In my experience, people are religious for one or more of the following reasons:
- Birth: They are born into it, and thus are indoctrinated to believe and obey at a very young age by their parents, extended family, and surrounding communities.
- Tribalism/Community: Animals often survive and thrive in packs or tribes. American psychologist Harry Harlow once wrote, “A lone monkey is a dead monkey.” As a group we can more easily fight off predators, distribute work, and make advancements than we can alone. ” Religions often provide the social and moral framework for tribes/communities to thrive.
- Death: People fear death, and religions usually assuage this existential fear by promising their members a glorious afterlife once they die.
- Meaning and Purpose: People do better when their lives have a sense of meaning and purpose. Religions provide many with a sense of meaning and purpose.
- Spirituality and Inspiration: Let’s face it. Life can often be difficult, painful, and tedious. Religion (at its best) excels at making people feel inspired and uplifted – whether through music, sermons, or service projects. Also, certain teachings (like God and Jesus know and love you) can help people feel hopeful, unconditionally loved, and accepted – when life feels cruel and rejecting.
- Identity: People seem to fare better when they “know who they are.” Religions provide identity to their members.
- Morality and Wisdom: Life provides so many options and dangers, such that people can easily make a mess of their lives. Religions provide a moral structure and a set of stories/life lessons that can help to simplify and guide choices, often leading to longer, healthier lives.
- Fear/Answers/Explanations: Did I mention that life can be difficult, painful and tedious? It can also be uncertain, terrifying, and violent. These realities often lead humans to feel scared and insecure about the present and future. Historically, religions have stepped up to provide explanations for the unknown, or for the more difficult elements of life. “Q: How did the earth come into existence? A: Well, God created it of course, and you are His special child. Time to be more faithful!” “Q: Why are there floods, earthquakes, famine, holocausts, and birth defects? A: Don’t worry. These all happen for a reason. God is in control, and He sends them all in His wisdom, to teach us lessons. Or to test us. Time to become more faithful!”
- Simplification/Order/Security: Most of us desire freedom, but life provides so many options that such freedom can become overly complex, and even paralyzing. Religion can help to dramatically simplify life’s decisions – by telling you what to think/believe, how to behave, and by providing order and structure. Ultimately, this can create a feeling of security in one’s life.
- Certainty/Being “Chosen”: It can feel absolutely wonderful to both “know everything” (removal of cognitive dissonance), and to feel as if you are one of God’s “chosen” children.
What would you change/add/remove? Please share comments below!