The evolution of the human brain has produced complex creatures, part rational and part metaphysical. When I think of rational side of humanity I think of scientists, people like Galileo, Newton, Curie, Darwin and Einstein. When I think of the metaphysical side I think of religionists, people like Buddha, John Calvin, Pope Pius XII, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard and Pat Robertson.
This dichotomy occurred to me when I read a very interesting post by Duane Graham wherein he discusses a recent religious diatribe against the President in a public setting. The attacker was convinced that Obama is the Antichrist and that his election heralds that Armageddon is coming soon. In Duane’s post is embedded an interesting commentary by MSNBC’s Lawrence Odonnell about it. I submit that the extremism of religiosity being displayed by the right in politics makes this sort of thing important reading for all of us.
Isn’t it interesting that someone in the twenty-first century, with all that is known about science and history, can still believe in such nonsense? I find it so, although I was not surprised to read about it because of all the other nuttiness that has gone on in the name of spiritualism, things like the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide in which 918 people, including 270 children, perished. Then there was the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide in 1997 in which 39 people allowed themselves to be convinced that a UFO was coming to pick them up and that they needed to destroy their mortal bodies in order to get their souls on board.
How can this human behavior be explained? Personally, I buy the theory put forth by Matthew Alper in his book, The “God” Part of the Brain. His premise is put forth in part thusly:
How else are we to explain the fact that all human cultures – no matter how isolated – have maintained a belief in some form of a spiritual/transcendental reality, in a god or gods, a soul, as well as an afterlife? How else are we to explain the fact that every human culture has built houses of worship through which to pray to such unseen forces? Or that every known culture has buried (or at least disposed of) its dead with a rite that anticipates sending the deceased person’s “spiritual” component, or what we call a soul, onward to some next plane, or what we call an afterlife? Wouldn’t the universality with which such perceptions and behaviors are exhibited among our species suggest that we might be “hard-wired” this way? How about the fact that every known culture has related undergoing what we refer to as spiritual experiences? Perhaps we are “hard-wired” to experience such sentiments as well. Just as all honeybees are compelled to construct hexagonally shaped hives, perhaps humans are compelled to perceive a spiritual reality…as a reflex, an instinct.
Here lies the origin of humankind’s spiritual function, an evolutionary adaptation that compels our species to believe that though our physical bodies will one day perish, our “spirits” or “souls” will persist for all eternity. Only once our species was instilled with this inherent (mis)perception that there is something more “out there,” that we are immortal beings, were we able to survive our debilitating awareness of death.
If you have trouble buying into Alper’s concept, please check out Wikipedia’s partial list of religions. I count 40 major categories of them and there are hundreds of subdivisions under those.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said,
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
I think F. Scott got it wrong. I think holding two opposing ideas at once is something most people do every day, or at least every Sunday. It has little to do with first-rate intelligence and everything to do with evolution. I mean, just look at how little time we modern humans have been around. Using 25 years for a generation (that’s what Ancestry.com uses), Homo sapiens has been a species for only 7,600 generations, has used written language for only 240 generations, and has had useful powered machines for only 12 generations. (The dinosaurs, in comparison, ruled the earth for 2,400,000 generations – or they would have if there had been humans to have generations then.)
If you still don’t agree with me, try reading up on the Texas Education Board and their selection of textbooks.