Other Discussions on Religion

Religious Validation

We are devoting space to religion because it is literally an explosive issue in the world today. Sam Huntington, a WAIS Fellow, was right when he foresaw a clash of civilizations. Michael May writes: "I would personally be amazed if it turned out that religion had its origin in any societal or survival need at all. Societies often captured religion as a tool of survival or dominance, but contemplative inclinations occur in children and adults,and, among some, take the form of religion. Ascribing such inclinations, whether religious, artistic, scientific, as originally due to societal survival needs appears to me as much of an ad-hoc hypothesis as ascribing them to aspects of our brain function, or to other mechanisms yet not understood. Once survival is assured to some degree, people work to satisfy other needs and priorities. Western culture has become economically and materialistically inclined, despite the continuing overwhelming evidence that its individual members need to find satisfactory patterns in their lives, from whatever sources, as much as they need more goods and services of a more material kind. But investigators should be wary of turning this cultural bias into an assumption about nature and the evolution of people. Maybe the word was first, not the meat. Or maybe neither the word nor the meat". Ronald Hilton - 08/28/98

Tom Moore's Response

Hoover's Tom Moore, who is vacationing in the mountains of Greece (presumably on Mount Olympus), responds thus to the memo on religion:

"I think the most interesting aspect of religion is why it exists and why its is ubiquitous among humans. Neither our nearest relative, chimpanzees, nor our nearest deceased relative, Neanderthals, showed any convincing signs of religion. In fact early Homo Sapiens before around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago did not leave any remains that appear to be religious.

I would hypothesize that religion was important as a means of holding groups of non-related individuals together. A larger group could not only hunt more effectively but could defend itself against predators, the main one being other humans. Most groups that stay together have elaborated a number of mechanisms to make joining the group costly and hence costly to leave. There is always the problem of "free riders", but humans have become very good at spotting cheats. One important way is to make it costly to show loyalty -- fast, give gifts, alms, follow certain rituals, etc -- all of which are reflected in religious practice.

Jewish practices, whether religious or secular, are good examples of a tribal religion designed to hold the group together even in the face of the Jewish diaspora. Christianity appealed to another group: the poor and the downtrodden, although it was subsequently hijacked by the rich and affluent. Islamic practices and beliefs hold the group together and allow it to fight other groups.

A friend of mine reported after visiting Yugoslavia recently and talking first to a priest and then to a nun, one was Roman Catholic and the other was Orthodox. He asked each why they and their people were fighting the others. Both gave the same reason: "Revenge." All ethnic groups exhibit their own religion as they wage war.And the Te Deum was sung in both camps."

My comment: The old habit of singing a Te Deum after victory (e.g. Handel's Dettingen Te Deum) continued the Old Testament tradition of the God of Hosts, rather than the New Testament message of peace. Gott mit uns. Good God! Ronald Hil;ton - 08/30/