AN ADULTS GUIDE TO GODS Part 1
When arguments for or against the existence of a God are put forward, some dismiss them as irrelevant. What matters, they say, "Is not proof or disproof but the daily experience of living with God". This they say, "Is the reality and beside it all arguments are irrelevant and the truth really resides in the experience of the individual". This is the retreat of religion into the "Citadel of Self". One of the obvious features of the past few centuries has been the shrinking of the area, subject to a religious explanation. At one time, a religious view of the physical world was universally accepted. When that position was lost, religion took refuge in the view that the human species was a special creation of a god, and consequently involved a special relationship. Now that has been shown to be nonsense. Religion immures itself, in what is said, "To exist deep in the nature of the individual".
This is a view difficult to refute, since it removes the controversy beyond normal human knowledge and reasoning. In this connection, it is of interest to consider, a commentary from another religion say, Buddhism, which has no belief in a God, as "Nyanaponika Thera" puts it, "But for the earnest believer, the God idea is more than a device for explaining external facts like the origin of the World, etc. It is for him, or supposed to be, an inner experience that can bestow a strong feeling of certainty, not only as to God’s existence somewhere out there, but as to God’s consoling presence and closeness to the devotee. However, this feeling of certainty requires a close scrutiny. Such scrutiny will reveal that in most cases, the God experience is only the devotee’s projection of his ideal (a more or less noble one) and of his fervent wish, and a deeply felt need to believe. To these projections is given a strong emotional emphasis and they receive life through man’s powerful capacity of imagination, in the sense of image forming, visualization, myth creation, etc. These projections are largely conditioned by the influences of childhood impressions, education, tradition, social environment, etc, and are identified with the images and concepts of whatever religion the devotee follows. In the case of very many of the most sincere believers, a searching self-analysis would show that their God experience, have no more specific content than this".
Those who claim experience of God would reject the above rational explanation. More to the point perhaps would be to ask them, "How they know that their sort of comfort or joy (or whatever emotions are aroused in them) is God". They cannot know this, as intensity of conviction is not knowledge.
Nor can the proponent of personal experience, explain that experience. That it seems real is not necessarily significant. The experience of a mental patient, who thinks he is Napoleon, seems (to him) equally real.
If the source of experience is inexplicable, then no name should be given to it, and no dogmatic assertions made about it. To go further and make the simplistic allegation that the experience is in fact of a God, merely indicates an attempt at a naively egotistic self-justification.
AN ADULT’S GUIDE TO GODS (Part 2)
Higher primates other than man, including the Japanese monkey and chimpanzees, possess the rudiments of culture. Only in man has culture infiltrated virtually every aspect of life. Among the fastest cultural responses in industrial civilizations are the fashions in dress and speech. Somewhat slower are political ideology and social attitudes towards other nations, whilst the slowest of all include incest, taboos, and the belief or disbelief in particular High Gods. The sacred rituals are the most distinctively human. Their most elementary forms are connected with magic, the active attempt to manipulate nature and the gods. Upper Palaeolithic Art from the caves of Western Europe shows a preoccupation with game animals. There are many sacred scenes showing spears and arrows embedded in the bodies of the pray. Other drawings depict men dancing in animal disguises or standing with their heads bowed in front of animals. Probably the function of the drawings was sympathetic magic, based on the quite logical notion that what was done with an image will happen with the real thing. Magic was and still is in some societies practised by special people variously called Shamans, Sorcerers or Medicine Men. They alone were believed to have the secret knowledge and powers to deal effectively with the supernatural, and as such their influence sometimes exceeded the Tribal Headmen.
Formal religion has many elements of magic, but is focused on deeper more tribally oriented beliefs. Its rites celebrate the creation myths, propitiate the gods and re-sanctify the tribal moral codes. Instead of a shaman controlling physical power their is a priest, who communes with the gods and curries their favour through obedience, sacrifice, and proffered evidences of tribal good behaviour. In the more complex societies, polity and religion have always blended naturally. Power belonged to kings by divine right, but high priests often ruled over kings by virtue of the higher rank of the gods.
It is a reasonable hypothesis that magic and totenism constituted direct adaptations to the environment, and preceded formal religion in social evolution. Sacred traditions occur almost universally in human societies. So do myths that explain the origin of man or at least the relation of the tribe to the rest of the world.
