Thursday, 10 June 2010

The tangled web...

This is not planned out, at all, so please forgive any inconsistencies and incoherences - they'll come out in the wash, or something...

One of the problems with trying to define religion by it's value to humanity or evolutionary purpose is that, as with most anything with significant emotional content, there's no black and white; it's all grey area.

So incisive cuts and compartmentalisation simply aren't possible.

Religion and the infrastructure that has sprung up around it responds to a number of evolutionary needs in different ways and at different levels - tribal protectionism, emotional support, moral codes and social mores - the list is nearly endless.

Rather than trying to define which bit fulfils what need I thought, rather, lets look at other ways in which humanity has done things that aren't religion that seem to fulfil similar needs, and lets see if we can draw parallels between religion and other behaviours and constructs.

If behaviours are common across several different and basically unrelated fields, across barriers of race, religion, geography and so on, then we wouldn't do it if there weren't some basis in evolutionary need.

This could be a bit 'Descartes before dray horse' but as a thought exercise goes I think it's a valid one...

For religion it's a biggie, but it's just an allegorical father figure, not a million miles removed from the reverence for ancestors so prevalent in many Indian, Asian, Pacific, and American Indian cultures, totems and marae and all.

Thing is, that's not all it is, and that's where trying to pigeon-hole a god falls down - no pigeonhole, maybe an entire dovecote.

Add to the reverence of our heavenly father the concept of, in New Age-y terms, a collective unconscious. OK, that steals from Eastern mysticism a bit, but you get the idea. The concept of a connectedness between us is a powerful one and one that acts as a binding agent for a species whose nature is to tend towards links with family first, tribe second and species last, for the most part. But, using god, it is achieved through ways mysterious which makes it so much easier to require faith rather than knowledge to 'understand' it.

So a god is both a parental figure AND a representation or manifestation of your extended family/tribe/species at the same time. And we wonder why religion and guilt are intertwined?

The Holy Trinity of Christian Dogma is, in effect, a thought-exercise designed to illustrate this aspect of God - the father and son duality of interpersonal responsibility and relationship with a veneer of Holy Spirit 'All Together Now' inter-/intra-familial and tribality.

The key to unlocking god, the Christian God at least, is right there in the propaganda, ironically. No Codex or Code, da Vinci or otherwise, required.


What is prayer? In self-help circles you'd call it positive visualisation. Psychologically there are aspects of positive self-talk and the externalisation of fears and guilt. As with God, it's not one thing, so trying to pigeonhole it for its evolutionary value won't work. There are two significant and separate dynamics at work in the same 'tool'.

You give a demon a name, you take away its power.

The value of externalising your fears is a well-documented one, religion just figured that out before psychology did. And self-talk is used to berate and castigate, maybe even self-flagellate - but that's not god talking, that's just you... learning from your own mistakes.


Also known as the family dinner table or the tribal gathering and any other meeting that fosters togetherness for the sake of advancement of the family/tribe/species, so you can include any club meeting from WI to philately and numismatic endeavour all the way down to the nearest TV showing the Football World Cup and/or the dear old pub.

Beer's not a million miles a way from a shaman's psychoactive psilocybin or salvia divinorum, anyway, but instead of seeing the spirits (top-shelf or otherwise) we just see more beer and either want to hug and/or shag everyone or kill them... ooh, very primal.

Church just plays on our need to fit-in and feel part of something larger than ourselves - it's all of the above locations and pastimes that also fulfil this need, but with a frisson of familial guilt driving you to attend, as you wouldn't want to disappoint daddy/all of your relatives.

This wasn't a planned bit of writing, so I'm sure I could draw more parallels between normal human behaviours and beliefs and those invented or fostered by religion, but this will have to do for now.