Socialism Or Your Money Back came across this article on religion from the LA Times.
In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence (including "imaging" studies of the brain at work), that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around. Scientists have so far identified about 20 hard-wired, evolved "adaptations" as the building blocks of religion. The psychological mechanisms behind faith evolved over the eons through natural selection. They helped our ancestors work effectively in small groups and survive and reproduce, traits developed long before recorded history, from foundations deep in our mammalian, primate and African hunter-gatherer past.
Humans have developed the remarkable ability to think about what goes on in other people's minds and create and rehearse complex interactions with an unseen other. In our minds we can de-couple cognition from time, place and circumstance. We consider what someone else might do in our place; we project future scenarios; we replay past events. It's an easy jump to say, conversing with the dead or to conjuring gods and praying to them.
Brain-imaging studies at the National Institutes of Health showed that when test subjects were read statements about religion and asked to agree or disagree, the same brain networks that process human social behavior — our ability to negotiate relationships with others — were engaged.
We are born with a powerful need for attachment, identified as long ago as the 1940s by psychiatrist John Bowlby and expanded on by psychologist Mary Ainsworth. Individual survival was enhanced by protectors, beginning with our mothers. Attachment is reinforced physiologically through brain chemistry, and we evolved and retain neural networks completely dedicated to it. We easily expand that inborn need for protectors to authority figures of any sort, including religious leaders and, more saliently, gods. God becomes a super parent, able to protect us and care for us even when our more corporeal support systems disappear, through death or distance.
Among the psychological adaptations related to religion are our need for reciprocity, our tendency to attribute unknown events to human agency, our capacity for romantic love, our fierce "out-group" hatreds and just as fierce loyalties to the in groups of kin and allies. Religion hijacks these traits. The rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, for example, or the doctrinal battles between Protestant and Catholic reflect our "groupish" tendencies.
Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection. Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom notes that "it is often beneficial for humans to work together … which means it would have been adaptive to evaluate the niceness and nastiness of other individuals."
Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist who co-directs the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, has also done work related to morality and argues that we are born altruists who then have to learn strategic self-interest.
Edited from J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
John Lennon - "Imagine"
We’re born with no knowledge or beliefs in any god. In fact we’re all born into a state of atheism. The only reasonable position to adopt towards any religion is one of atheism: unbelief. It is up to the believer to present proof for the existence of God or life after death. After all, few are agnostic about Santa Claus or fairies and elves at the bottom of the garden; we know they don't exist. The same scepticism should also apply to the extraordinary beliefs of religion. With religious believers, however, there is a willingness to believe despite the lack of evidence. And it is this gullibility which socialists find to be dangerous and objectionable. Faith is the last refuge of a believer. Religious faith, however, would only make sense if what was believed in were plausible. Neither the existence of a God nor life after death are plausible, though faith in them undoubtedly offers solace to many. It can make the unbearable seem bearable. Capitalism has many opiates to offer.
The Socialist Party has been castigated for insisting that socialism and religion are incompatible. We declare that there is no heaven in the bye-and-bye translates as a clarion call for revolution in the here and now. Religion is a class issue. We must understand our world as it is, make our own generalisations about it, come to our own conclusions. Then we must put our ideas against existing ones, and make the world in our image. Socialist propaganda is our ideas; revolution is our struggle to make those ideas a reality. Socialists strive to see the world through our eyes rather than someone else's.
The Socialist Party analysis of religion derives from our basic materialism. The first premise of historical materialism is that all man's thinking is social thinking; that there is no idea that man discusses, no interest that he fights for, and no ideal that he aspires to, that is not derived from social origins. Historical materialism traces how religions have evolved, from their beginnings in ancestor worship and private property in primitive societies, to established social institutions. The successive modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests. Religious change has usually been more remarkable in what was abandoned than in what was added or retained. For the materialist, society is not really under human control and humans really are at the mercy of blind, impersonal forces – in ancient times the forces of nature, in the modern world the economic forces of capitalism. Under capitalism people feel, rightly, that they are governed by forces they can't control but attribute this, wrongly, to forces operating from outside the world of experience. Churches of all types are then at hand for the sustaining of fear and superstition.But to abolish religion is not to end exploitation. For the socialist alternative to our lives being controlled by impersonal forces we must bring about a society in which humans consciously control the forces of production.