Religion And Religious Belief
Kevin Saldanha

Deep, fervent and determined belief in an all-powerful creator who presides over people and nature is common and pervasive throughout thought and culture.

But God does not exist. Allah does not exist. Nor do any Hindu gods. Nor do all the rest of gods and religious beliefs invented solely by and for the human mind.

So why are people compelled towards religion and religious belief?

Out of their heads

Religion taps into the two most powerful aspects of the human psyche – fantasy and egotism.

Religion is a way to project all kinds of feelings onto a thing – a vague ‘being’. At all times, this is merely an approximate construction, a device that exists solely to serve the human mind and emotion.

This device holds great power for homo sapiens sapiens. This is because it is all about something that does not exist – something that is never tested by reality. So we have a thing generated and sustained by the considerable power of pure fantasy.

The mind can run away with unchallenged thoughts of a flawless infinite being, with infinite wisdom, with perfect and unfailing love. These are thoughts that most humans have such a desperate, deep-rooted need to establish, that gods, and the stories and rituals that go with them, are invented.

(And what of Buddhism? It is all about the self – it is a purely selfish act to pursue Buddhism. Buddhism is merely all about the pursuit of ‘me’. Typical of humans to invent Buddhism to satisfy obsession with the self.)

The egotism of immortality

Thoughts of a heaven, a paradise etc do no more than satisfy the human ego – the sheer egotism of being observed by an all powerful being who selects one for immortality.

Human ego and human fears simply will not put up with the finality of death – hence the soothing, ego-led delusion of religious belief in immortality.

No one goes to heaven or paradise when they die. The bio-electrical, bio-physical and bio-chemical activity in their heart, brain, body, mind etc cease to function and they soon become decaying flesh, blood and bone. No noble spirit lives on – that is merely ego-led fantasy.

Merely a place for deep-rooted feelings

When people speak of ‘Allah’ or ‘Lord God’, ‘Him’, ‘Jesus died for us’, ‘Lord of Lords’, ‘God loves us’, ‘Jesus is Our Path To the Lord’ etc – all they are doing is tapping into to deep, primeval feelings about a powerful, flawless, wise, parent-figure, filled with unconditional love.

This is one of the core driving forces behind religious belief – the deep emotions it taps into: being loved, being noticed, knowing of someone who has made a great sacrifice for one, being cared for, being special, getting attention – the list is a long one.

Evangelical fervour and fundamentalism are striking examples of how people behave when they tap into these emotions then project them onto a notion elsewhere in their minds. They experience powerful (but time-limited) comfort. They numb their own pain.

So religion enables access to deep emotions that remain unchecked by reality – because they are projected wholesale onto a target that is anchored in a vague fantasy about something somewhere.

Believers undoubtedly feel good when they read or say to themselves and to others – ‘Jesus will take you to the Lord’ or ‘Jesus died because of his love for you’ or the endless permutations of such notions – vague, soft, fluffy, amorphous and nebulous concepts that help them access warm self-comforting feelings.

For some, the iconic mental picture of a suffering Jesus is merely a device they use to try to deal with their own feelings about suffering in their own lives. A man called Jesus might have existed and he might have suffered – but he was not the ‘Son of God’ – because there is no such thing as God.

Religion excuses psychopathic tendencies in humans

Religion is not and never has been the cause of war or atrocity by people – it is just a place, a constructed thing, where the psychopathology of people is put as they commit acts of violence and build notions of tribal identity.

The attacks on the twin towers were committed by deeply unhappy, dissatisfied, envious, people whose lives had become a bleak dead end. Lives that were to some extent even bleaker because so much of their time and energy had been spent believing in something that does not exist (Allah in this case). They egotistically and selfishly believed they were entering Paradise. They did not enter Paradise – their lives simply ended and they will never again exist.

Religion becomes the culturally embedded excuse for other – everyday – acts of human psychopathology. How convenient that the psychopathic act of slitting a live animal’s throat becomes enshrined in the Halal slaughter – where it can never be challenged, where it becomes too sensitive to criticise and beyond reproach. There is a South American ritual whereby a live bull is tied to a post and its head is hacked off – once again, human psychopathic behaviour is protected within the untouchable cloak of ‘belief’. How convenient for the psychopathic men who created this religious ritual.

Sharia law, the Fatwa and the Jehad are examples of how relentless human egotism, aggression and psychopathic tendencies – all of which pre-date any religion – become enmeshed within human culture, so that people have a cultural fabrication in which murderous, hostile and controlling behaviour may go on thriving and being excused century upon century.

Want to have multiple wives and children – and do so with pathological, utterly irresponsible indiscrimination? Wish to dupe people out of their savings and property? Then invent Mormonism.

