reply, I would might guesse that a possible reply to the above question might be to say that all codes based on a religeous foundation are self delusional. If that would be your response, then perhaps you might like to answer this question as an alternatve:

Which of the two moral codes of say a capitalist versus a socialist....or a humanist versus an objectivist is the objectively based code and which the delusionally based one? Please feel free to substitute any particular philisophical/political/religious code for the ones I have provided

I look forward to your reply

Sorry about the late reply. I do not post, or visit forums much anymore.

I do not consider myself an "Objectivist" which is why I usually put a disclaimer on my posts. I do not know all the Objectivist view points. I came at this process from a simple angle - it's all science - the drive to get correct answers.

A previous post used the word subjective. This word is only valid in limited context. The word objective means without prejudice, to observe as is. It is the proper frame of mind needed for proper scientific methodology.

Example: For an automobile to function; it must adhere to the dictates, of the reality of, the environment in which it must function (objective). The color of the vehicle is a personal preference (subjective).

I will finish by saying that; Abstractions and concepts must adhere to reality (be based on reality), like the automobile example given above, in order to be valid.

Morals are concepts.

I am not up for a more elaborate explanation.

Two final notes:

1) Many people are turned off when conversing with "Objectivists". Some "O"ists are better then others. Thinking is a skill. Rand the originator was an exceptional intellect (I have read Shrugged, Fountainhead, some Romantic Manifesto).

2) standard Disclaimer: I am a rogue intellect claiming no affiliation.

Edit: the 1st final note might sound condescending (I hope not). We are all intellectually held to reality.

capitalist versus a socialist

I consider socialism any social organization that creates a system (governing body) that can use force against individuals, as opposed to anarchy, which is individualist allowing no such body to exist. In that context it is: Socialism vs. Anarchy

Note that in either situation individuals can be, and interact, morally. The knowledge of what is moral, and it's application is a choice.

So I am not dodging all the "isms", religions, or philosophies. I just address issues, as stated at the beginning of my response. In this case the issue is "morals"

Edited by Uberzilla
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
Religion is a product that serves many purposes. It is a popular product, that has been successfully marketed. The reason for that success ... well ...

That is the question I am asking. Actually, the more I think about it, the answer lies in the history of philosophy, an area in which I am not expert at all. It is interesting, though, to contemplate the Renaissance and all that followed, a long period when religion was on the defensive. At its peak, perhaps in the 1700s, there was quite a high degree of secularism in society. The fact that most of the Founding Fathers of America were deists is significant. Today deism would be viewed as nearly synonymous with atheism. It would be opposed by all of today's "conservatives". The antipathy exhibited by the largely deist Founding Fathers in much of their comments toward Christianity is stunning (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine).

The failures of the proponents of rational philosophy to find a consistent voice to uphold reason gave the room for Christianity to regain its influence. Christianity will pull back again into the shadows when a new rational philosophy (i.e., Objectivism) gains acceptance. There is no need for the voices of reason to consider aping the Christian tactics -- i.e., churches, rituals, etc. That issue was debated in another thread. The only thing that matters is making the case successfully for reason. People will find their own institutions for social support, probably in the form of clubs, social activities and the Internet. As an example, a community of bloggers is a great social network.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...