Ch1 L45: Beliefs – part XIX (On religions)

  1. In the earlier posts, we discussed that the history of the cognitive revolution could be divided into three eras based on different types of causality [1]: magic, religion, and science [2]. We talked about the magic era in which people believed [3] that their actions could affect the natural courses. In the religion era, the exact opposite belief was cultivated: everything happens according to God’s will or plans which implies that you have no control (?) over your life.
  2. In the 30th post, I related the magic era to the first developmental stage of mind: babies perceive themselves as the center of the universe [4]; besides, when they need something, they can solve their problem with crying and they almost always tenaciously continue crying till they get what they want. When children grow up, first of all, they conceive their parents as separate entities; secondly, they realize that their life depends on their parents (they protect me from dangers and solve my problems); thirdly, they must ask them if they need something and their requests might be rejected sometimes and they should please the parents. That’s the same kind of relationship that humankind created with God/father.
  3. The notion of God seemed to be the best answer to many questions. Firstly, it ended the causal chain [5]: God was the first link who created the universe and everything in it; besides, everything takes place according to his will because he is omnipotent and omniscient [6]. Secondly, he was the answer to our existentially fundamental question: what would happen after we die? [7] Thirdly, the story of Original sin [8] was developed to justify why we live/suffer [9] on the earth and to consolidate the belief in the afterlife.
  4. Abraham [10] has symbolically marked the transition between the magic and religion era. His iconoclastic action and making people doubt [11] their belief by asking them how they could worship something which couldn’t even protect itself, was the most intelligent way to change people’s belief; yet the Abrahamic religions closed the door and called doubting the belief a sin.
  5. The religions then transformed and adopted many elements of the paganry. The prayers, oblations, donations, and sacrifices were directed towards God (the religious institutions). In Christianity, many pagan holidays were renamed and each was celebrated as a saint’s birthday.
  6. In my opinion, Abraham’s most important achievement is what he is criticized for the most: binding of Isaac [12] in which God wanted to test Abraham’s faith and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac (or Ishmael in Islam’s version) and when Abraham was about to cut his own son’s throat, God stopped him (the knife didn’t cut) and sent a ram to be sacrificed instead. Many atheists have denounced the story, God and Abraham; however, in my opinion, Abraham made the scene, like breaking the idols [13], to reform the cruel tradition of sacrificing sons or generally children for God(s) [14].
  7. Similar to realizing that crying doesn’t solve your problem, but your parents do; moving from the magic to the religion era was a natural transition and a step forward. At least our ancestors found out that their magics or praying to the idols weren’t the solution. Did religion give any practical solution to their problems?
  8. In the 20th post, we discussed why there was a necessity to invent an abstract language [15]. Yuval Noah Harari [16] in “Sapiens: a brief history of humankind” [17] argued that the group size in the primates was small because they needed to build the trust physically by doing each other favors such as grooming, hugging, etc. However, we can work together believing in the same imaginary ideas like country, race, religion and so on. If you look at the followers of any major religion, you’ll see the bond between them beyond skin colors, races or countries. People who don’t know each other can still trust and cooperate. Being part of a big community lowers the stress level [18], especially in a congregation. You’d feel the energy of your brothers and sisters [19] (though you might disgracefully think that it’s God’s love or grace) and it would simply make you feel happier [20].
  9. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? you’d feel more confident because you know that there are people whom you can count on. As we discussed in the 3rd post [21], confidence which is the estimation of our power and skill to solve problems determines whether we should fight or run away from a problem. Since you have your people’s support, your confidence will skyrocket. The kickback of relying on others is you don’t learn how to solve problems by yourself. In other words, depending on others is inversely proportional [22] to self-confidence.
  1. An easy and obvious example of this situation would be a kid whose parents do everything for them. So, when they grow up, they can hardly take any responsibility and they’re waiting for someone to solve their problems.
  2. When your self-confidence is low, the problem will look more dangerous, thus your body will secrete more stress hormones which make you panic [23]. It means your brain will shut down [24]; therefore, you’d radically use the default reaction; if it’s the fight, you’ll try to destroy the enemy (a person, a thing, or an idea) without thinking, otherwise, if it’s the flight and as modern settlers we can’t run away from problems, you’d freeze or surrender to it.
  3. That’s what religion does to people; the majority of the believers are God-fearing because that’s first of all, their ancestors’ default reaction, secondly they’re expected to be submissive; and the hot-tempered minority are those who can explode. I generally don’t see any virtue in the goodness of the submissive followers because their reason to do good things is the fear of the consequences of sinning. If I do something good, I am aware that it will make the society better and on a selfish note, living in a better society will increase my (and my offsprings’) chance to survive. However, this idea can’t be digested by someone who is so short-sighted that they can’t see long-term benefits and their only reason to be good is that they’re afraid of God’s punishment.
  1. Lars Von trier [25] has shown this situation in Dogville [26]: A girl who ran away from a group of gangsters goes to a small village and ask people to hide her. At first, people said no, because they had everything regulated and organized; so, there was no place for a newcomer. Then the priest convinced them to help her. To thank their generosity the girl requested to help them. Though there was nothing for her to do at the beginning, later the villagers gave her more tasks up to the point that not only they enslaved the girl, but also they didn’t let her escape. The moral of the story is the weak people are good because they don’t have any opportunity/power to take advantage of others.
  2. We’ll continue the story in the next post.


