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Thread: Religion- Born from Thanatophobia?

  1. #1 Religion- Born from Thanatophobia? 
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    I'm really not sure if this is in the right forum, but I don't think this is scientific enough to be in the "Scientific Study of Religion" topic, so I'll stick to psychology.

    So, what do you think? Is religion formed from a fear of death? Note that I have a religion myself, so I'm certainly not trying to attack those that are religious. I feel that mankind has a innate fear of death-- a topic that is commonly avoided or steered around. We don't say that someone dies, we say they "passed away".

    Looking at it from a different perspective, we might say that mankind lived for years trying to deal with death, and the idea of not existing (I may be making a bit of a sweeping statement, but I doubt many people would just not care if they were told they would stop existing when they die- that souls do not exist, that their emotions were an illusion created by the brain, etc) before the stress of his idea (stress is not the right word, but you see what I mean) overcame them, and the idea of an afterlife was thought up.

    What do you think? (I could say a lot more, but I have a terrible memory and forgot half of what I wanted to say. I think I got my main point across, though.)


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  3. #2 Re: Religion- Born from Thanatophobia? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quetzhal
    I'm really not sure if this is in the right forum, but I don't think this is scientific enough to be in the "Scientific Study of Religion" topic, so I'll stick to psychology.

    So, what do you think? Is religion formed from a fear of death? Note that I have a religion myself, so I'm certainly not trying to attack those that are religious. I feel that mankind has a innate fear of death-- a topic that is commonly avoided or steered around. We don't say that someone dies, we say they "passed away".

    Looking at it from a different perspective, we might say that mankind lived for years trying to deal with death, and the idea of not existing (I may be making a bit of a sweeping statement, but I doubt many people would just not care if they were told they would stop existing when they die- that souls do not exist, that their emotions were an illusion created by the brain, etc) before the stress of his idea (stress is not the right word, but you see what I mean) overcame them, and the idea of an afterlife was thought up.

    What do you think? (I could say a lot more, but I have a terrible memory and forgot half of what I wanted to say. I think I got my main point across, though.)
    Ideas of salvation are facilitated by thanatophobia.

    Religion develops from a variety of things, such a need for "answers"/explanation, prosperity, decorum, extra-natural communication, privileges, etc.


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  4. #3  
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    Denial of one's own impermanence, I think, requires a world in which one is an essential and even central part. You'd have to frame existence around yourself, or have it care about you in some way. It seems a common package and maybe the human default given a decent upbringing. I dunno which comes first though - the immortal self or the special self.

    On the other hand some Buddhists who we'd call religious focus on life's impermanence and ultimate emptiness - in a sense they live for death.

    I reckon on my deathbed I'll wimper and beg Jesus to make everything alright.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  5. #4  
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    If you don't mind, I'm going to move this to the Scientific Study of Religion. I think this is exactly the kind of topic that fits well there (PM me if you're dead set on keeping it where it was since it can work there too).

    I'd recommend reading Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (2001, Perseus Books). He discusses at length this, as well as several other hypotheses for the origin of religious belief in human culture.

    On this topic, Boyer says:

    Quote Originally Posted by Pascal Boyer
    Before we accept emotion-oriented scenarios of religion's origins, we should probe their assumptions. Human minds may well have death-related anxiety, but what is it about? The question may seem as strange as the prospect of death seems simple and clear enough to focus the mind [...]. But human emotions are not that simple. They happen because the mind is a bundle of complicated systems working in the mental basement and solving very complex problems. Consider a simple emotion like the fear induced by the lurking presence of a predator. In many animals, including humans, this results in dramatic somatic events - most noticeably, a quickened heartbeat and increased perspiration. But other systems are also doing complex work. For instance, we have to choose among several behaviors in such situations - freeze or flee or fight - a choice that is made by computation, that is, by mentally going through a variety of aspects of the situation and evaluating the least dangerous option. So fear is not just what we experience about it; it is also a program, in some ways comparable to a computer program. It governs the resources of the brain in a special way, quite different from what happens in other circumstances. Fear increases the sensitivity of some perceptual mechanisms and leads reasoning through complicated s4ets of possible outcomes. [all emphases in the original]
    He summarizes his section on emotion in religion thus:
    1. Religious concepts do not always provide reassurance or comfort.
    2. Deliverance from mortality is not quite the universal longing we often assume.
    3. Religious concepts are indeed connected to human emotional systems, which are connected to life-threatening circumstances.
    4. A different angle: Our emotional programs are an aspect of our evolutionary heritage, which may explain how they affect religious concepts.
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  6. #5 Re: Religion- Born from Thanatophobia? 
    Forum Freshman Jake Boyd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quetzhal
    I'm really not sure if this is in the right forum, but I don't think this is scientific enough to be in the "Scientific Study of Religion" topic, so I'll stick to psychology.

    So, what do you think? Is religion formed from a fear of death? Note that I have a religion myself, so I'm certainly not trying to attack those that are religious. I feel that mankind has a innate fear of death-- a topic that is commonly avoided or steered around. We don't say that someone dies, we say they "passed away".

    Looking at it from a different perspective, we might say that mankind lived for years trying to deal with death, and the idea of not existing (I may be making a bit of a sweeping statement, but I doubt many people would just not care if they were told they would stop existing when they die- that souls do not exist, that their emotions were an illusion created by the brain, etc) before the stress of his idea (stress is not the right word, but you see what I mean) overcame them, and the idea of an afterlife was thought up.

    What do you think? (I could say a lot more, but I have a terrible memory and forgot half of what I wanted to say. I think I got my main point across, though.)
    I once thought of a scenario that featured the origin of religion as a behavioral suite that enabled the very small early type of Homo Erectus (like the three found in Caucasian Georgia) with very small brains and possibly the ability to make fire to overcome larger homonids. I think I used to suggest that old men (one of the very early Georgian Homos was an old man of sorts), tits, suicidal bravery and religion all emerged at once when some twist of the limbic system was "accessed" by a combination of old age, young tits, a religious vision and a deep need to take over the world.
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