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Meditation 596
Tribe Instinct Leads To Religion

by: Dan Shanefield

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Why does anyone believe in religions? My theory is that during our evolutionary change from ape-like animals to early humans, we developed a weak (easily-overcome) instinct to want membership in a "tribe." (NOTE: This is similar to the Dawkins book, but not really the same. I'm saying that the tribe is the instinctive thing, and religion is a secondary thing that came along automatically, mostly emotional rather than logical. It does not have to be a separate instinct.) This gave people a survival advantage. Tribal behavior came first, when our ancestors were a bunch of apes. It gave them advantages in wars and famines. Then when they developed voluntary imagination (dreams are involuntary imagination) and abstract concepts, they invented gods, to "explain" things such as thunder, childbirth, plagues, etc. (In other words, they invented causes to fit in with their observations) If someone had a dream about rain, and then a long drought ended, they might conclude there was a rain god. (Animals have herds, and also dreams, so early people did also.) When people believed these things, they felt satisfied (with having explanations), and they got good feelings from religious music and companionship, and thinking they'd go to heaven after death, etc. So the whole thing got reenforced in their minds and emotions.

And now most people want to have a strong military leader, and want to believe myths about their tribe's greatness (a little of which rubs off on them). Once people developed the ability to think and imagine things, each tribe got its own religion and belief in protective gods (versus anti-protective devils), to explain weather, childbirth, etc. (This is in spite of logical evidence against the ideas of some major religions, as shown in the link http://oldnnew.blogspot.com .) Animals like sheep and apes got the tribal-membership part, but not the imaginary gods part, but all primitive tribes nowadays (and most civilized people) believe in God or gods.

One aspect of tribal (and flock, herd, etc.) behavior is to fall in and follow behind any assertive leader. I theorize that this is part of the "weak instinct" that we were born with (similar to what sheep and elephants do). So some priestly- or rabbinical-type guy starts loudly preaching what he heard "directly from God," and most people will clap their hands and shout "Hallelujah --- amen!" Not everybody (it's a weak instinct), but more than half of the people.

Religion assumed excessive importance in many cases (crusades, suicide bombers, etc.). But when moderate, strong belief has lots of usefulness --- marriage protection for pregnant women, comfort when death occurs or is obviously coming soon, excuse for good music, a chance to dress up in nice clothes and make an appearance, moral framework for behavior, and all that. (I'm 76 yrs old and miss all that, quite frankly, but going to church involves just too much stuff I can't go along with --- Jesus is going to "save" me, etc. --- too much! However, I'm sorry, because it's good stuff, if you believe it, and it's easy to see why people are drawn to it and suspend disbelief. Wait till you're old and arthritic --- you'll see!)     

By the way, my own tribes these days, are my extended family, and The United States, and science. (Maybe if you readers all become believers in this tribe theory of behavior, we will become a tribe!)

Dan Shanefield, retired prof. of engineering (but not a historian or philosopher) http://homepage.mac.com/shanefield