Have you ever wondered why humans feel such a need for religion? Let’s consider five of the biggest reasons below.
1) A need to make sense of the world around them
Humans naturally seek out meaning and answers. Consider the myths of how humans gained fire, why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and more. Nearly every human tradition has myths and stories to explain such things in the natural world around us, and many of them include sky deities, powers that can help explain the weather, natural disasters, and more.
Attributing what is otherwise unexplainable to unknown gods is a way to make meaning out of what cannot be otherwise understood, and this is something humans have done from the very beginning of time and continue to do to this day. Just remember this the next time something horrible happens and someone next to you says something like “everything happens for a reason” or “god works in mysterious ways.” And religion is certainly simpler than taking the time to understand science! No wonder nearly half (!) of all Americans believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old.
2) To create community and a sense of belonging
Religion also makes it easier to cope with the world around us because it creates community. Humans, like many other species, are inherently social. That is, we need to be around other people, and when we are not, most humans get depressed or otherwise struggle to function at their peak. Religion as a word may even come from the Latin religare, meaning to bind fast; that is, the community-building function is inherent in all religion. Rituals and story-telling are key parts of religious community-building, just as banishment as a punishment for leaving the tribe is a key part of many religions as well. Of course, you could also develop community by joining a bowling league or some other community-driven hobby…but for most Americans, somewhat regular church attendance works for the same purpose.
3) To find help
An added bonus of that built-in community? Help when you need it. Having a community around you can be a tremendous boon in times of hardship or suffering, and for many, that is one of the biggest draws of religious affiliation.
4) To unify diverse people
“Religion is the opiate of the masses,” said Marx—and with good reason. Small bands of people are more likely to think for themselves; large groups of people brought together by a common belief, such as in religious groups, are far more easily swayed, especially if leadership fluent in the group’s lingo can do a good job of selling it. (Hello, Fox News! Hello, evangelical hypocrites! Hello, “religious right!”) After all, it’s far easier to fight the “other” when you yourself have a clearly defined belief structure given to you by someone else!
5) For order
And lastly, there’s no need to think for yourself, to question what makes a behavior moral or ethical (or keeps it from being moral or ethical) if you can have someone else hand you a system that lays it all out for you. Religion is especially good at this, with provided codes of conduct. (This is true even if most practitioners pick and choose which pieces they feel like believing in; after all, how many Christians do you know that have cut their hand off after masturbating? Yet that’s decreed in their recognized code of conduct, the Bible.)
So remember next time you have a run-in with one of your more religious family members: There are reasons to embrace religion. Kudos to you, though, if you recognize that you don’t need it.