Origins of Religion, Symbolism and Happyness in Magic, Meatloaf, and Sex
Laugh at me if you will, but I swear that one of my earliest memories of life on this planet go straight back to the womb, via a series of vivid abstract childhood dreams characterized by light penetrating dark that I can explain no other way. Fast forward a bit and that same dreamy child is wowing the crowds (i.e. mother and father) with his cuteness when asked what he learned in Sunday school that week. As always the answer was the same: “magic.” Cue laughter.
They didn’t laugh so hard at my answer when others asked what’s for Sunday dinner: “meatloaf.” Hey, I was just being honest. Don’t shoot the messenger. But you’d need axes to cut stares when I laid down the word ‘sex’ at the weekly Scrabble game with my father, though I quickly added (with a sh*t-eating grin), “that’s a word, right?” Fast forward to the present and I’m still being honest, though I less often play for laughs (still get a few, though) and fewer and fewer people think I’m cute… but that’s okay. I’m not trying to win any popularity contests anyway (don’t forget to press that ‘like’ button BTW).
So my thought experiment for the week is: Why did humans create religion in the first place? Regardless of any supposed ‘God gene’ (stay tuned), that genetic predisposition could play out any number of ways, and like all and any instance of ‘natural selection’, the logic serves more to retro-fit circumstance and back-fill logic than to actually explain anything, much less predict anything, the sine qua non of any good scientific theory.
Many a good Darwinist makes the Creationist ‘mistake’ of phrasing his evolutionary explanations in the mode of “so that” or “because of” when in actuality none of that could have been predicted by Darwinism with even the best computers. Score one for chaos theory. I’ve theorized that early religions must have (always be suspicious of the conditional perfect tense) arisen to explain the tragedy of death, the transmigration of souls and all that rap. I still believe that.
But that sounds negative and I think now that I’d obviously have to add the positive aspect of life’s beauties and mysteries (most of which science will never explain BTW, just sayin’…), and likely tied in with the nomadic journeys that took us out of Africa in search of horizons—and food. A God for travel, perhaps? Yes! Thus religion is one of the finest, most beautiful and most primordial of the mind’s own artifacts, regardless of any connection to genetics or divinity, and serves the necessary function of making people feel good about life, regardless of circumstance.
But is it more than that? Does God really exist? To be honest again: it’s impossible to say. Does the universe really exist? What about quarks, leptons, tachyons? Yeah, right. Make my quark chocolate with a cherry on top, please. These are questions that are difficult to answer, so dependent as they are on context, perception, definition of terms and mathematical necessity. Does it matter? Probably not. The pragmatic/utilitarian proof of God’s existence probably outweighs anything that the ontological or teleological versions have to offer. It works. Darwin: nature selects for it, no ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ ‘buts’ or becauses’….
I’ll leave any discussion of biological vs. cultural evolution to another tractatus, but I will throw this out for thought: given the utility and the need for happiness—and survival, is there anything different between religion and simple motivational speech, i.e. ‘life coaching’? Preachers and priests used to be our ‘life coaches’, didn’t they? Doesn’t it seem that this is what subs most for religion these days—cheap quickie parables that populate the pages of Facebook like wallflowers lining ballrooms, easy to chat up, but too plain to dance with?
Many, if not most, religions are defined by the ritualistic act of worship more than any high philosophy, and for simplicity reduces easily to symbolism. In Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and others, that means taking off your shoes when entering a house—not optional. For Jews and Muslims: no pork, et cetera. For Navajos in Flagstaff, AZ, that means not spreading waste-water (read “ass-water”) all over the sacred peaks. But is symbolism religion? This is problematic. For Native Americans it seems like everything is sacred. For us immigrant Americans it seems like nothing is. What’s a Congress to do? Rock, paper, scissors…