In life I am consumed with a lot of “why” questions. One of the biggest whys I think of is “why was religion created.” There are reasons and origins for everything in life, and our sacred texts are no different. Anthropologists and theologians have come up with many different theories for why people created religion. Two of the major reasons for the creation of religion are psychological and sociological. These two schools are different and tend to stand strong to their respective beliefs. I believe these two schools of thought are both correct, I just think psychological is the foundation of religion and sociological is build upon it. I will admit there are times I think sociological reasons come first, but I just can’t move past the powerful human psyche and our need to explain the unexplainable.

Sociological theories are rooted in the belief that religion was created not out of a psychological need, but for sociological purposes. This theory says that society creates beliefs to form the moral force of the human community. All sacred objects, beliefs, acts, and the intense emotions surrounding them, are outward expressions of inward social necessities. We can assume people would agree that murder is bad. Those in power will use whatever is necessary to explain why we should refrain from murder. The sociological theories state because the social necessity to keep everyone safe from murder; religion then creates laws against such actions. For example there are small villages in South America where they believe if you commit murder the soul of the murdered will haunt the murderer for eternity. For these tribes this is how they explain why murder is bad, and gives consequences if you break this community law. My argument is first there would have had to been the concept of the haunting soul before said soul could haunt. These types of ingrained beliefs do not just start overnight they take time to develop.

The psychological theory says that people created religion to fill a psychological need. One of the psychological schools of thought is the anxiety-reduction theories, which I believe is the root for why religion was created. There are two theories in particular I find interesting. The first is the awe theory. The awe theory says religious experience is in the nature of the case touched with intense feelings of the grandeur of the universe in relation to the self and of the vulnerability of the self in relation to the universe. This theory does very little to address the human morality concerns and instead try’s to make us seem significant in such a vast landscape. I think when people contemplate the vastness of the universe we are left with feeling very small and insignificant. Because of our massive egos we need to find justifications for why we are special. There are so many things we cannot begin to understand so we create a higher being that is responsible for such a mind boggling concept.

I do like the awe theory, but feel the confidence theory holds more weight. The confidence theory begins with a notion of mans inward sense of weakness, and especially of his fears of disease or death, of ill fortunes of all kinds and they see religious practices as designed to quiet such fears, either by explaining them away as doctrines of the afterlife, or by claiming to link the individual to external sources of strength as in prayer. I know from experience this theory holds the most weight. I have searched my entire life to find the answers to such fears. I have always said the fear of death and the unknown is at its very core the reason we create and adhere to such beliefs. I wonder how many people would seek salvation for their souls if they were not taught the alternative is to burn in eternal damnation. If we were raised in a society that taught once your journey in this body was complete then you just ceased to exist. If we were able to accept our morality would there be any need for God?  

In my opinion it is the chicken or the egg question. I do not think societal norms created religion, rather religion created the societal norms. Once the belief system is established the people fall in line with the doctrine from which they choose to follow. To prove this point one only needs to look at the Bible. First came God then came His laws.

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Comments
  1. I’m currently reading Robert Wright’s “Evolution of God”. In Wright’s opinion, religion was developed for two reasons: 1) To explain why bad things happen and 2) To supply meaning in a meaningless world. Once religion was institutionalized, it became the chief means the ruling class has used to keep the rabble in line.

  2. johanna says:

    If God and religion are all man-made constructs and there is nothing after this life, then why bother? I think I would have killed myself long ago.

    • Tim Lundmark says:

      Johanna,

      I think we bother because it is one of our duties to our fellow man to do everything we can to put our own personal stamp on life. We are all hear to make a difference to mankind, and the enjoyable part is trying to figure out what that is. There is still hope and meaning in a godless world.

    • Johanna,
      I would turn your question around. If there IS an afterlife, then why bother with THIS one?

  3. johanna says:

    Dear Taoist, I guess I bother with this one because of what Tim said. I do believe we are all here for a reason.

  4. It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at why
    their is a problem in the first place

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