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Religion, a passing phenomena.

September 2014

Is religion passing by?

If ever religion will disappear as a social phenomena, it might happen the opposite way it appeared. This is the topic of this brainstorm.

What I call 'god'.
God is supposed to be a supernatural entity that has knowledge of the world, of what happens there and that even can manipulate that world. The existence of such an entity never was proven, but believed by al humans. I think god is made up by humans for a reason, not by accident. And of course with huge consequences.
So I am not talking about god as nature, god as the good, the love or the first power, or what definition modern people do invent. Nature exists, you can observe it. Morality exist, you can even measure it. Power exists. Et cetera. I do not deal with those kind of definitions introduces by people who want to save both, god and science. I am talking about the god, people want to serve, to whom people want to surrender, where people believe in, just like I did when I was young.

What I call religion?
Human beings want to serve god in their religion. They obey god, they do what he wants. People determine there behaviour by the morality of their religion. For his deeds, the believer responds to his god and for his deeds he refers to his god.
"God wants it, so I do it."
God must be honoured and worshipped, because god is great. People do so with rituals and art. They lift their hands or fold them together. At a certain age they confess. They circumcise the boys. They build beautiful mosques and cathedrals. They create heavenly music. Et cetera. All in the honour of god.
"I do this because I am grateful."
Essential in religion is contact with god. Believers talk with god, they pray. They feel the presence of god in their harts. They even hope for an answer.

Beyond god and religion
For ages many tried to keep harmony between religion and science. Many times without success. They know that the world has billions of years and that life, and certain humans, only appeared late in the evolution process. Many humans find it unbelievable that fellow humans still seriously believe that all that was created by a god. Knowing that science still has a world of new knowledge has to discover, you can no longer refer to an super entity and hide behind that.

Religion appeared
To someone who believes that god created the world at a certain moment, religion started exactly at that very moment. A scientist also can believe that god, at a certain moment in evolution (humans were there already), organized the start of religion on earth and that humans god any notion of god. You must be a believing scientist for that anyway. No geological evidence was found for that until now.
I think that religion appeared somewhere in evolution of humans and culture. Religion was not always there. Monkeys do not pray! Did the pre-human pray? I doubt. First not, later yes; there was religion. Next question: where is and/or was religion good for? Next question: will it disappear when religion has lost its meaning?

Where there morals, moral behaviour, before religion came on stage? Yes, I think so. Animals do care for each other, show empathy, can even mourn for lost family members. Behaviour of animals, and also that of pre-humans, was and is directed by brains and genes. During the process of evolution evolved in all species many codes of behaviour are being inherited. Morality was included in the DNA.
Also during transition from ape, via pre-human to human, this process of behaviour development continued and is still continuing. Based on experiences, human adapts his behaviour, all that in favour of the continuation of the species. He knows deep inside what is good or bad for the species. Call it 'conscience'.
Some people say: "without religion no morals" or "who determines good and evil if there is no god?" I don't like this kind of arrogance. Morality was there for a long time before religion appeared. Morals showed up in evolutionary development of all species, and were based upon experiences with behaviour.
In a TV discussion about emotions against mind, someone said: "Being emotional, isn't that very human?" Please not that the very basic, ancient part of human behaviour, emotions, is not the exclusive property of humans. The power of using brains, self reflection, creating new ideas, those are much more specific for humans than emotions. Being angry or enthusiastic, dancing and seducing, it is all human as well as animal. Emotions are not exclusively human.

I think that religion had great influence on human behaviour and human morals. Certainly. Some people say that the invention of a god was a great event, that prevented the human development toward egoism and hedonism. The idea of god and religion worked, had enormous influence on groups of humans.

So there was god
The process of evolution in humans and human groups was no longer limited to physical development and adaption. The species of human got the power to self reflection and the option to communicate with each other about that. This ability was also evaluating, entered into the genes. It made human real human.
Not only in our days, but also in the beginning om human society, one person does not equal the other. In every group there is someone above another, more powerful, more intelligent. Certainly when these two properties join in one person, he was a leader. Such a shaman was thinking, advised, et cetera. Maybe he wanted to continue, to confirm his position. Maybe he invented higher power to refer to, to legitimate his leadership in de clan. Maybe he said to contact forefathers, their ghosts, the world of ghosts in general, maybe gods of at last: god.
When the homo sapiens started to bury his dead people, after some time this became accompanied by rituals. Such rituals refer to ancestors and worship. Appreciation of higher, supernatural power, influence of ancestors appeared around 80.000 bC.
The existence of gods could also serve to accommodate many frightening phenomena in nature. Humans started to understand, but still very little. They could accept that the gods speak (thunder), punish (disasters), reward (prosperity), et cetera. God was worshipped in particular in impressive natural phenomena.
Maybe shamans started to believe that they were interprets of the words of god, or the group started to believe that they had contacts with the world of ghosts. These leaders became considered as higher creatures, powerful, kind of god themselves. Certainly this phenomena of supernatural leadership was there between 8.000 and 7.000 bC, when the villages grew up to cities with city walls etc. Regulation of power structures became necessary. Someone made plans, another did the hard labour. Only one can be the boss.
The power of the higher cast grew with the extended group of humans. The leader of the ape group, became shaman, and the shaman became the emperor with divine authority. They were even declared gods themselves, in Mesopotamia as well as in China. Not for ever, though. Already short after 2000 bC a discussion appeared about de limits of the divine royalty. This doubt can be considered as a first form of secularisation.

