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Why Is Religion So Enthralling? Also Known As My Summer Research Project


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I know that strictly speaking this isn't a case of Religion v Science, more a Science of Religion kind of thing.


But I digress. I got curious about why religion's such an appealing thing for us mere mortals and why it's so hard to leave the institution permanently. The result was my new summer project. At this stage I've picked up a few topics for research:



God's identity

How much does the 'face' of the Good Lord impact what we believe? Technically speaking every monotheistic religion is the same, but it's the human elements of the magic bearded man in the sky.


Attitude Polarisation

How beliefs are strengthened by arguing with non-believers or by associating with other believers.


Neural compatibility

I stumbled on something published by a guy called Andrew Newberg. What he said was that human's minds are geared for something like religion, designed for self-maintenance and self-transcendence, both of which are satisfied by religion.


Fear of the unknown

What if I'm wrong to leave? I want to find out how much the fear of hell and the claim that "you can't disprove this" are what really keeps people in line. I'm not too sure I can find a whole lot of honest information here, but it can't hurt to look.


Religious experience

This is another interesting one. What is a religious experience and what kind of impact does that have on the believer? How do they work? It's a basic rule of philosophy that they can't be used to prove God's existence as they're so subjective.


A few self-imposed rules:

*These are only my initial areas for research and can be added to or taken away from (unlike the book of Revelation).

*My conclusions will, of course, be posted here. I'm also keeping a log of what I find and my attempts to reason with myself. If you want a copy of that, PM me but don't complain if you find it too waffly.

*If you see/know anything that you think you can add to my compilation, by all means go ahead.


With that in mind, here's what I have on neural compatibility.

It was here that I came across Newberg's claims that our minds are geared for 2 things:


1) Self-maintenance

2) Self-transcendence/transformation


Since our good friend the neurologist didn't expand on these, I thought I'd look into what he meant.


Here I came briefly across the point that self-maintenance is a necessity of life. On a biological level, we need to repair ourselves to survive. If a blood vessel bursts, the body can repair it in reasonably short order, and I didn't know that we get a new liver every few months.


It follows that on a conscious level, we work in a similar way. In a journal called Journal of Religion and Science, an anthropologist named Ward Goodenough (which is honestly a pretty cool name) sets out three facets to human existence:

  1. The need to interact meaningfully with our environment and with the things we have.

  2. Humans are social animals who rely on each other for any kind of success, but this is particularly the case in emotional well-being.

  3. We like to use symbols.

In a society, we gain experiences through our own observations and through those around us. Environments are always changing and it's in our best interests to change with it: after all, you behave differently around your parents/grandparents to the way you behave around one group of friends. This is where that self-maintenance stuff comes in again, improving yourself based on your surroundings.


Organised religion works in a similar way. For a jew, observing the law gives them something to constantly refer back to. For a Christian, it's through the law that they recognise their sins. After recognising their shortcomings, they admit their sins to Jebus and basically work on becoming better people for it.


Even the courts recognise this: if someone pleads guilty, they get a reduced sentence as an incentive to save the court the time of a trial, and it identifies the person has done wrong, which theoretically gets them on the road to recovery (at any rate, you can't fix a problem without admitting its presence).


So long story short, the process of trying to make sure you're right with God and the conventions that entails both play on the same transformative nature of the human mind that it requires to survive.


At any rate, that's the way I see it. For now I'm off to look for more journal articles, sciency sites etc to look at the transformative side of the human mind. Of course, until then I'm happy to be proven wrong.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Religion is enthralling because you can know everything worth knowing about the subject without reading a single word about it.


Because you get to belong to a club with over a billion people in it and make friends locally just by attending church.


You also get an invisible friend who if you pray to him will look after you and help you when you need it (not really).

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