March 17, 2010

From Barry Klein:

Re: How did religion evolve? (Feb. 8, 2010): This article compares only two of the most superficial theories on the origin of religion, while summarily dismissing a deeper and far more interesting perspective. The two theories the article address are, basically: 1. Religion as a structure for societal order (morality, codes of conduct or the wielding of power), and 2. An internal (brain structure or chemistry) predisposition to certain kinds of mythologies.

The article mentions, but then dismisses, “secret knowledge” as an excuse for holding power over people. My argument here is that there is much more to that point, ideas which provide a much more satisfying explanation of why religion exists, but which stray too close to metaphysics for the comfort of those who insist that the explanation of everything must be mechanical, notwithstanding all the unexplained paradoxes of quantum physics, relativity and cosmology (all discussed in the archives of World Science).

This present comment does not dismiss the significance of both of the stated rationales; my point is rather that they are not sufficient to explain the virtually universal presence of religions almost all cultures, past and present (with the possible exception of some totalitarian regimes), and with many common traits among them, whether “primitive” or in “advanced” societies (quotation marks to signify that sufficiently advanced societies seem to have the most problems with social order and power/ wealth distribution; also, their religions often become hollow or fundamentalist, whereas tribal religions are often more humanistic, egalitarian and closer to people’s actual lives.

In order to get an idea of where I am going with this, let’s first look at some commonalities of religion: 1. Supernatural beings - invisible except in their manifestations, and usually only to certain people:

a. Gods - those with power over weather, life and death, the outcome of events.

b. ghosts - fixed to a certain place or person, may be innocuous or frightening.

c. animal or angel guides or spirits

d. beings from other worlds and dimensions 2. Myths and horror stories

a. mythology is full of “cities of gold,” “fountains of youth,” “magical doorways,” etc.

b. cautionary tales showing the consequences of disobeying the rules. 3. Naming everything for supernatural beings and miraculous events (people, places, constellations, conveyances, etc. ) - these keep the basic tenets in mind. 4. Codes of conduct - morality, sexual and age roles, foundations of law, taboos, obligations, offerings, etc. 5. Priests, ministers and teachers - authority, hierarchies, powers, responsibilities, segregation of knowledge. 6. Rituals and Events - codified religious experiences (and methods for achieving such experiences) - these practices may have originally had known results (specific religious states, healings, transformations, etc. ) but mostly having little power in the major religions of the West (possible exceptions being revivals and pentecostal events). 7. Sacred objects and places - things to which magic or miraculous events are attributed. In our society, these are present but routinely ignored or desecrated (e. g. , porn stars wearing huge crucifixes).

As I mentioned, the above list does include both theories in the WS article, but now we can see that there is more to the situation. Why would so many cultures, disparate in era and location, keep coming up with supernatural entities and events, and similar-enough explanations for them? Why do they keep retelling these miraculous experiences in such passionate terms, even thousands of years later? Even moreso, why would 35, 000-year-old cave paintings portray the same symbols and events as for east-African shamans and UFO abductees?

My proposal is that it is mystical experiences and supernatural events (often produced by environmental chemicals or “psychopathology” - our term for mental states we don’t understand) coupled with our genetic predisposition for supernormal experiences (I contend that it is just the perversion of this appetite that gives way to alcoholism and addiction) and also our need to contain or codify the experiences and states (out of fear and necessity).

In conclusion, I believe I have shown that both sides of the authors’ arguments have been included in support of a more inclusive perspective -- that of people’s having real-life mystical/ religious experiences, and then needing a structure for explaining and containing them.

Supernatural by Graham Hancock
Shape Shifting by John Perkins
The Jaguar that Roams the Mind by Robert Tindall
Shamanic Christianity by Bradfor
Keeney Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels
The Whole Shebang by Timothy Ferris
The Tao of Physics by Fritjoff Capra
In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky
The Center of the Cyclone by John Lilly
Our Other Mind by Rev. Barry Matthew (an alter-ego of mine -- manuscript online)


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