I was raised pretty religious but am now an atheist.
As you can imagine that transition has led to a lot of reexamination of my assumptions, which is why I find this question on Reddit so fascinating:
I know what I’d say, but let’s see what the denizens of the internet think.
Here we go!
1. Let me explain.
As a way to explain what we can’t explain.
The world’s a lot less scary when you have an explanation for death and natural disaster.
2. Beauty is everywhere.
Have you ever been in an area where it is so dark at night you can clearly see the stars, or better yet, the Milky Way? It’s amazing.
Imagine you did not know what stars or outer space was, and there was no knowledge of science that explained what you see.
So you just make something up because it is better to have an explanation of something you otherwise can’t explain rationally.
Get enough people to believe it and boom, religion. Religion is a way to explain the workings of the world when there was a lack of science.
3. That simple?
Control and order
4. Mainly, scope.
Religion’s roots are in simple spirituality. Belief in spirits – the spirits of predators, the spirits of nature, spirits of the dead, etc – is not uncommon in smaller tribal societies. Like Bantu for example, who believe in just those things.
Once you’ve got a spirit that your shaman commits a ritual for, like a ritual for the spirit of a lion to give them success in the next hunt, or a ritual for the spirits of some ancestors for similar reasons, the way to “deities” becomes a lot shorter.
What’s to separate a supernatural spirit from a deity, and a tribal shamanic ritual from a religious ritual? Mainly, scope.
5. Death is scary.
I think religion was created to live a happier life. If you have a religion, you won’t have to keep worrying about what happens after you die. I can’t speak for all atheists but in my experience as one, the thought of death being the absolute inevitable end is unsettling. When this is all over, what was the point? You’ll just be gone forever and eventually forgot about.
But I’ve convinced myself that what matters is the little things, not the big picture. It’s a common misconception that atheists are sad. Most have accepted the inevitability of death. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t afraid of it. Religion makes death seem less terrifying. The thought of never being able to experience emotions, relationships, friendships, the world, and life in general is frightening.
Religion convinces people that there is more. That there is a reason.
6. Are you afraid?
Fear. I think ‘The Invention of Lying’ laid it out well.
Everyone is afraid of death. Religion in pretty much every iteration ever regardless of other tenets makes death not permanent.
7. It’s a natural phenomenon.
Populations are just a substrate through which ideas flow. These ideas are subject to a natural selection and they multiply, mutate, evolve and go extinct just like living creatures.
Religions have a powerful combination of traits that make them thrive in this mind medium.
The ancestor of religion was around way before any human was smart enough to try to ‘make sense of the world around them’ these explanation myths evolved from more basic dogma
8. Don’t forget about selection.
I think it’s a similar question to what made humans so successful in the animal kingdom. A lot of different things were selected for. Religion as we know it evolved into something that fills a lot of needs we have. It’s comforting. It provides community. It provides answers. It just provides a lot of what we naturally yearn for.
Religion has gone through so many iterations, constantly changing over time to meet the needs of the current society. And since we can choose which religion and which parts “speak” to us, we are the selecting pressure to make religions into exactly what we want. I think that’s why religion, as an idea, is so successful. It’s a shortcut to providing what we want. It’s ideological candy.
9. Community support.
Religion is good at building a community, at least those are members of the “church”. But it does create an in-group, out-group situation. Internally it holds people together and provides a framework for groups living together. Putting a set of rules for “good” and “bad” behavior is necessary. The other posts saying that it helps people make sense of the world is also true.
Frankly, I don’t know that you could move from an individual to group agrarian society without some form of “religion”. It would be hard to do without all of the information, knowledge, and growth that comes from having a society that can support scientific and philosophical study.
Unfortunately, the rules that were put in place are very misogynistic and entrench power in a small group. Its not much of a surprise for many reasons.
10. Shifting the blame.
I think it was created so people can blame I higher force for something they don’t want to accept.
Friend dies? God has his reasons. Easy.
11. Sinister motivations.
To subjugate the weak-willed, the poor, and women. To keep them uneducated, unempowered, and unthreatening to those in power.
To keep the masses living in fear so they can be easily controlled.
12. God of the gaps.
Because it fills gaps in our knowledge and provides a comfort in uncertainty, it is (or was) a very convenient way to gain power.
Take the uncertainties, claim there is an entity that is omnipotent and responsible for the way things work and tell people what they need to do to get what they want from it. Take the caste system, for example. Born out of “purity”, it makes it easy for higher-ups to maintain control over a large portion of the population, the “impure” people below them. Even now, when religion holds less power than it used to, many holy people dress in shimmering clothes and are highly respected. This is often explained as being because the god(s) demand it, but nobody ever sees when or how they did this.
13. It’s inevitable.
I see religions and religious texts as meta documents or systems that are compatible with highly intelligent social mammals who exist within social hierarchies. They established, usually, a conceptual higher tier of entities (gods/god) who sit even further above any human in the hierarchy so that they cannot be killed or their authority undermined if they existed physically.
They allow for a custom set of ethics and morals to be created which has enabled humans to adopt long term survival strategies and behaviors and allowed us to break out of our older, short-term survival strategies and behaviors and truly paved the way for civilization.
14. What is my purpose?
People want to believe that life has a greater purpose so we invented one.
15. An interesting point…
Because if it were based in reality, it wouldn’t be created, it would be discovered.
Personally, I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. Asking why religion exists is like asking why frogs exist. You can trace back the formative factors and begin to explain different parts of the frog’s anatomy, but there’s no particularly simple answer.
What do you think about all this?
Try to be civil in the comments.