“Religious faith depends on a host of social, psychological and emotional factors that have little or nothing to do with probabilities, evidence and logic.” – Michael Shermer, writer
“Matthew was a combination of opposites.”
Matthew was just thirteen, but talked like he was thirty. He was a kid who asked all the tough questions of adults like, ‘Why is the sky blue and not green instead?’ and ‘Why do we fall down rather than fall up?’ and the one he asked me, “Why not go to the beach instead of a church, on Sundays?’
Matthew had been sent to see me by his father Peter, who was worried about him. Matthew wasn’t part of the pack at school. He was considered a loner who seemed to like his own company. According to him, he actually had couple of friends, but they were in older grades so he didn’t seem them much at school. But, they lived in his neighbourhood, so he said he connected with them outside of school hours.
His parents, especially his dad, thought he should have ‘lots’ of friends. Matthew liked school and did well. His teachers expressed no concern about him or his work in school. His mother, Donna, also was not concerned. She thought he was doing fine and seemed like a fairly typical kid…in a way, like she was when she was a child…curious and questioning just about everything.
But his dad was of a different mind entirely. Peter had grown up in a large, traditional, religious family who followed a long list of family rituals. These included such practices as 5 PM family meal times, Sunday church and 6 PM homework after the evening meal was cleaned up by the entire family. Lately, Matthew had been challenging some of these family traditions, frustrating his father to point where he sought help, not for himself, but for Matthew.
“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” – Anais Nin, author
“I think Dad thinks I’m weird!”
Matthew was willing to come talk with me so I agreed to see him. Matthew was a combination of opposites. He had a tall, thin and had a ’bookish’ look about him, but loved to play tackle football. He had a gentle way of communicating, but would ask brutally honest questions of anyone. Peter told me of the time, when Matthew was about six, he marched up to his great, maiden, aunt and asked her why she didn’t have a husband?
During our first consultation, after he had thoroughly inspected my office from his chair, and asked a few questions about my choice of artwork for my office walls, he said,
“I think Dad thinks I’m weird!”
“”How so?” I asked.
“Well the most recent incident was when I asked him why we didn’t go to a beach instead of a church, on Sundays?”
“What happened that generated this question, Matthew?” I asked.
“Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.” – Paul Tillich, theologian
“I really wonder is why anyone would belong to any church…”
“Well I was sitting in our church…a beautiful building by the way, listening to lovely, soothing music and hearing these comforting words…but wondering why we couldn’t achieve the same end, sitting on the beach, watching the horizon and listening to the waves break on the shore?” he said thoughtfully.
“Are you saying you wonder why humans go to church?” I asked.
“Yes, in a way, but what I really wonder is why anyone would want to belong to any church, mosque, synagogue…actually, any religious organization?”
“Do you want the simple answer or the more complex one?” I asked him.
Of course, being Matthew, he said, “Ken, I interested in both!”
“OK, the simple answer is one word, ‘safety!’” I said.
“Well, that doesn’t make much sense to me so I had better hear the more complicated one, too!” he replied with a smile.
“Do you want the responsibility of having that level of awareness?”
“Matthew, the longer explanation is really an explanation of a learning process which we humans have been going through for a long time. It is tied directly to our history as a species. It requires you to understand seven specific steps, which if you do, enable you to appreciate the role all religions have in human evolution. If you learn what they are, it may change the way you view a variety of things around you, besides religions. Does that interest you…do you want the responsibility of that level of awareness?”
“Well, my dad wants me to keep going to church with him. But I find it boring…I would rather go to the beach…at least in the summer…so I need to know what’s going on…why are we there …so I can decide what I’m going to do!” Matthew replied.
“Religion is part of the human make-up. It’s also part of our cultural and intellectual history. Religion was our first attempt at…cosmology, making sense of where we are in the universe, our first attempt at health care, believing in faith healing, our first attempt at philosophy.” – Christopher Hitchens, author
“Biological programmed to survive…”
“OK, let’s begin. The first step is to realize we are a species biologically programmed to survive in a hostile environment. We are constantly striving to meet new challenges to our very existence, whether it’s the weather, wild animals, disease, fire, floods, drought, famine, or whatever it might be. Are you with me so far?”
“Biologically programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain…”
“The second step is to understand we are also biologically programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain to show us what we need to learn to survive . So, for example, we learned to get close to fire for the pleasure of warmth but never touch it to avoid the pain of being burned. This enables us to survive, and yet feel safe, near fire. Make sense?”
“Yes it does!”
“The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” – Richard Burton, actor
“We seek pleasure and avoid pain so we can survive…”
“The third step to remember is we use this pleasure and pain learning process to constantly adapt to our surroundings constantly. We have been so successful and efficient at adapting, we are the only species who can live anywhere on our planet.”
“So, Ken, we seek pleasure and avoid pain so we can survive and we are so good at it we can adapt to live anywhere on earth! Is that it so far?”
