Throughout the history of mankind from ancient Egypt, the Astecs, Rome, ancient India and China to the latest kid on the block: Christianity, people invented gods and worshipped them in various ways. Why does this happen? It appears that there is a basic psychological need for it. It used to be said that fear of death was the only incentive to embrace a religion. Steven Reiss postulates 16 reasons why people are attracted to religion: The theory is based on his overall theory of human motivation, which he calls sensitivity theory. Sensitivity theory is explained in his 2000 book "Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities" (Tarcher Putnam). Reiss said that each of the 16 basic desires outlined in the book influence the psychological appeal of religious behaviour. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honour, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquillity.
My motivation as a youngster was certainly fear. Our dominee believed that to get the maximum number of conversions, you had to scare the living daylights out of your congregation. I could just see myself burning in Hell for all eternity, with grinning red devils dancing all around me. One day on the bus, coming back from the library where I had taken out a wonderful selection of books, I suddenly got the distinct feeling that The Second Coming of Christ had occurred. The dominee had warned us of this dreadful, or wonderful, day, depending on whether you were one of the chosen few Born Again Christians, or not. All the BAC’s would be instantly taken up to heaven leaving the other poor sods to burn. I was still not sure about my BAC status, and the fact that I was still sitting in the bus tended to confirm my worst fears. Frantically, I started desperately looking around for anybody I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be a Christian. If he or she was still around, obviously I was mistaken, and Jesus had not arrived yet. Throughout that seemingly interminable journey and in a rising panic, I kept looking for somebody I knew to be a definite BAC, among the passengers, pedestrians, and motorists.
It was only when I got home and saw my sister, who was and is without a shadow of a doubt a BAC that my panic subsided. She must have been quite startled when I gave her a huge kiss and a hug.
So if religion is a basic psychological need in us humans, the question arises, “is it really necessary to be religious, or can we do without religion altogether in spite of our need for it?”
I came across this very interesting article by ‘capnjammer’ an ex-Baptist pastor and missionary http://capnjammer.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/why-people-dont-need-religion/ that addresses this question very eloquently:
‘You Don’t Need Religion to be a Good Person
‘Saying you need religion to be a good person is like saying you need a gun to be a peaceful person. Even among the religious faithful, I believe the tendency toward being a good person is in spite of religion, not due to it. I’m a good person for a number of reasons: I like people to enjoy being around me, being a good person has its rewards now (in other words, I don’t have to wait until after I die in order to be rewarded by people liking me, trusting me, and being good back to me), it is an evolutionary imperative that I do my best to help my “tribe” survive, etc.. I am good not because of religion, not because God laid down laws that touch my heart even as an atheist… I am a good person because that is the best and most productive way to be.’
I have seen quite a few posts from religious people on this forum that says that religion or more specifically Christianity gives you a moral compass. Here is what Capnjammer has to say about that:
‘God says not to kill in the Ten Commandments, but immediately turns around and orders systematic genocide, rewards one man for thrusting a javelin through a man and his lover without so much as a trial, orders that a woman be stoned to death if she is raped but doesn’t scream loud enough, orders men to treat women like property well into the New Testament, explains the best way to sell your daughter into sex slavery, etc.. I can’t even bear to go on. The God of the Bible… both Testaments… is a cruel and capricious monster. And we’re supposed to learn morality from him?’
‘You don’t need religion to find comfort
We can look at religion in a way which says “It’s great because it gives people peace,” but we never look at it from the other perspective: “Religion preys on people who need peace, and gives them false promises in exchange for a lifetime of devotion.”
‘You Don’t Need Religion to Feel a Sense of Community
‘Because, in all reality, religion breaks down community. All religion does is give a small group of people something to unite them while simultaneously sequestering themselves away from everyone else. It creates community, yes, but on the whole is responsible for the dereliction of community.’
So in my opinion the psychological need for religion is a fact. But that people need to be religious in order to be good, or moral, or go to some unknown place in the sky somewhere called heaven, or to avoid descending into hell for all eternity, is pure delusion.
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