But belief in high gods is not universal. Among 81 hunter-gatherer societies surveyed in 1968, only 28 or 35 percent included high gods in their sacred traditions. The concept of an active moral God, who created the World is even less widespread. The concept of an active moral God who created the World, most commonly arises with a pastoral way of life. The greater the dependence on herding, the more likely the belief in a shepherd god of a Judo Christian model. In other kinds of societies, the belief occurs in 10 percent or less of the cases. Also, the God of Monotheistic Religions is always male. This strong patriarchal tendency has several cultural sources.
a) Pastoral societies are highly mobile, tightly organised, and often militant; all features that tip the balance toward male authority.
b) It is also significant that herding, the main economic base is primarily the responsibility of men not women.
c) Because the Hebrew’s were originally a herding people, the Bible describes God as a shepherd and the chosen people as his sheep. Islam, one of the strictest of all the monotheistic faiths, grew to early power among the herding people of the Arabian Peninsular.
The intimate relation of the shepherd to his flock apparently provides a microcosm that stimulates deeper questioning, about the relation of man to the powers that control him. Elementary religions seek the supernatural for the purely mundane rewards of long life, abundant land, and food, the avoidance physical catastrophes, and the defeat of enemies. A form of group selection operates in the competition between sects. Those sects that gain adherents survive those that cannot fail. Religions vary in there oppressiveness. Religions that are promoted by chieftains and states are the most oppressive, because religion can be effectively harnessed to the purposes of warfare and economic exploitation.
The paradox of religion is that although so much of it is substance is demonstrably false, yet it still exists in all societies. How can such a force in society be extracted from a tissue of illusions? One answer is that virtually all forms of sacred rites serve the purposes of communication. In primitive societies ceremonies can offer information on the strength and wealth of tribes, and families. For example, a group gives a ritual dance and individuals indicate their willingness to give military support to a leader. In more advanced society’s military parades, embellished by the paraphernalia and rituals of the state religion serve the same purpose.
To sanctify a procedure or statement is to certify it beyond question! This certification, the heart of all religions is granted to the practices and dogmas that serve the most vital interests of the group. The sacred rituals for the supreme effort and sacrifice, prepare the individual. Overwhelmed by shibboleths, special costumes, and the sacred dancing, and music, so accurately keyed to his emotive centres he has a religious experience. He is ready to reassert allegiance to his tribe, and family, perform charities, consecrate his life, leave for the hunt, join the battle, and die for God and Country. "Deus Vult" (God wills it) was the rallying cry of the First Crusade.
A second force has been identified leading to the formalization of religion. To counteract selfish behaviour each society codifies itself. In each family (in a tribe) that worked out its own rules, the result would be chaos. Sanctification, adds force to the code. However, this process engenders criticism and in the more literate, and self-conscious, society’s visionaries and revolutionaries set out to change the system. Reform meets repression, because to the extent that the rules have been sanctified and mythologised, the majority of the people regard them beyond question and disagreement is defined as blasphemy. This leads to the essentially biological question of the evolution of indoctrinability. To any intelligent and unbiased student of the human animal, two facts are clear.
a) Most people would rather believe than know.
b) Humans are absurdly easy to indoctrinate, in fact, they seek it.
Assuming that indoctrinability (like limbs) evolves, at what level does natural selection take place? This is probably both at the group and the individual level, each one reinforcing the other. If in a particular tribe the willingness to believe (indoctrinability) becomes weak, individualistic members gain the upper hand and multiply at the expense of others. This weakens group solidarity, thus making the tribe vulnerable to competing tribes and it eventually it becomes extinct.
Thus, conformism and indoctrinability has gradually become part of the human genetic make up, only a minority of individuals in any generation escaping. This theory is sufficient to account for the evolution of indoctrinability by natural selection. Education may be used to reinforce or to diminish the process. Professor E. O. Wilson ‘SocioBiology’ and condensed.
A Child’s Guide To Gods
‘What About Gods?’ by Chris Brockman. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-106-1
Well worth having for the children in the Secular and Humanist family.
Professor Richard Dawkins FRS ‘The Root Of All Evil’ Channel 4 TV. A simple explanation, but one vastly more complex than the subject of instant explanations, which is put forward by most religions.