Was religion only good for the benefit and status of the leaders? What was the effect on morality? Did humans need rules to prevent egoism and hedonism, to teach them solidarity, as some people say? Was this the way to educate the human species about community, sometimes being more important than the individual? This believe in supernatural, in gods, in god, contribute to the survival of the species? Did religion contribute to stream the development of human culture, to prevent them from murdering each other? For sure, mane religious regulations and rituals had/have that function.

Proceeding understanding
The development of the human species continued (continues). The ability to think, to reflect increased. A so called 'axial' period started wherein thinkers as Confucius and Tao, Lao-tse, Buddha, Zarathustra, the Greek philosophers and the writers/prophets of the Old Testament. Later joined Jesus and Mohammed. All of them contemplated about god, nature and human. They discussed, they studied.
Gods were joined to only one. Jewish religion (in the name of Moses) preached equality of people in front of the only true god. A king should not think that he could be more than a citizen. Weren't they all made by the same god? Opposite to cruelty and arbitrariness Moses pointed the eye for eye and tooth for tooth principle. No disproportional revenge please or bloody animosity. But respect for your fellow human and his property. Maybe monotheism contributed to the development of morals, of human moral behaviour, and maybe disappeared for that reason polytheism. Was that the way to create a universal morality in a world with every time more people?
Between 700 and 600 bC there were no god-kings anymore in Greece. A kind of democracy appeared. The people acquired some power. Around year 0 the Roman emperors were no longer gods. Maybe they could still enter a divine kingdom after death. The religious conscience of people changed. Jesus preached neighbour love. No longer eye for eye, but turn your other cheek when one was hit. Human rights (including the rights of women) were put against the arbitrary of the mighty.
"No hypocrisy. Rules are there for people, not people for rules. Living like that, will create e new kingdom where life is good and where it is good to live."
Monotheism was also accepted in Europe. The Jesus ideals were well kept, but instead of the new kingdom, a church appeared. Christianity also intruded in Arabia, but against animosity, revenge, polytheism, demons, ghosts and magic, a new religion was created: the Islam. Mohamed preached justice, equality and pity.

Religion was and is a social phenomena that appeared in the development of humans and of human society. It certainly had and still has an enormous influence that will continue until it is no longer needed. Is religion still needed? Is it still utile? Now after 2000 aC? How long will it still be needed?

Europe embraced the adventure. The Renaissance started in Italy and had progress, accompanied by streams of new ideas and criticism. The world is discovered and mapped. A person like Erasmus stands up. Francis Bacon underlines the importance of observation. Galilei, Descartes, Spinoza watch back to the barbarian past and learn from the first axial wave with al its thinking and thinkers. Not religion, but science is now supporting the human development.
Erasmus no longer is seeking for god in heaven, but in nature. Religion seems to loose its function and more becomes kind of brake to development. Christian protests against new ideas do not sustain in Western Europe, but do in other parts of the world. The classics are investigated and criticised. People like Newton continue. Observation and reasoning are the best arguments to understand god. Witch burning is abolished, god not yet. After 1700 aC appears a period of inventions and new insights. Steam machines, evolution theory, electricity, telephone, atoms, oil, natural gas, nuclear energy, transport, genetic code, computer, nanotechnology. Much of what in the past was attributed to god, is now definitively explained by science. The idea that science will make religion superfluous, is unavoidable. Where this development is strong, where wealth rises, where human suffering decreases just like the need of comfort from above, there is m ore doubt about any supernatural entities. Secularism breaks through. Religion now seems to become an obstacle for development. Time to leave?

Nature or nurture?
Can religion be inherited? Is it in the human genes? Some people say so. Could the human genome have included some genetic material that supports religion? After all, religion has accompanied humans for millennia. Though, even so, something in the genes not necessarily must stay there or be active. And change of genes is possible.
The development of the various religions is not all over the world the same. It is experiences differently in Africa than in Europe and America. In certain places of the world, atheism is still considered as a danger to be combatted. Is a 'religion-gene' disappearing in Western Europe? In the lifetime of one individual in Western Europe it happens that religious behaviour, strongly acquired when young, completely disappeared when being older. No matter how strong the 'indoctrination' has been.
Is believing in god the result of education and environment, more than inherited? Fact is that in regions, especially where science has made big progress, religion turns back. We should not forget that it has cost ten thousand years to make humans religious, so it also could take ten thousand years to declare the human society religion free.

The future
Having some idea of the old effect of religion on the development of humans, we can think about the effect of possible abolition of religion. Science being able to declare most of natural phenomena seems to be not enough to make 'believing in god' superfluous.
There is more. As long as people believe that morals come from god, they do not grow up to autonomy. Mankind must understand that humans, like all species, have to serve the continuation of the human species. We ourselves our responsible for that. This understanding may be urgent. The world is not yet a stage of general peace and prosperity. Individuals still need comfort because of misery.
The disappearance of religion needs continuation of scientific investigation, growing of prosperity in all regions of the world. And humans must dare to take up their own responsibility for their own behaviour.
Then only, religion will really become a passing phenomena in the world.

Amsterdam 2014, Daan van Alten