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The origins of human religious behavior,Organized religion & magical thinking:Part IV

By       Message Abbas Sadeghian       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   19 comments

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In dealing with the issue of religion one is always faced with the fact that there is a significant difference between a religion, teachings of it's' prophet, and the organized activity of that religion.

Transformation of social movements to institution

Since any critical reference to a religion is potentially offensive, it is considered good manners to avoid talking about religion or politics. It is quite obvious that if the masses of society do not get involved in political discussions, political activity becomes limited to those with power and money, whom do not necessarily have the best interest of the masses at heart. The same concept applies to organized religion.

One can make the argument that since the religious drive is instinctual, we should leave it to individual members of the society to apply their faith to their lives at their own discretions. However, in reality religions do not function that way and in every religion there is a lot of room for organized religion to gain momentum and power. The potential repressive power of religions could become so strong that it could cause massive and irreversible harm to society. Examples of runaway power of religion can be seen in most corners of the world. However, the grotesque forms of it are seen in countries of the Middle East and Africa. Even in a country as advanced and educated as the USA, a Mormon or a member of a religious cult has a better chance of getting elected to any office than an atheist.

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If we assume that human religious behavior has organic causes, then we can assume that we would not need a church or a mosque to be religious. This is similar to the fact that going to restaurants is a way of eating and having a good time, while we know that we do not need to have restaurants to fulfill our need for food. Humans are as capable of cooking on their own, as they are able to worship on their own. In other words, if we are going to be religious anyway, and the source of the religiosity is within our own brain, why do we have to have prophets, temples, shrines, and the continuous struggle between religion and state?

The source or root of organized religion is almost identical in all religions. Religions usually begin as a movement. They are ideas which stand up against established governments and their accepted faith. They defy wealth, power, and regulations of the organized faith. Although every new religion has a prophet, either the prophet himself, or one of his followers pulls out a sword against the rich and the king and the chief clergy. If they are successful, there will be an Islam or Christianity. If they are not successful, they are usually devoured by bigger religions. With time religions have a tendency to lose their intensity and defiance. Religions become more conservative and turn into an institution. When religions are changed from a movement to institutions, they lose their beauty and the ability to provide assistance to the members. They begin to interfere with affairs of the state. Since they have an insatiable appetite for members and temples; they provoke the kings to use their military might to capture new territories and save new members. Within a short time the concept of "institution of a religion" turns into the "organization of a religion". Gradually, the original revolutionary idea turns into a large organization, which is expensive to run and hard to tame. Throughout the human history there have been many types of organized religion. The power of organized religion is a significant factor in that society. Although, periodically organized religion has had some minor benefits for a society; it is usually a severe drain on the resources of that society. As a rule, the function of a temple is not to be a charity society. The function of a temple is to protect and preserve that given faith. The maintenance expenses of organized religions are probably only second to the expenses of the armed forces of the world. Throughout human history, the best of the human brain and treasures have been wasted on organized religion. The most vivid example of these wasteful behaviors is the murderous practice of making the pyramids of Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of slaves, building a totally useless structure, to make sure that the body of the pharaoh is protected. Considering the fact that grave robbers were able to get to most of these pyramids, speaks volumes about the efficiency of pyramids. Perhaps the only manmade object on planet Earth more useless, and more expensive than the pyramids, is the Sphinx. That odd looking statue was supposed to protect the pyramids. As if pyramids need any protection? Ironically, when it came to the devilish behavior of grave robbers, Sphinx couldn't do anything neither. If the practice of organized religion was limited to making places of worship to gratify the inner drive of religious people, then it would have been reasonably tolerable. However, those buildings, shrines, or temples are utilized to educate clergymen.


