Origins of religion and god belief
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04-01-2011, 08:49 AM
 
Origins of religion and god belief
I often think about stuff like this. Would be nice to read your views on the subject.

Could it be possible our ancestors suffered from poor mental health. To help qualify this, I think we need to try and understand how difficult life must have been for our ancestors; not knowing or having little understanding of how their environment works; the constant threat of disease, hunger, predators, other tribes, harsh weather, natural disasters and, of course, death. It is understandable that life was harsh – and that they had a lot to fear. Undoubtedly, these problems would have caused a great deal of stress. Conditions, such as paranoia, would soon become apparent. Naturally, the fear-driven-paranoia – of which served their survival to some extent – would give rise to behaviours and coping mechanisms that were designed to ease those problems.

1) Was animistic paranoia the result? Could god belief – or belief in imagined supernatural entities – along with religion and ritual, be by-products of our ancestor's ignorance and fear driven paranoia.

2) Were the coping mechanisms(belief in supernatural entities and the development of religion/rituals) merely acting as a trojan horse: not curing the condition, but exasperating – and perpetuating - the underlying ignorance, fear & mental health problems.

3) Are many of the more benign concepts of god(e.g. God is love) that we've seen in recent decades, merely a result of the original problems degenerating?

4) Are the original problems degenerating because – at least in the West - we have a better understanding of the environment, fewer fears and better living standards?

5) Are atheists the ones who've been cured Wink
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04-01-2011, 09:54 AM
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
Hey, Ryedo.

In short, no on all counts.

You've basically taken a serious subject, mental health, and used it in a facetious way to denounce people you don't agree with. In fact, there are far more, by leaps and bounds, instances of mental health issues in our modern society than in any ancient or extant Animist tribal society. Mental health issues are essentially said to be non-existant in Animist tribes. This is likely due to the fact that while there are genetic predispositions for mental health issues, they are not likely to be expressed without the effects environmental stresses. So not only are Atheists not cured, there are absolutely more Atheists with mental health issues than anyone in a tribal setting: accepting that this is likely a result of the aforementioned environmental stresses that we are all immersed these days, Atheits and Theists included, rather than any special property of Atheism. Also, the things that you list as points of fear are points of fear for us, not them. The idea that life is harsh is a Hobbesian one, not an Animist one. Lastly, not only did they have a vastly more refined understanding of their environment and how to live in it than we do, they didn't fear their environment, by definition, they worshiped it.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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04-01-2011, 10:41 AM
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
I think is has far less to do with mental health and nearly everything to do with attempting to explain everything around them without adequate knowledge.

For example, we can now look at the sun and list its components, explain how and why it burns, why we revolve around it, and so on. Now, a couple thousand years ago that wasn't possible but, humans being the curious creatures we are, still want an explanation. So why not attempt a fabrication? I mean, it all makes sense until the truth starts poking a hole in it, right?

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04-01-2011, 12:06 PM
 
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
"You've basically taken a serious subject, mental health, and used it in a facetious way to denounce people you don't agree with."

Certainly not. Having poor mental health isn't something to be ashamed of. And I'm certainly not denouncing them in any way. Most people - atheist or theist - have mental health problems. Paranoia, in various forms, is something we can all suffer from.

"In fact, there are far more, by leaps and bounds, instances of mental health issues in our modern society than in any ancient or extant Animist tribal society."

I certainly agree. However, a lot of progress has been made identifying mental health issues; many of which may have probably been with us since proto-culture. I suspect paranoia - on some level - is one of them. And I also suspect animistic paranoia is prevalent within contemporary animistic tribes.

"Mental health issues are essentially said to be non-existant in Animist tribes. This is likely due to the fact that while there are genetic predispositions for mental health issues, they are not likely to be expressed without the effects environmental stresses."

Well, no doubt, there were environmental stresses back in the proto-cultural day and during the early establishment of animism & religious ritual. Now, if we, as a species, are prone to certain mental health issues (paranoia being one of them), could it be likely that animism and ritual arose because of those environmental stresses and mental health issues like paranoia; as way to alleviate - and control - some of those problems. e.g. something caused that earthquake(I'm afraid); I'll name it FSM. If I show FSM that I respect it(by worshipping it), then maybe FSM won't send another earthquake. FSM is always watching me so I better keep doing what seems to work. Another earthquake occurs. I must have done something wrong. Time to develop a new ritual or sacrifice a goat... hey, I feel more at ease now...and so on.

Do you get what where I'm coming from now?

