[Paleopsych] religion

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Fri Feb 25 03:12:08 UTC 2005

A few comments . . .

Michael Christopher wrote:

>Lynn says:
>>>Religion is clearly an adaptive force.<< 
>--Probably true. But what makes it so? The ability to
>feel certain, to override doubt, to avoid the
>paralysis of indecision? The feeling of being part of
>a group dedicated to a common goal? I'm sure both
>would change the biochemical habits of the brains
The piece about being in a group is very important, that shows up in 
some studies as vital. When we meet face-to-face each week, there is 
something intrinsic about that which gives a sense of belonging and 
security and confidence in the future. The group is with you.

Prayer and an internal spiritual life (or, meditation in Buddhism) helps 
a great deal. Adherents "see answers to prayers" and there is a positive 
loop established which gives one a sense of mastery of diffuse forces, 
as well as a way of feeling attuned to outcomes one doesn't like (see 
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.)

A religion that emphasizes peace, forgiveness, and compassion has some 
vital pieces, namely raising immune markers, DHEA, lowering cortisol, 
etc. There are large-scale studies on forgiveness, for example, which 
demonstrate powerful pro-health benefits.

>I'm not sure I'd classify an isolated mystic in the
>same category as a "team player" whose religion is
>deeply enmeshed with group morality and conformity.
The conformity piece is probably over-emphasized by people who haven't 
been a sustaining part of a faith-based community. That is something 
that most adherents do not experience as an issue.

>They may both have a religious belief, but their
>behavior may be vastly different. Can patriotism be
>considered a kind of religion, with a flag as its
>deity and military/economic/social/religious
>authorities as prophets? 
Likely, good point. But patriotism doesn't have the face-to-face weekly 
group experience that a faith community typically does. It is more 
removed, and it is less of a personal challenge. In faith communities 
one strives to conform one's behavior, NOT BECAUSE OF CONFORMITY, 
please, but because of an over-riding vision of what a "good life" 
consists of.

>Some have called Soviet-style
>Communism a "religion". 
Yes, but detrimental to people, there is no question of that. No 
emphasis on individual accountability, on compassion, forgiveness, peace 
. . . it was / is an "evil empire" in every sense.

>For dictionary purposes,
>religion may involve a deity, invisible forces and so
>on, but we've seen that the religious FEELING, the
>behavior attached to faith, can be found in groups
>lacking a deity but using some "sacred" symbol as its
Ummm??? For example? Flag? I am patriotic and religious, and the two are 
very different experiences.

>Is religion inherently "politically correct", based on
>conformity to one belief? Does it lose its power when
>free inquiry and interpretation are encouraged? Or is
>belief only a flag added to an already moving force,
>the synchronization of bodies, beneath the level of
Look at a site like Adherents.com and notice the dialog. Conformity is 
never the key, and inquiry and interpretation are ubiquitous. Belief, 
not conformity is the common element.  There are old saws about get two 
Jews together and you get three opinions. Mormons are the same way. The 
internal, mental life of a believer is active and vital, and there is 
much soul searching and deep reflection. Within religious groups there 
is much diversity.

>For anthropological purposes, it might make some sense
>to classify religious and nonreligious groups by the
>particular forms of entrainment, role modeling, and
>conformity enforcement found in them. Under that kind
>of classification, a religious group that is very
>diverse and individualistic would be qualitatively
>different from a religious group that enforces
>conformity and engages in "spiritual battle" against
>impurity. An atheist group which does the latter would
>be classified with the religious group, while an
>atheist group populated by diversity generators would
>be grouped with liberal religious groups. This might
>undermine the traditional "religious vs. nonreligious"
>polarity, but it makes more sense to me from a
>behavioral standpoint. Any thoughts?
>>>BTW, I don't want to hear arguments that religion is
>behind most wars. That is a pretty tired argument that
>was thoroughly debunked by the 20th Century.<<
>--No doubt, religious belief isn't necessary in order
>for a group to see another group as evil and worthy of
>extermination. It might help a little, however, if you
>believe your group is endorsed by a deity who hates
>your enemy as much as you do. But, as I mentioned,
>that deity can be replaced by the spirit of the group,
>if that spirit is unquestioned and has its own
>momentum. Perhaps that's what a deity really is, the
>hidden face of the power of the group.
Well, that lacks the therapeutic qualities of group interaction, faith, 
compassion  . . .

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