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Discussion 2 to Meditation 596
Belonging and Fear

by: Gord Barker

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Why people believe in religion(s) seem to me to be a relatively simple answer.

That instinct plays a role here is debatable.  An instinct is a pre-wired behaviour that evolution has selected for a species because of its beneficial outcomes.  With an instinct, you find yourself doing something or exhibiting some behaviour without really realizing it.  Instinct is knowing what to do; a drive is really wanting to do it.

Take the poor male orb-weaver spider.  Instinctively he knows how to search out a female and court her without risking life and limb (literally).  His sex drive makes him really want to mate even though he has a better than even chance of not surviving.  The female instinctively knows to kill and consume the male after sex (event though she might like the guy) because the high protein meal will help her eggs develop.  I doubt they would understand their actions if they could (I’m not sure there is enough of a mind there but who knows). 

As for mankind not choosing to have sex and die, I thing the rampant spread of HIV and AIDS throughout the world is testimony that that is not true.  People have sex and die every day (well, not the same day but they know the link).

Mankind arrives at religion because he is a thinking ape that asks questions.  Sooner or later someone had to ask how we got here and what’s it all about.  Gods and unseen realms could easily be the outcome of that line of questioning. 

Religion seems to answer two root needs in people.   The first is to be part of a group.  This may be instinctive behaviour because being in a group for safety or food gathering or hunting ability would be beneficial for survival.  Certainly religion and ritual is used as a glue to keep social groups together, it doesn’t seem to be the primary mover here.

The second reason, I think, is fear.  Fear of the unknown, the future, why good things happen, why bad things happen and the big one, what happens after we die.  Much of our mythology revolves around death, dying, the soul, heaven, hell and continuity.  It is never far from our conscious minds.

God and religion provides a safeguard against those fears because all religions (as far as I know anyways) deal in the continuity of life after death and the inevitable rewards for us and punishments for those we think deserve it.

If you don’t believe in Gods and the concept of a soul with its continuity after death, then you are left with the idea that when we die, nothing happens; the pattern decays and we are no more.  This is a big scary idea for the average person and the maybe the majority of us can’t stand the idea.

Instinct may be involved, but I don’t see any evidence for an instinct for religion, nor do I see any survival benefits from forming a religion over any other group.