What is this thing we call belief? Where does it come from? Why do we need it?
I cannot help thinking that if I had been brought up in Saudi Arabia I would be a Sunni Muslim, if in Iran a Shia Muslim, if in India a Hindu, if in Brazil a Christian Catholic and if in Mississippi a Protestant Christian.
If I had been born in Greece a few thousand years ago I would have worshipped Zeus as the god of all gods. If I had lived in Britain three thousand years ago it might have been the Green Man or the Sun. If in Egypt it might have been Isis.
I could list a thousand Gods and Goddesses that mankind has worshipped, sacrificed to, prayed to and beseeched. The forgotten Gods and Goddesses are ten times as numerous.
Belief is built into our genes.
I am fortunate. I was brought up in a loving family with no attempt to indoctrinate me into any religious belief or political persuasion. I was left to investigate myself. My adolescent obsessions with mysticism and belief were tolerated without opposition or ridicule. I was left to think.
I went through my ‘religious phase’ and came to the belief that all religion originated in the minds of men, prayer was pointless and worship a psychological prop.
I believe that religious belief is mankind’s attempt to come to terms with an infinite universe, the mystery of life and death and a purpose for what we do. It comes from a psychological need and a brain that is hard-wired to seek patterns, purpose and a reason. We cannot understand a system with no beginning, no end and no reason.
Do we need belief? No I don’t think so. We can create our own purpose and appreciate the wonder and awe around us. But I do think that belief has played a large part in our development as social beings. It has enabled us to live together in large groups – much larger than that of tribes. It has provided the social cohesion that holds large numbers of people together. I think that is its primary aim. So perhaps we do need belief?
We certainly do not need religion in order to have morality. We can make a far better code of human rights without the hypocrisy and contradictions present in all religions with their obscure pronouncements. We can make a clear code of ethics without the ambiguities.
We can do without belief. Perhaps we have evolved enough to start to do without? Or perhaps we can create some belief system that we can all subscribe to that is based on awe and wonder, contains a strong moral cohesion with aspirations and something to strive towards and is not divisive, fear-ridden or prescriptive? Maybe a cross between the UN Charter of Human Rights and a love of nature?