“We noticed repetitive patterns in our natural surroundings…”
“Matthew, excellent summary. Fourth step…to be efficient, to save time and energy, we noticed repetitive patterns in our natural surroundings such as: sun rise, sun down, the four seasons, spring floods, summer droughts, winter storms, and so on. It appeared to us as if something, and then eventually, someone was controlling these patterns…a powerful being… a god. If we could befriend this deity, like we did other people, clans, neighbours or tribes, then maybe it would not hurt us!”
“So the patterns of nature we attributed to, or blamed, on a god?”
“Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.” – Richard Dawkins, scientist
“We decided to display respect for these natural patterns…”
Yes…and fifth step…because we had learned ‘respect’ was the basis of relationships between ourselves to ensure our survival, we decided to display respect for these natural patterns in the hope, whatever or whoever was controlling them, would help us more than hinder us, or send us more pleasure than pain…even, only pleasure and no pain, now and into the future.”
“So, we thought if we respected these gods they would help us survive better now, and give more pleasure than pain, in our future…is that it, Ken?”
“We noticed performing certain ‘respectful’ rituals to these gods seem to please them…”
“That’s it! And the sixth step was we noticed performing certain ‘respectful’ human rituals to these gods seem to please them, thus confining in our minds their humanlike qualities. So, we made gods of the sun, the moon, the stars, rain, wind, thunder, lightning and even certain animals.”
“Well, how come we tend to believe in only one god today?”
“So we came up with the idea they were all really one persona, one god…”
“Excellent question Matthew! That was the seventh step. Centuries past, as we learned more about the various gods, these natural systems, we noticed how they were linked or connected to each other and so we came up with the idea they were all really one persona, one god, who controlled all these natural systems. And each region or culture, across time, created their own names for their god such as Jesus, Muhammad, Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva. Manitou, Buddha and so on.”
“Ken, how come there are only a few of them left?”
“Each region offered their belief system to those around them, either voluntarily or by force, and this process, over the centuries, resulted in the current existing religions. There are still over 200 religions on earth today. But the ten biggest are: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Bahaism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Shintoism.”
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca, statesman
“Humans called the natural patterns or systems of nature, a god.”
“So, in summary, to feel safe in an unsafe world, humans called the natural patterns or systems of nature, gods. And many still revere these gods because they believe it: first, helps them feel safer now; second, extends their survival ability on earth; and third, assures them of all pleasure and no pain, after they die.” Matthew said with a hint of pride in his comprehension of the history of human religious thought.
“That is a good summation. But Matthew, it is also important to remember all religions are to be respected for the value they bring to humanity now, and in the past. They have been a vital learning tool motivating us to study our environment.” I offered.
“Are you saying religion is not a bad thing?” he asked.
“What I’m suggesting to you is religions are really the motivators for all our our scientific research. They have acted as a catalyst for our pursuit of knowledge of all kinds. This is why people say science and religion are not different, rather science emerged from our fear-based religions. So, they motivate us to expand our understanding of our environment and they restrict us, at the same time, by perpetuating outdated beliefs thus ensuring a gradual evolution of the human species.”
“Ken, I still don’t know whether I will go to church with my family or not…I’m still not sure!”
“That’s OK…you don’t have to decide today. Matthew, can I offer a suggestion?”
Be skeptical Matthew, it’s a healthy human tool to accelerate our learning.”
“I have presented a lot of information to you today…the seven steps in the evolution of religious thinking. Think about these ideas and look for loopholes in your understanding and bring them back next week. Be skeptical Matthew, it’s a healthy human tool to accelerate our learning. How does that sound?”
“I like it…I like it a lot! See you next week Ken!” he replied.
“Until then!” I said.
“Intelligent design is a modest position theologically and philosophically. It attributes the complexity and diversity of life to intelligence, but does not identify that intelligence with the God of any religious faith or philosophical system.” – William A. Dembski – philosopher
Until Next time…
We have noticed a lot of subscriber interest in “SPIRITUALITY.” So we are going to devote October to it. Last week we looked at some of the different forms of spirituality and today the evolution of our religious thinking.
Please note we have moved to new offices at: Suite # 3, 549 North River Road, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, C1E 1J6
Also, I want to alert you to check out an exciting, upcoming webinar from another of our expert contributors, Nancy Buck. We have mentioned the work of Dr. William Glasser in the past. He is considered by many as one of the Fathers of Modern Psychology. His ideas and approach is used around the world by thousands and thousands of his students. This summit is a collection of some of the leaders in his work. Please check it out…you will find lots of useful ideas for your future well being:
Finally, please remember to send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question about SPIRITUALITY or are looking for strategies for dealing with yours, contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Your biologically wired to seek safety, survive and evolve.
- Your are biologically wired to learn the best way to survive.
- Your beliefs are intended to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
- Your beliefs are intended to protect you and ensure your survival.
- Your ancestors attributed repeated patterns in nature to a god.
- Your ancestors created respect based rituals for parts of nature to ensure their safety.
- Today’s organized religions are the results of these rituals.
- Religious rituals create a sense of safety in the adherents.
- Religion was the original motivator for scientific research.
- Religion promotes and restricts human evolution in a balanced manner.
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com