Psychology on the Origins of Religion

Before I begin to discuss the possible origins of religion, I feel it best to start with a few remarks, as to assure people of what I am trying to accomplish in this blog post. The first would be to underline a word in the previous sentence: possible. These are only theories and should be treated as such. Needless to say, these theories don’t have the same weight under them as something like the ‘theory’ of gravity, but are nonetheless interesting to ponder. The second disclaimer is to assure readers that this post is not an overt attack on religious people. I am no friend to religious ideology, and my views are obvious to those who know me. Still, to attack religion unprovoked doesn’t sit well with me, as I try to only show my contempt for ideas when pushed into a corner. Paul Bloom claims that studying why people are religious is axiomatically seen as a threat to those who are religious, and I hope those who see this post aren’t subject to the same misunderstanding. The fact of the existence of a deity, and how we’ve come to belief specific religious doctrines is in some sense a non sequitur. With that said, I’d like to grace across these possibilities with the theories of the father of psychoanalysis, a capitalist theorist, and the founder of Skeptic Magazine.

Sigmund Freudfreud

The father of the field of Psychoanalysis, this Viennese psychology posited that religion is a byproduct of our evolutionary instinct to fear death. He acknowledged the inescapable correlation between our species fear of death and our religious doctrines that include a concept of an afterlife. Since no man can escape death, we’ve come to belief that death itself is an illusion, which can be seen as consoling. Hence beliefs about an afterlife. I realize that not all religions suspect an afterlife, but enough do so in order to make the point valid.


Karl MarxMarx_Karl-Marx

When discussing Karl Marx’s Views on religion many will be incredibly lazy in digging up what he said in his critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and only supplement his view in a single sentence. ”Religion is the opium of the people.” The words are his own, but put in context, it’s clear he viewed religion as our way of acknowledging the inequities of the world, and additionally our protest against them. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of a spiritless situation.. it is the opium of the people.” So he compared it to medicine that humans needed in order to be happy.

Michael Shermeruntitled

Mr. Shemer sees religion as a social invention, with a keen interest in keeping people behaving morally. Take the crime of murder for example. Imagine yourself in the Indus River Valley, one of homo sapiens first real civilizations. Now imagine yourself as a government official, tasked with keeping order in a chaotic world. You are deprived of the technologies of DNA testing, fingerprinting, or any other criminal justice technique which will only be discovered in future civilizations. So solving murder on your own might be challenging. What can you do, besides educate people on religion? Tell them that there’s an all-powerful being, that watches everything you do and knows your thought. AND his views happen to line up with whatever political regime is in place. AND that if you do follow the orders of this deity to the letter, you will be rewarded handsomely. Law breakers, of course, will be sent to an eternity of punishment. What keeps people in line more than a Big Brother? It seems that Eric Blair owes ancient civilizations some royalty checks.

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