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All religions have a group of experts in that religion, whose job is to persuade the followers of that faith to practice certain behaviors and pay their hard, earned money to the temple. This is to ensure that they go to a garden in the skies that has never been seen. In order to be able to sell such a tall tale to millions of people, one cannot be a crook or a charlatan, he must really believe in what he is saying. It is the sincerity in the belief, which causes the followers to take the clergy so serious and to follow their lead. The majority of the clergymen of the world are well educated and intelligent, which makes it very difficult to keep them away from politics. They have been quite successful in imposing theocracy on many countries throughout history. Countries which have lived under theocracy, and tasted the brutal methods employed by religions, have a tendency to be less religious. The highest numbers of atheists in the world are in South Korea and France, about 20 percent. Countries like Italy have more atheists than countries like the U.S. Although, since Renaissance in 15th century, there has been a significant attempt to push the gene of the clergy back to it's' place. They do have a tendency to survive, and modify the faith, in order to adapt to the needs of the time. For example, although it is strongly advised not to modify the writings of the Bible; when referring to creation, we clearly see that a reference to "one day" has been changed to "one period". Before Darwin's teachings of 19th century, all Bibles would refer to days one through seven, as a regular day, from sunrise to sunset. While the Bibles which are printed in the last 50 years, mostly refer to a day, as a period. This minor modification makes it possible to defend the idea of creation, against the scientific facts of evolution.

One of those rare occasions when organized religion has been a source of help, rather than hindrance, is with the case of the Amish community and their vast web of churches. Even though the practice of being Amish is badly primitive, and defies any logic; the existence of the Amish church has protected the Amish people during the last 100 years. The Amish people were terribly mistreated and taken advantage of during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century in Europe and Russia. Their intelligent behavior of immigrating to the United States; buying land and growing crops, was quite effective in getting them out of harms' way. Additionally, the concept of donating the earnings of one

Days' worth of work, a week, to the community fund, has helped them to receive proper medical care; and to build strong enough of a lobby, to not have to go to combat during the war as conscientious objectors. The Amish lifestyle, although very primitive, is quite similar to the socialist system that many intellectuals of the world are striving for.

God's spokesmen:

Unfortunately, the intensity of human emotions regarding their faith is so strong, that it is next to impossible to hold a reasonable discussion regarding people who are referred to as prophets of god. If a person is a little inquisitive, he probably would have a few legitimate questions regarding the issue of prophets of god. The simple question is that, "Why does god need spokesmen, after all, he is the creator of the universe, with such tremendous power and unlimited creativity; why does he need human beings to transfer his message? If we assume that our hypothesis of religion as an innate drive; then the issue of the prophets changes entirely. The prophets would not be god's spokesmen; rather, they are people who think that they are messengers of god. And, they think that there is a problem associated with the mechanism of religiosity, which has caused them to make such grandiose claims. In one case, "Muhammad" the prophet of Islam, I was able to render a diagnosis and provide the support for the notion that he suffered from complex partial seizures. In the case of older prophets, the documentation is sketchy and unreliable. The more recent ones are easier to read, but they do not have such a following, to make it necessary to spend years of research to figure out. However, if we broaden our scope, and look at the common denominator among them; we can see some similarities, which might be able to answer some of our questions. The main prerequisite to be able to claim that one is a prophet, is the ability to perform miracles. Although, the biggest miracle is the fact that there are people who still believe that there is such a thing called a miracle.

What is a miracle?

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Miracles are supposed to be the ability to conduct behaviors that other humans can not do. The prophets can wish things to happen that others can not (turning a staff into a snake). In the case of Muhammad, he claimed that the Quran is his miracle, that no one else could write such an eloquent book. This lays the ground work for Shakespeare (in English), and Firdausi (in Persian), and Garcia Lorca in Spanish, to make similar claims.

(1)The idea of miracles is quite similar to the consepts of magical thinking, in clinical psychology. Magical thinking refers to "causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world, and correlation mistaken for causation"; for example, in most religions there is a belief that religious leaders, prophets, and saints, have a tendency not to decay after they die. Many of these intact bodies could be found in Europe and Asia (Saint Bernadette in France). However, when their bodies are checked properly, we easily detect different embalming methods. Ironically; the bodies of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, who are founders of communism, and are all renound atheists, are totally intact and have been on public display for decades. In the practice of psychology, magical thinking is specifically used in the differential diagnosis of patients that suffer from Schizotypal personality disorder. The other common denominators among prophets are:

(2) Hearing the gods messages, teachings, and orders (auditory hallucinations)

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I was born and raised in Tehran Iran .I came to the U.S in 1976 to study psychology. With time decided to hang my hat here and became a U.S. citizen. My areas of interest in psychology are varied. However I mostly work with stroke patients. I (more...)

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