My mommie says Jesus, your text vindictively Mohammad while she dreams of Vishnu. Some say Buddha, others proclaim Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard sells Scientology whilst Jehovah spirals down the Watchtower. Our ancestors were dead certain about Prometheus, Ra, Zeus...
The landscape of religion is littered with grand ideas of deity, origin, “metaphysics” and confusion, the list of flavours all but inexhaustible.
But if we remove all the peripheral gunk, the common denominator we are left with is death. All if not most have death in common and provides a comforting dissipation of death. “Explaining” it away with forever and eternity, dividing life by zero.
Souls, heaven and hell, purgatory, Hades and all the Otherworlds, even reincarnation all promise continued existence of the self, the loved ones and the rest. We are seemingly unable to deal with death without believing that some part of us somehow outlives our gradually decomposing bodies... we need for ever.
It is, as many would say, because we are living animals and there aren’t many animals out there making a habit of dying without a fight.
Life tries to live, it’s just about axiomatic and as living animals we try to do exactly that; generally speaking we thoroughly despise and avoid death at all cost.
Add a nifty neurological quirk called self awareness to a relatively clever animal and where we could not find answers to great concerns regarding that inevitable demise, death, we invent a comfortable denial. We simply do not believe that we - us experiencing - will cease to exist.
We invent the soul to describe it and psychologically just about sidestep dealing with death by letting the soul transcend the doomed corporeal and oblivion, we pretend to defy entropy.
That urge to stay alive and fear of death is so fundamentally instinctive that it drives us effortlessly in making decisions with our rationality sedated. Ultimately, the same urge that makes us cower in the fox hole, makes us believe in the afterlife.
Applying natural selection and evolution to social phenomenon and human behaviour might be a stretch, but If we take evolution, natural selection, survival of the fittest etc.
as a given, which more or less every atheist and theist willing to look at the idea without preconceptions do, we can fairly safely assume that there has at least been some kind of evolutionary advantage to religious belief.
Religion seems an awful lot of energy to waste on a completely useless phenomenon or mere impediment and not at all how Darwin - that blasphemous enemy of the gods - describes the drive behind life.
And credit where credit is due. Religion has helped structure human understanding: concepts of morality and ethics, social cohesion, benevolence, love and forgiveness; it has helped us share the world in and amongst all the fighting, hating and killing it has given us convenient justification for.
Religion must have and might still be playing an important role in human life and society, and if it has never been worth it in some way, wouldn’t it have died out long ago? We might still need it, or something like it in god’s place.
Then again, perhaps evolutionarily religion is simply a better way of coping with life than no method at all.
So what makes an atheist tick and how do atheists, without the aid of the afterlife make due? It’s hard to believe that a cold answer like “death is nothingness, like before you were born” will convince the masses to ‘unconvert’ and let go of their comfy afterlives....
To be continued...
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