Why God? I have not heard this question asked much… if at all. Debate focuses mostly on whose God is best, the nature of God, or does God even exist. 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., ‘an alpha male’. All social primate groups have some individual serving this unifying role. Being thinking apes, it is natural that we would imagine the existence of an alpha-leader God in his alpha-home Heaven. Being social apes, it is also natural that we’d enjoy gathering to share in the believing 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 page of belief 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 stronger the sense of connection between folks, the more satisfied they feel. Sharing a strong religious identity intensifies 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 tells me that sharing a common identity is the essential feature, not the spirituality and theology per se. The social connection does the trick. Common belief in something is the glue, whether it’s political ideology, sports, food, music, or you name it. However, sharing a strong sense of spirituality is most personal, similar to a family connection. Which brings me to another question, why church?
Church provides a deep sense of social connection, as does any place where people meet, e.g., markets, jobs, 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 are merely symptoms of this loss, and our effort to compensate as best we can. Simply put, religious beliefs arise from a need to fill the ‘meaningless void’, so to speak.
There is much archaeological evidence for various forms of spirituality in human culture going back tens of thousands of years. Very curiously, no other animal appears to rely upon so-called “spirituality”. What is the difference between other animals and us? Human thought! Thinking creates a predicament of which chapter 71 speaks, 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 help one ‘think that one knows’. Names, words, and language have overtaken the human mind so extensively as to disconnect us from the immediate moment-to-moment experience-of-being that other animals enjoy. Spirituality simply reflects our attempt to compensate for this disconnection.
This brings me to wondering why I don’t attend a friendly local church. I feel it is mainly because I can’t muster up the requisite blind faith to accept the inherent ideals, beliefs, and myths. Even so, I did believe in God once when I was around ten years old. I don’t recall when or why I dropped that belief. Then at sixteen, a friend invited me 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 Desert, I reached a ‘faithless’ rock bottom — life felt meaningless. I even wished I could be a true believer in something as many people were. Happily, as chapter 73 says, The net of heaven is cast wide. Though the mesh is not fine, yet nothing ever slips through. Now, from a Symptoms Point of View, I have come to recognize that beliefs are intrinsically precarious. This is evidenced by the emotional energy people will invariably expend defending, pushing, or shoring up their convictions.
Embracing chapter 43’s, The teaching that uses no words, the benefit of resorting to no action, doesn’t offer any concrete belief to share with others in church or anywhere else. Certainly, I would never report being “extremely satisfied” with my life in such a survey. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not content. I suspect that the ability to believe one is “extremely satisfied” is part of the ability to believe in God. Whether or not either belief is actually true doesn’t matter because ‘truth is in the eye of the beholder’. For my part, I compensate for my lack of belief by soaking in the moment. That gives me all the sense of connection I seem to need, and when I need more connection, I just ‘soak in more’!