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View Diary: New Paper Gives Insight Into How Religion Developed (165 comments)

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  •  nope, you have it backward. (1+ / 0-)
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    It's not unreasonable to derive a deity from "sky phenomena" such as lightning and thunder, not to mention rain, snow, winds, clouds, and so on, and of course the Sun itself and the Moon and stars in the night sky.  

    But how else, aside from extraordinary experiences, would humans have come to the idea that some component of a person might continue its existence in a realm that's invisible to normal experience?  A dead person is a dead person: the causes of death in many cases include obvious and visible damage to the body; and after death the body is inert and rapidly decomposes.  Those elements, by themselves, would lead anyone to believe that the totality of the person's existence came to an end at that point.

    The only way you end up with any idea of a hereafter, is through subjective experiences of its elements (by which I also include hearing of such experiences from others).   For example dreams of being with one's deceased family and friends; NDEs where one also interacts with deceased family and friends; and the element of the NDE where one feels oneself to be in the presence of a deity.   These subjectively-accessed "worlds" or "realms" have a place-like quality to them, providing the impression of "persons in a place" that one has visited.

    (quoted from another posting of mine elsewhere in this diary)

    •  You're defining what counts as (0+ / 0-)

      "subjective" far too broadly here and therefore begging the question:

      The only way you end up with any idea of a hereafter, is through subjective experiences of its elements (by which I also include hearing of such experiences from others).

      What we learn from others is not the "subjective" but the social.  While I have no doubt that some portion of the population has ecstatic religious experiences, I don't see such experiences as being a necessary component for belief at all.  One can have them, one can just as easily not have them.  They are secondary to religious belief as such.  Rather, from the earliest years children are introduced to religious belief through what they hear from others, especially their parents, ritual, and a host of other social agencies.  Kids believe what they are told (why wouldn't they?) and parents tell kids things to either scare the daylights out of them so they'll be obedient or to shield them from uncomfortable things.  These stories take on a life of their own in history and come to be thought of as real rather than as just stories.

      Much of this teaching also leads to the genesis or production of forms of affectivity or emotional states that come to retroactively be codified as religious.  In other words, it's not that we first have the subjective religious experience and then come to find religious practices, narratives, myths, etc., as plausible.  Rather, it is that we are first exposed to a whole host of social rituals and practices that produce forms of emotional states that are then coded as religious.  

      There is little difference, for example, between the sort of merging with the crowd one feels at a rock concert when dancing wildly and a sort of mystical union one feels with god in a very animated and fervent religious celebration.  Someone else made exactly this point with respect to their born again experiences in their fundamentalist church as they were growing up.  She noted that when she was among the flock she felt these things but when she was apart she did not.  This speaks to the social nature of these experiences.  Additionally, there is a coercive nature to these things as well.  People are encouraged to experience certain things and gain status within their religious community if they do.  A firm grounding in the social sciences and in psychology leads one to a very different understanding of what's going on in these settings.

      •  social and subjective (0+ / 0-)

        What one hears from others is social, but if one hears from someone else that they have had an experience of some kind, then for the latter person the experience is subjective.  The origin of what one hears from the other person is a subjective experience.

        One can acquire religious belief purely as a social phenomenon, just as with any other belief, but there needs to be some internal template (regardless of its source) that either matches or at least does not differ radically from what one is being told; otherwise one or the other will tend to be discarded.

        As for what "we" are exposed to, that varies from one person to another.  Someone who is not exposed to a given belief system or worldview in childhood may acquire it later in life.  Think of college students and Marxism for example.

        The ecstatic experience at the concert, and the ecstatic experience in a religious celebration, are both socially reinforced forms of "deeply felt meaning in relation to something larger than self," which in turn appears to be mediated by the temporal lobes (Persinger, numerous papers in Perception and Motor Skills) (BTW, I have quite a firm grounding in cog sci and related areas).   One can have similar experiences wholly in solitude, that may be more or less filtered through one's learned (social) beliefs and expectations.

        The member of the religious group to whom you refer (I read her posting too) is one type of example.  Personally I'm quite the opposite: I tend to experience things in solitude that are not accessible to me in group contexts.  Huxley describes these characteristics in The Perennial Philosophy, where he differentiates between devotional and contemplative personalities.  

        Though, I will certainly admit to a degree of bias here, from the perspective of a contemplative type for whom the idea of believing anything just because others happen to believe it (and not being aware that this is going on), is almost unfathomable except in the abstract.  

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