02 December 2007

The root of faith and rage

This was originally a comment on this thread at An Apostate's Chapel, but I wanted to have it as a posting of its own here as well.

Fellow commenter John Evo wrote:

How much is the idea of death important to belief? Both your own mortality and also the notion of losing loved ones, who will never be seen again? It seems to me that when I listen closely to people talking about their religion, it always comes back to that - after all the wonderful intellectualizing about other aspects of spirituality.

My response:

I’ve thought for a long time that this is actually the main reason why religion is so pervasive and why people throughout history have defended it so belligerently and even violently. Most humans enjoy what life has to offer and don’t want it to end. On a deeper level, we’re hard-wired by evolution to be afraid of death — if there had ever been any primates which had no fear of death, they wouldn’t have been as careful as others about avoiding being killed, and so they weren’t the ones who lived long enough to pass on their genes and evolve into our noble selves.

People react with consternation and rage when their religion is challenged because on some level they realize it’s facing them with the possibility that they might not have life after death after all. It’s terrifying. It’s a threat.

What we’re dealing with there is a visceral instinctive response to a perceived threatening situation. Reason and argument have very little to do with it.

As a corollary which has intrigued me for a long time, it will be fascinating to see whether the decline of religious fervor in the developed world accelerates once it becomes widely understood that, very soon, death will no longer be inevitable.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book you reviewed looks really interesting. Your question is a good one. I think fear of death and hell is the primary motivator of religious faith. The love talk is simply cover for the fear that is at the heart of the Big 3 Abramic religions. Religious leaders have to strike the right balance between the carrot and stick of hell and love to make religion work. I hope that, if the source of fear were removed, then religion would fade away more quickly. It is far more destructive, individually, socially, politically and globally, than useful.

02 December, 2007 18:54  
Blogger Plonka said...

A fear of death and the attainment of the "perfect" life afterwards.

Perhaps the "attainment of paradise",coupled with our healthy fear of death, is a mechanism we use to keep us going through hardship? If the choice is to fight tooth and nail with the elements just to produce a living, or not and die without producing offspring, then I can see an advantage...perhaps...

But I also think there's a reasonable degree of embarrassment at having been duped. No one likes to be wrong and the longer the belief is held, the harder it is to accept its fallaciousness.

03 December, 2007 01:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plonka said, "I also think there's a reasonable degree of embarrassment at having been duped. No one likes to be wrong and the longer the belief is held, the harder it is to accept its fallaciousness."

That's so true. Deconversion is a tremendously humbling experience. I'm in my late 40s and it was painful to realize that I've been deluded all of my life. I don't blame myself for my childhood beliefs because I had no control over those. I do blame myself because, as an adult, I deliberately chose to live a devout Christian life. There's nothing like that kind of epiphany to make one feel like a world-class fool.

03 December, 2007 06:39  
Blogger Plonka said...


I too speak from experience...

03 December, 2007 12:34  

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