Instinct to the divine?

Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
An atheist, I have been long aware that I am part of a tiny minority. That most people everywhere believe in some version of the divine, from animist to polytheist to monotheist, to indeed 'New Agers" , who seem to have grabbed anything not claimed by other belief systems,..

My perception is that all human behaviour, especially that of common custom and normative values and beliefs, has a purpose, with its own internal logic.

Martin Luther declared that reason is the enemy of faith. For many of the believers I have known, including myself as a very young man , belief is based on faith, not necessarily on facts. A devout Catholic, at 17 I was an insufferable prig.

Why then is a belief in the divine virtually universal? I have long suspected that a yearning for the divine may be hard wired in human beings. To me, that means an evolutionary development has taken place. That people who believed have been more likely to survive than those who did not.

Why then do people believe, specifically? I think there are many reason, none related to truth; Religions have existed for all of recorded history. Several still existing, are at least as old as Christianity. Egyptian religion, with a priesthood [of Amun] easily as corrupt as Catholicism has ever been, survived for over 3000 years., .


In around 2000, I came across this graffito in Cambridge :" Religion: man's attempt to communicate with the weather" . Pithy, and somewhat true. Many ancient religions (including Egypt and China) placed a huge importance of being able to control the climate, and even the existence of the world. Pretty good reasons.

Humans have always been terrified of extreme weather. Made perfect sense to conclude gods were charge of weather and one could appeal to or even influence them. To this day, most religions still do the same kind of thing through prayer and rituals.

Believing the same thing as one's group, large and small, is an aid to survival; the believer is included ,and protected. (and protects others) Religious beliefs are also a powerful weapon of exclusion. By excluding others they become 'outside and "less than.'Even now, in some extreme tribal societies, that justifies killing them an /or taking what they own. Christianity did exactly that for centuries. Not allowed to any more, which imo is the only reason they have stopped.. A tiny minority of Islamic sects still kills and terrorises in an attempt to impose their extreme views on everyone.

Finally, the biggie, I think; It has been said that we humans are the only species conscious of the inevitability of our own death. The idea terrifies us, and always has.

Belief in the divine helps us deal with our fear of death.

I think that for many people, belief in the divine also gives life a sense of purpose. They cannot cope with the notion of"this all there is". That the purpose of life is itself. I can't say I was especially thrilled to reach that conclusion, but I have come to accept it, and value every day all the more.

These are some of my thoughts on what I consider a basic but important matter. I have not made an attempt towards a complete argument or position..

I look forward some other opinions, although not especially those of religious apologist, who will be ignored. As usual, I will restrain myself from saying anything unkind to such persons. :rolleyes:
 
Jun 2016
1,863
England, 200 yards from Wales
Another suggestion (in some of Steven Pinker's books I think) is that we have evolved a tendency to see pattern or agency behind events, whether it is really there or not. After all if our savannah-dwelling ancestors assumed the moving bush was due to a stalking predator and ran he wouldn't lose much if it was just the breeze doing it, whereas if he assumed it was just due to the wind but it was really a lion.........
So if that tendency is applied to life and existence as a whole, we get an invisible purposive agent behind it.
 
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Jan 2012
429
South Midlands in Britain
It was John Calvin who predicated his `Institutes of the Christian Religion' with the remark that all societies believe in God. A generalisation but largely correct.

This then begs the Joadian question as to what do we mean by God?

The idea of some old geezer with a long white beard sitting up on a cloud surrounded by all the immortal souls of everyone who has ever lived plucking a harp and singing His praises is utterly absurd. Add to that the rigid, controlling, manipulative behaviour of priests endorsed by the old boy Himself then I can understand anyone being an atheist.

I am not an atheist because I come from a Christian tradition that rejects both priests and churches, whilst actively challenging one's own belief almost in a state of permanent revolution. My religion is a case of Scripture and prayer. Psychologically it is very powerful, making me a fairly difficult individual to deal with. To me conscience is everything. My forbears were predominately puritan and many ended up in poverty as a consequence, but two kinsmen achieved profound respect by founding Baptist chapels.

I tend to see God as a statement of a collective positive human conscience. Jesus of Nazareth argued that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us all. There is a good part in everyone and it has to be appealed to, religion can help in that regard. I also see humanity as a collective rather than as a collection of isolated individuals.

