Here are some interesting numbers from an article titled, Conjuring up Our Own Gods:
8 in 10 Americans believe in angels
1 in 5 of Americans have experienced ghosts
1 in 7 have seen a psychic
3 in 4 Americans believe in something paranormal
4 in 10 believe houses could be haunted
Holy sh*t. That’s a lot of folks who believe in the supernatural.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the reason why a few scholars believe that we are hard-wired for believing in things we can’t see:
“….the fear that one would be eaten by a lion, or killed by a man who wanted your stuff, shaped the way our minds evolved. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more likely to survive if they interpreted ambiguous noise as the sound of a predator. Most of the time it was the wind, of course, but if there really was danger, the people who worried about it were more likely to live. That inclination to search for an agent has evolved into an intuition that an invisible agent, or god, may be there.”
Wait, what? Did I miss something here or does this researcher jump from point A to point D. If I’m a cavewoman who is afraid of being attacked by my neighbor in the next cave, then I’m worried about the physical threat I know. It is a huge stretch to say that this fear of danger (a helpful thing) developed into “an intuition that an invisible agent, or god, may be there” (not a helpful thing). Yes, I’ll buy that only the paranoid survive, but there’s a reason why our presidents are surrounded by armed guards and not ghost-busters.
Like children, the human race has had its developmental milestones. At some point, man looked to the sky to figure out where all the wet stuff came from. We see our children do this when they become aware of the world around them. Perhaps, early man thought, there’s a person up there since people can make water when they cry. Maybe we can ask that person to please stop dumping all this cold, wet stuff on us. I use this example because some humans still say this. I have heard a religious mother tell this to her child when it was raining: god is crying because he is sad; he doesn’t like what people are doing.
It would also make sense that humans don’t all develop at the same rates, even though, as a species, we know where rain now comes from. So some of us have outgrown god. Some of us still need–or just want–god. And some of us continue to use god as a tool to harvest followers. I’d say a certain senator from Texas (ahem, Ted Cruz) is a living, breathing god-king. Maybe he prayed with Rick Perry for rain.
Back to the article, these researchers also found out that, if some folks (like this guy named Jack) work really hard, they can “create thought-forms, or imagined creatures, called tulpas.” You might wonder if this is how Lars and the Real Girl was conceived.
Luhrmann says, “The mere fact that people like Jack find it intuitively possible to have invisible companions who talk back to them supports the claim that the idea of an invisible agent is basic to our psyche.”
Ummm. Not so sure about that. Isn’t this what many of us did as children? We created imaginary friends or playmates? Yet when we mature to adulthood, we know that our imaginary friends do not exist; they cannot talk to us. We outgrow them. So perhaps these believers haven’t finished developing or perhaps they are mentally ill or perhaps they become writers who realize that they can vividly imagine characters for their stories.
But the following quote from Luhrmann is the reason I sat down to write this. Many people don’t understand what it means to be an atheist: “….just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are atheists who have prayed for parking spots.”
I find this terribly insulting to those who don’t believe. If you reject the god myth, and you understand that praying for trivial things like wins for football games illustrates just how self-centered humans can be, why would you pray for a parking spot? Who does that, for godssake?
To top off her assumptions, Luhrmann writes, “Secular liberals sometimes take evolutionary psychology to mean that believing in God is the lazy option. But many churchgoers will tell you that keeping God real is what’s hard.”
That’s funny, right? I doubt that many churchgoers think they need to work to keep their god real. And I’ve never heard a secularist say that believing in god is lazy. IMO, it takes more work to believe, both physically and emotionally. You’ve got to groom kids early to believe; you’ve got to constantly refer to your preferred religious text for answers. You’ve got to go to church and Sunday school and watch Fox News every day to continue the reinforcement. There’s a hell of a lot of energy that goes into living fearful lives, trying to please an invisible god and judgmental preachers. But there’s got to be a payoff for the energy expended, and religion does seem to bring comfort to many.
If we were to look at religion from the child development angle, we’d see that religion is delaying development by reinforcing the idea that the world doesn’t exist without us, that we will live forever and ever. Yes, we disappear after our bodies are gone. The world doesn’t.
While believing in god does take work, living without god, takes courage.
I’m sorry for picking on Luhrmann today–usually I enjoy her writing. I think that she took the lazy way out here: perhaps she should have interviewed some real-live atheists before she wrote this piece.