The Positive Side of Religion: An Atheist’s Perspective
I am an atheist. Arguably an outspoken one, well at least I used to be during the first year or so with this exceptional philosophical discovery (as I may have vaguely thought of it as). Although I still am one, recent readings and events have drastically changed my perspective of religion.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t believe in a god as a physical and material living being, but I’ve concluded that there is more behind it than just some imaginary being(s) only ignorant people can believe in.
Scientists, who are not a part of the new atheism movement, like the anthropologists Scott Atran and Joe Henrich found similar, but yet very different explanations of how the god concept came to place compared to the new atheist researchers.
From ‘The Righteous Mind’ — Jonathan Haidt
(Chapter: Religion Is A Team Sport):
“Like the New Atheists, their story has two steps, and the first step is the same: a diverse set of cognitive modules and abilities (including the hypersensitive agency detector) evolved as adaptions to solve a variety of problems, but they often misfired, producing beliefs (such as supernatural agents) that then contributed (as by-products) to the earliest quasi-religious behaviors. These modules were all in place by the time humans began leaving Africa more than 50,000 years ago. As with the New Atheists, this first step was followed by a second step involving cultural (not genetic) evolution. But instead of talking about religions as parasitic memes evolving for their own benefit, Atran and Henrich suggests that religions are sets of cultural innovations that spread to the extent that they make groups more cohesive and cooperative. Atran and Henrich argue that the cultural evolution of religion has been driven largely by competition among groups. Groups that were able to put their by-product gods to some use has an advantage over groups that failed to do so, and so their ideas (not their genes) spread. Groups with less effective religions didn’t necessarily get wiped out; often they just adopted to more effective variations. So it’s really the religion that evolved, not the people or their genes.”
I thought over this page for a while, and a few weeks ago (early February 2017), when I went to the Junior High School I used to go to back in the days, I originally went there to watch a musical, but after that, it was held a Christian social event in the same building, so, out of curiosity, I participated, both for the reasons of observing this behavior in practice, and to meet some old friends from the school.
As they started singing and having speeches and prayers and all that, it wasn’t difficult to understand what was going on from the perspective of what I had read, from this page and other principles of moral psychology.
As I tried to understand the meaning behind this, I immediately felt that there were connections in the room, not physical or material, but more like something which activated high oxytocin levels in my brain, and I could also tell that there were highly possible to get the mirror neurons in use there as well. It was the ethic of community and ethic of divinity in perfect harmony; directing everything, all problems and concerns, to what they call God.
Homo sapiens are really more like Homo duplex; we are most often thinking selfishly, but in certain scenerios we reject ourselves and become part of a bigger entity as a groupish or hivish (like bees) behavior per say. And this was exactly what I perceived was in place here. I felt less needy of myself, and more like a part of something bigger like this. I myself tried to only observe what was going on, but when I first understood it, it was difficult to not get absorbed within it.
Christianity is a moral matrix based on the ethics of community and divinity and mostly the moral foundations Care, Authority(God) and Sanctity (Rules and sins in the bible), while Atheism’s moral matrix is more based more on the ethic of autonomy, criticizing the ethic of divinity and has mostly the moral foundations of Liberty(Being freed from “ignorance” and come to terms with reason) and slight use of Care.
There is bound to be conflict between these groups due to their positions on the ethic of divinity, but there is some things that it seems atheists (Including me before I read The Righteous Mind) don’t seem to get about Christianity and religion in general, which is that atheists believe that the model of religious thinking is (Believing → Doing), which means that what religious people do is solely based on what they believe, but there is another model which seems more accurate, and makes it a lot easier to grasp the concept of religion and why people would follow it. The model of that is (Believing, Belonging and Doing) which connects to each other inseperably. One could believe and do something for the sake of belief, but not many would do it without a sense of belonging. Believing is certainly an important part of religion, I won’t deny that, but to understand how religion culturally evolved, it’s better to look at the belonging part, and how that was the positive part of religion which evolved culturally among groups for their benefit.
I will try to make an anology for the model of (Believing, Belonging and Doing):
Christian belief is commonly based on the Trinity; God, Jesus and the holy spirit. And if I apply the model of religious thinking to this, it’s incredibly well fit. God: Believing, Jesus: Doing (Christians often set examples of what Jesus has done to what they should do themselves. E.g. “What would Jesus do”), and The Holy Spirit: Belonging (The feeling among believers, works best when they are gathered in a group, but they can also feel the belonging part when they’re not among other members.)).
With this will I conclude that I still don’t believe in a physical god, but that it’s more like in the metaphorical sense. A moral matrix people have common ground in to get better along and more cooperative, an emotion spread like virus among people which effectively triggers the oxytocin hormone which is, by the error of the cognitive module, perceived and interpreted as feelings sent by a divine being, which combines the ethic of divinity and ethic of community ultimately which gets easier rid of free riders in a group and more people willing to work together for the group.