"So not only are Atheists not cured, there are absolutely more Atheists with mental health issues than anyone in a tribal setting: accepting that this is likely a result of the aforementioned environmental stresses that we are all immersed these days, Atheits and Theists included, rather than any special property of Atheism."

I think you've misunderstood what I meant by some of my questions. I'm not saying atheists are cured of having mental health problems; far from it. What I'm saying is: because our knowledge has changed (we have a good understanding that spirits, demons, gods aren't causing earthquakes, throwing thunderbolts, and spreading disease, etc) that we've been cured of those beliefs that slipped in through the trojan horse. That many contemporary Western theists, who also have a better understanding of the environment, have evolved their god away from it being the cause of their problems to a god of love[god is becoming increasingly benign]. So the trojan horse, so to speak, has weakened[degenerated: reverted to a simpler form as a result of losing a complex structure present in the ancestral form].
(04-01-2011 10:41 AM)Green Wrote:  I think is has far less to do with mental health and nearly everything to do with attempting to explain everything around them without adequate knowledge.

For example, we can now look at the sun and list its components, explain how and why it burns, why we revolve around it, and so on. Now, a couple thousand years ago that wasn't possible but, humans being the curious creatures we are, still want an explanation. So why not attempt a fabrication? I mean, it all makes sense until the truth starts poking a hole in it, right?

I agree. Ignorance(lack of knowledge and the search for it) played a role. But I also think fear - and especially paranoia - played a massive, if not the primary role, in the development of god belief(animistic and later monotheistic) and religion.
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04-01-2011, 08:52 PM
 
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
It is quite possible that spiritual and religious belief did not originate with homo sapiens. It has been found that Neanderthals buried their dead, although it is unknown whether there was any religious or spiritual significance to this action.

Assuming that religious thought began with humans, we have to understand what makes humans truly unique, and that is their capacity for intelligence and abstract thought. Keeping that in mind, I think the origin of religious thought and God stems not from mental illness, but the expression of the most advanced faculties of the human brain.

Obviously without written records or other forms of evidence, one can only surmise as to the origin of these thoughts. I see it going something like this-

As the gradual evolution of humans occurred, our brains became more and more developed. Only a handful of animals are self-aware. Of these animals, humans are the only animals capable of sophisticated abstract thought. We may perhaps be the only organisms to be able to fully grip the consequences of our mortality. We are perhaps the only organisms with sufficient intelligence and curiosity to ponder not only what, but why.

It is from these two streams of thought that I believe spiritual thought arose (since when it first arose, it did not take the form of an organized religion). Tens of thousands of years ago, and possibly even long before then, humans with this capacity for thought lived in small hunter gatherer units. Among these tight-knit communities existed a unique culture, perhaps even unique languages. Folklore would be a natural development as generations passed of tight communal living. And so we have one element of religion in place- the mythology. Tales of the hunt would probably be exaggerated, etc...

Now for the deity. Modern science complements human curiosity nicely in that it provides the correct answers to what man has pondered for thousands of years. However, back long ago, man did not have access to the technology and methodology that we do have now. However, the curiosity must still be satisfied. And so man did the best that he could, and intertwined a spirituality that would be responsible for everything. Perhaps natural stimuli instilled among a few individuals the God effect, created by experiments such as the God Helmet. Primitive and ignorant as man was, these individuals would be revered as saints and heroes, and the communal tribe would pass down these stories as fact throughout generations, maintaining the religious thought.

Finally, as organisms capable of sensing our mortality, we must have scared out of our fucking minds. To console this inescapable fear, the concept of an afterlife, which probably began as the preservation of ancestors and a cult of the ancestry was created.

Each community probably had its own unique spiritual religion, but through the formation of city states and conquest, certain ideologies were probably instilled among the conquered population. As communities grew larger and larger, and organizational structure was put in place to manage the religion, as it played a huge role in daily life.

And so you have religion. Of course, it is preserved nowadays because it is introduced to children, who are biologically programmed to believe whatever their parents tell them for evolutionary reasons. It often becomes an ingrained thought or such a big part of their lives that they do not shed this idea even as adults, unlike other childhood fantasies.
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05-01-2011, 11:17 AM
 
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
“It is quite possible that spiritual and religious belief did not originate with homo sapiens. It has been found that Neanderthals buried their dead, although it is unknown whether there was any religious or spiritual significance to this action.”