I can sit quite comfortably with humanists, accepting we have a similar outlook just a different motivation. I will confess that when some oaf starts telling me what God thinks I begin arguing back even though I might agree with them.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,064
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Divine is already a developed concept, the debate if primitive humans knew a superior divine entity for real is still well alive. Personally I'm with those scholars who think more to a need for spirituality to explain what appeared to be "supernatural": in the mind of a primitive human it wasn't that easy to explain an earthquake, a volcano, but just a simple thunderstorm. Normally we don't see those phenomenons. Animals simply don't mind, they don't wonder about, they live. End of history.

But humans, since we developed the superior thought, tend to explain, we need to explain. Why a God?

The evolution Spiritualism > Polytheism > Monotheism is Western / Islamic based [in that Western I put Christianity and Judaism], in fact, still today the great Monotheist religions are no more than the 57% of the world population. And the others? Hindus are a nice 15% and they are still Polytheist, just to say.

So, more than "divine" I would talk about "supernatural".
 
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Cepheus

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,309
I tend to see God as a statement of a collective positive human conscience. Jesus of Nazareth argued that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us all. There is a good part in everyone and it has to be appealed to, religion can help in that regard. I also see humanity as a collective rather than as a collection of isolated individuals.
So, you are inclined toward structuralism and everyone is just projecting.

Got it.

However, just a heads up, a collective is a collection of individuals who can still be isolated individuals. But you know, I do appreciate the tautology. To wit: isolated individual. Whereas an individual by definition is an isolate. One may have a collective though. And, individuals can form a collective. And, an isolated individual can still be part of a collective.
 
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Cepheus

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,309
Why then do people believe, specifically? I think there are many reason, none related to truth; Religions have existed for all of recorded history. Several still existing, are at least as old as Christianity. Egyptian religion, with a priesthood [of Amun] easily as corrupt as Catholicism has ever been, survived for over 3000 years., .
But, the view of Gods are not the same as they were.

Professor Castor [I paraphrase] distinguished the Ancient view of Gods as deities to be feared and respected. It was more about ritual and keeping the Gods happy so they would bring rain instead of worship as a form of piety for piety's sake.

There was no problem with multiple Gods or for that matter intermarriage between Gods. eg. Ishtar(Akkadian name), aka, Inanna(Sumerian name)

Additionally, the Christian proto-religions begin to transform into a mystical nature which is difficult to even recognize given the roman catholic narrative stamp. eg. Valentinianism



From a lecture by Alexis Castor, The Great Courses: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia
 

Cepheus

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,309
An atheist, I have been long aware that I am part of a tiny minority.
I think the definition of an Atheist would be someone who does not believe in ANY God or Gods.

Technically, one has to believe in Gods as well as God.

And of course, everyone is what I would call a technical atheist in some form or another based on the fact that there are "forms" or concepts of God or religions that they do not believe in.

So, you can see, I have issues with the definition of what an Atheist is. So, I guess the definition is a negative definition because an Atheist will therefore be someone who is not a Theist. However this causes me to ponder. Let me explain.

Additionally, how many people on here believe in Enlil ? He was a God. A Mesopotamian deity.

So, then, no "dead" Gods are allowed ? Makes sense. Who wants to worship a dead God.

So, should the Generally Accepted God (GAG) definition of Non-Atheist should be, someone, who believes in a current version of a God form/concept, who is allowed to dismiss any currently form/concepts of any other God they do not know and/or do not believe in, and who only can dismiss any "dead" Gods who are not currently being worshipped (as far as we can tell).

Okay, the definition is getting unruly. Let's break this down:

My proposal for the Generally Accepted God (GAG) for use to describe a "believer" or a theist, SO, that we can describe what an atheist is:

1. believes in a current version of a God form/concept
2. believes in only one God
3. in regard to #2, the contradictions of the trinity will be ignored
4. allowed to dismiss any currently form/concepts of any other God they are not aware of existing
5. allowed to dismiss any currently form/concepts of any other God they do not believe in
6. can dismiss any "dead" Gods who are not currently being worshipped
7. in regard to #6, just ignore the fact that we have no idea how we would be able to ascertain this in all cases. So, yeah, just ignore #6
8. may ignore Buddhism and other Asian religions, pseudo-religions, or concepts we cannot understand, cause, damn, those Asian forms get complicated

We good ? Need to add anything ?
 
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