[1] Link to the post about causality

[2] Link to the post in which we talked about Sir James Frazer’s classification of the history of humankind based on the three eras of magic, religion, and science.

[3] As the title indicates, we’ve been talking about beliefs in many posts, you could start it from the 25th post if you’re interested to follow the story. Link

[4] Again link to the 30th post

[5] Link to the post about causality and the causal chain

[6] I saw an argument on YouTube (sadly I couldn’t find the link) that a guy said that omnipotence and omniscience can’t coexist. Because, if God is omniscient, he would know what he would do at any time, so he couldn’t change them; thus he couldn’t be omnipotent. But, if he could change them, it means that he wasn’t aware of them beforehand, so he wouldn’t be omniscient.

[7] We talked about this question in the 39th post where we saw how becoming aware of our mortality changed our entire world.

[8] Link to the wiki page about Original sin

[9] The consequence of discovering that one day we’ll die is the question “why do we live?”, especially if we’re suffering every day dealing with many problems, natural disasters and diseases. So, every religion must have an explanation for our suffering. In the Abrahamic religions, we’re punished for Adam and Eve’s sin. In Buddhism it’s part of the cycles of life and purification process [Link] and so on.

[10] Link to the Wiki page about Abraham

[11] We started the discussion about beliefs introducing doubt as the tool to constantly evaluate them. Link

[12] Link to the Wiki page about Binding of Isaac

[13] Link

[14] In the 38th post, we saw how kings sacrificed their sons for gods. Link

[15] Link to the 20th post

[16] Link

[17] Link

[18] On the other hand, living in a big society and being apart from it can increase the stress level.

[19] We discussed the religious brotherhood and sisterhood has a deep totemic root that those who belonged to the same totem weren’t allowed to marry each other, thus they were totemic brothers and sisters. Link

[20] In the 6th post, we discussed that happy hormones inhibit the fear and stress terminals, so happiness is nothing but feeling a little or no stress. Link

[21] Link to the 3rd post

[22] We will discuss the concept of inversely proportional variables in mathematics. In a nutshell, when one variable increases, the other will decrease and vice versa.

[23] We discussed the freeze reaction in the 10th post. Link

[24] Brain has to shut down because first of all, it is using the energy that the muscles need to fight or run away, secondly, its slow processing can be dangerous in a deadly situation. This system has evolved for maybe a million years and right now that our problems turned to be more mental, our brain still uses the default setup.

[25] Link

[26] Link

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