Religion and obsessive behaviour

Religion also satisfies human kind’s love of ritual, duty and repeated detail – all religions have stories, prayers, specialised vocabulary, texts, songs, solemn ritual, specialised behaviour, specific acts, specialised dress, hierarchies, special names, grand titles, duties and so on associated with them.

These all have to be mastered, repeated and repeated (then repeated) and used very carefully – these are merely constructions to satisfy the same human obsessional mental quirks, pattern seeking and loops of thought that lead to train spotting and egg collecting.

Religion and identity

Some so-called ‘spiritual’ people, believers in Allah, God or who ever, become enraged when their beliefs are questioned. Why is this? It is because their whole sense of identity (individual and tribal) has become fused with their beliefs and their daily rituals. To doubt their beliefs is to dismiss them and their tribe. So they become angry and aggressive. Once again, the human ego is never far away. It, after all, is real while Allah, God or whoever is not.

Religious belief is facile

Humans have always seen a causal link between real events and beings who ‘exist’ solely as fantasy. They have always felt the need to appeal to an all powerful being. Hence gods and cults of the sun, fertility, the sea, childbirth, the weather and so on.

Rational theory and investigation are much harder work. Science has gained strength only later in history, and cannot easily displace superstitious instincts and beliefs about causality long since fused with culture and sense of identity.

Egyptian and Roman gods have faded from human culture only to be succeeded by cults based on much the same levels of facile belief in supernatural beings. History shows that these recurring patterns of human thought are always served by successive invented systems of irrational belief and self-comfort.

Believing in God or Allah is easy – it’s an even easier option with the relentless parental and peer pressures so often applied.

Understanding physics, evolution, cosmology etc is often more challenging and, equally, it is more humbling of both the individual and collective ego (as will increasing understanding of brain function, neurological structure and evolutionary biology, which will at last help explain aspects of religion both discussed and not discussed here).

Which do the majority of people choose – religion or rational thought?

Most embrace the facile and less challenging of these two – the one that vaguely satisfies unresolved basic emotional needs, the one that excuses hostile and controlling behaviour, the one that satisfies egotistical fantasies about immortality, the one that serves as a device of self-comfort and emotional analgesic.

No one needs religion

To lead a life of integrity, honesty, generosity, kindness and care, does not depend upon belief in God, Allah or any in other human superstition.

Nor does it require ‘spirituality’ or a job for life paid for by church, synagogue, monastery or mosque. Nor does one need to pray to stone statues or mumble towards a lump of rock in the East.

People merely need to embrace rational thought and freethinking. They merely need to endeavour, as humble humans, to lead a life of integrity, honesty, generosity, kindness and care.

Some Commandments of Religion and Religious Belief

  1. Feeling somewhat lost? – then comfort yourself by resorting to mumbo-jumbo and manifest falsity.
  2. Conduct your life as others say – thinking and acting independently is just that bit harder.
  3. Waste a large proportion of all the spare time and energy in your life on worship, prayer, ritual, ceremony, supporting the livelihoods of fraudsters and conmen, and on believing in something that doesn’t exist.
  4. Believe in what others insist must dominate your thought processes – because of their own hidden agendas, personal psychological problems or erroneous convictions.
  5. Give up hard earned savings and property to greedy, manipulative strangers.
  6. Lavish praise on so-called ‘prophets’, ‘holy men’, ‘spiritual leaders’, ‘priests’, ‘mullahs’, ‘rabbis’, and so on (or alternatively, that should perhaps be ‘glorify the misguided’ or maybe occasionally ‘lavish praise on narcissistic, sly, manipulative liars’?)
  7. Believe that you will live forever – well, why not give free reign to sheer egotism about immortality of the self.
  8. Insist that it is solely your religion and its texts that have veracity against all others – after all, why not combine your ego with your crude tribal instincts while you’re at it.
  9. Covet the minds of all who don’t share your belief – you want to control them and you secretly both despise and envy their independent, rational thinking.
  10. As you encounter sound challenges to your belief system and discover internal incoherencies, merely shift your ground so as to make things fit – maintain that falsehood.
  11. Fill the minds of children with your superstitious belief system well before they are independent both emotionally and intellectually.

© 2001

Essays on related topics...

Title Author
Is Morality Linked To Religion? Thomas Ash
Evangelical Atheism: Leading Believers Astray Dan Barker [off site]
What Is A Freethinker? Dan Barker [off site]
Is Science A Religion? Richard Dawkins [off site]
Could We Survive Our Own Deaths? Anthony Flew [off site]
The Presumption of Atheism Anthony Flew [off site]
Theology and Falsification Anthony Flew [off site]
Friendly Atheism? Michael Martin [off site]
Atheism, Christian Theism and Rape Michael Martin [off site]
Religion And Religious Belief Kevin Saldanha

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