Assuming Neanderthals weren't on a constant migration, and settled in relatively safe areas during certain times of the year, disposal of the dead would have become a bit of a problem; after all, being in the vicinity of a bloated-rotting-corpse can't have been very pleasant. Naturally, they would have had to devise ways to get rid of the dead. Options, of course, would have being limited. It's likely, just as with humans, they had some sort of emotional attachment to the deceased; making burial a favoured option. I think if they used cremation, or ate the dead, that would increase the likelihood of there being some sort of religious significance. But then again, cremation, feeding the corpse to the dog, eating the corpse, or moving the corpse away from the settled area, were all probably used at sometime or another. So, who knows...

“Assuming that religious thought began with humans, we have to understand what makes humans truly unique, and that is their capacity for intelligence and abstract thought. Keeping that in mind, I think the origin of religious thought and God stems not from mental illness, but the expression of the most advanced faculties of the human brain.”

I agree up to the point of intelligence and abstract thought(and much of rest of your article). But I also think paranoia played a major role in our development as a species; after all, there was a lot to be paranoid about (and being paranoid about those shadows in the woods, could save you). Naturally, there was a lot to fear. And naturally, people find ways to ease those fears. Intelligence, abstract thought, the ability to pattern seek, fear & paranoia would give rise to animistic paranoia: where people named the cause of their ills as spirits, demons and gods; while seeking ways to avoid their wrath. So, some of our ancestors had become paranoid of their environment: believing it – as a supernatural entity or a series of supernatural entities - was out to destroy them. Contributing to their fears, this would lead them to seek beliefs and behaviours (rituals) in honour of those imagined entities; this would give them peace of mind. So not only had animistic paranoia arisen, but also a form of OCD. Later, this would lead to a more severe form called ROCPD (Religious Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), where it wasn't only sufficient for the sufferer to hold these beliefs and perform the rituals, but the sufferer felt others had to hold the same values, beliefs and perform the same rituals. So now, you've pretty much got organised religion: where others have to conform to avoid the wrath of the imagined deity. Those who didn't conform, or didn't fit the biases and standards of the sufferer, would have been viewed as inviting doom on the tribe – and punished.

I think the above is from where god belief and religion stems. And because knowledge has changed over the last few centuries, at least in the educated world, god belief and religion are degenerating; in other words, ideas of god are becoming more benign and religion is becoming less authoritative. Likewise, people are finding fewer reasons to believe. So, if over the next few centuries education and living standards remain the same, we may see fewer Pat Robersons in the future and more atheists.
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08-01-2011, 10:45 AM
 
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
I have a little pet theory to explain the origin of religious belief (infact you can try it yourself)...
On a dark, cloudless night go outside and look up at the stars, if you're luckly you'll see the milky way as a brighter strip of stars. Then psychologically put yourself in the mindset of stone / ironage man. ie forget all your scientific thought and put yourself on the serengeti.
Ask yourself questions : What are all those little lights ? How did they get there ? What makes the sun shine ? What makes the moon glow ? Whatever put them there must be an all encompassing power - much more powerful then my tribe.

In an effort to explian why things in nature are the way they are, stone / iron / bronze age people invented all powerful gods and polytheism was born, it's a very logical thing to believe, when you don't know any better.
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08-01-2011, 03:47 PM
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
There was a great point on an episode of the Atheist Experience.
Coping mechanism was the cause given and to some degree I agree with them.
You can offer comfort to those who are about to die with the idea of eternal life. In time you gain power and if the power corrupts you , your created god becomes a mirror of your own tyrannic nature that continues way after your death.

Explaining the world is another aspect , still , I feel that some polytheistic faiths have based most of their gods on natural events i.e : seasons. This may have been an early attempt at understanding the world , but maybe fear raised natural events that were to hard to explain to the divine status (still works with evolution and abiogenesis today , sadly)
Knowledge was kept exclusive to religious institutions for a while so there's a big fail right there on this issue.
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08-01-2011, 05:36 PM
RE: Origins of religion and god belief
As we can see from consiracy theories today, people have the ability to believe anything they want to believe, and even today they are making up shit and trying to convince everyone else that is fact. Most of the time those who made it up believe it. They convince themselves that they figured it out, but they just made it up. There have been a few religious people who have posted on this forum recently who did and are doing exactly that.

We have so many religions and so many versions of these different religions, christianity has 33,000 different denominations, that shows that there are lots of people making stuff up and believing what they made up.

The mormon religion was created less than 200 years ago by a proven con artist. Scientology was created less than 70 years ago by a science fiction writer so he could collect on a bet. He bet someone that he could start a religion. He made dozens of times more money from the religion than he ever could with writing books.

So, although you guys are right, the puzzle is bigger than you suggested in those posts.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Richard Dawkins comes to me, speaking words of reason, now I see, now I see.
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