Well, why not! But seriously, this is a question I have not heard asked much… if at all(1) Debates mostly focus on whose God is best, the nature of God, or does God even existence. Asking “why do we believe in God” is more of a zoological approach to this issue. That is the place to begin; after all, we are animals first.
I’ve long see the God idea as an emergent property of our social need for leadership, i.e., ‘alpha male’, the decider. All social primate groups have some individual serving this unifying role. Being a thinking ape, it is natural that we would image the existence of a super-leader in a super-home (heaven). Being social apes, it is also nature that we’d enjoy gathering to share the experience. A recent article in Science News, Connected at church, happy with life, offered some support for the why of it all.
Here are a few excerpts from the article that caught my eye…
Researchers have long noted that religious people report higher levels of happiness and well-being than nonreligious folk. Lim and Putnam offer a rare glimpse, based on telephone surveys of a national sample of 1,915 adults in 2006 and 2007, of how religion improves quality of life. “Our evidence shows that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building social networks there,” Lim says.
What’s more, spiritual aspects of religion do little to further well-being, the researchers say. Neither survey participants who “personally experience the presence of God” nor those who often “personally feel God’s love in life” report more well-being than people who do not. Volunteers who do and don’t believe in God or heaven with absolute certainty display comparable satisfaction with their lives.
Being on the same wave length enhances the feeling of mutual connection.
One-third of participants who had a strong religious identity and three to five close friends in their congregation reported being “extremely satisfied” with their lives, a figure that rose to nearly 40 percent for those with 11 or more such friends. The researchers defined “extremely satisfied” as a rating of 10 on a life-satisfaction scale ranging from one to 10.
In contrast, one-fifth of churchgoers who had three to five congregational friends but didn’t identify strongly with their faith reported extreme life satisfaction. The same figure applied to nonreligious people whose friends were not part of congregations.
So, the strong the sense of connection between folks, the more satisfied they feel. Sharing a strong religious identity amplifies the sense of connection.
Private religious practices, such as praying and holding religious services at home, also show no link to greater life satisfaction, the new report finds.
Lim emphasizes that, according to survey data, spirituality and theology bolster well-being only for people who build friendships at church.
This shows me that sharing a strong identity is the essential key, not the spirituality and theology per se. Yep, it’s the social connection that does the trick. Common belief in something is the glue, whether its political ideology, sports, food, music, _(you name it)_. However, sharing a strong sense of spirituality is the most personal, like family. Which bring me to another question, why church?
Church provides a deep sense of social connection, as does any place where people meet (market, job, restaurants, bars). A spiritual setting, like church, offers the safest, least judgmental, and non competitive meeting place. The only other setting like this, besides a stable family, was the ancestral hunter gatherer tribe. In those prehistoric times people shared their entire lives, from birth to death, with several dozen people. The exceptionally high level of “socio-emotional” security this offered declined as civilization took over the human experience. We unwittingly traded material comforts and security for emotional comfort and security. Church (and religion in general) is merely a symptoms of this loss, and our effort to compensate as best we can.
Churches (and God) are symptoms of current needs however. There is much archaeological evidence for various forms of spirituality in humanity culture going back tens of thousands of years. Very curiously no other animals appears to rely upon so called “spirituality”. What is the difference between all of them and us? We think! As chapter 71 puts it, To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. Our ideals, beliefs and myths go a long way to helps us think that we know. The human mind has been overtaken by names and words (language) so extensively that it disconnects us from the immediate moment-to-moment experience-of-being that other animals enjoy. Spirituality simply reflects our attempt to compensate for that.
My final question is, why don’t I attend a nice local church? I simply can’t buy into the ideals, belief and myths. Once, when I was around ten year old, I did believe in God. I don’t recall when or why I dropped that belief. When I was sixteen a friend invited my to his church to meet girls. I did believe in girl, so I went for a few years. Years later, while hitchhiking across the Sahara Dessert I had reached bottom – I felt life absolutely meaningless. I even wished I could be a true believer in something, as many people seemed to me to be. I suppose many who read Centertao will know what I’m referring to. Fortunately the The net of heaven is cast wide. Though the mesh is not fine, yet nothing ever slips through. I’ve also come to realize that ‘true belief’ is a very precarious approach to life which accounts for the passion that often bolsters it.
Following the teaching that uses no words doesn’t offer any concrete belief to share with others in church or anywhere else. Certainly, if I’d been in this survey, I never would have “reported being “extremely satisfied” with my life”. That doesn’t mean I’m not content, however. I suspect that the ability to believe one is “extremely satisfied” is part of the same ability to believe in God. It may not be objectively true, but that doesn’t matter because ‘truth is in the eye of the beholder’. For my part, I compensate for my lack of belief by ‘soaking up the moment’. That gives me all the sense of connection I seem to need.
(1) I’ve not heard this question asked, as I recall, except by me. My symptoms point-of-view could not help wonder about that first and foremost.