Living With Religion

We have to come to grips with this religion thing.  Trying to understand humans without understanding, really understanding, religion is like trying to understand modern electronics without understanding transistors.  Religion cannot be removed from our species any more than variable resistors, diodes and transistors could be removed from computers.  But — and this is a huge but — these functional units (both transistors and religious behaviors) have to be used properly to make a working system.  Humans have not been a properly working system for sometime now. 

Perceptive people have been aware, beginning 3 or 5 thousand years ago, that something was wrong with, to continue the metaphor, our wiring.  We could be made to work faster and faster, but not necessarily better and better; and so, given the delicate relationship between our biology, consciousness and the environment, faster and faster, slowly at first and then faster, replaced true ‘better and better’ as an idea.

In the beginning it was religious behavior that integrated human communities into the environment. Communities required a way to communicate and maintain consistent environmental action; it doesn’t take very deep consideration to realize that custom, driven by belief through powerful stories, derived from and ‘evaluated’ by an adaptive process, did that job.  Of course, what I’ve left out of this brief description is the insanity.

We, that is our progenitors, were supposed to believe in ghosts and tree spirits, projections of human intention onto the biophysical world.  That’s what made the adaptations work.  Just like the “mindless” DNA containing the information about what forms and functions worked well continued to exist, so the behaviors that worked well were supported by stories.  An important difference being that a story is a one-time thing unless attached to a grand communal multi-generational story; i.e., a religion.  These larger stories were not supposed to be rational reasoned description of reality; the millions of events in the webs of causation were not knowable, but still had to be adapted to.  Just like bacteria doesn’t ‘know’ about the chemical environment of an organ; it adapts to it.

We ‘believed’ and, therefore, we and our communities acted with efficiency in the ecosystem.  There was no other way.  This explains a lot about the form of what we call primitive, tribal religions.  And yet, these highly functional adaptive designs are considered wicked, blasphemous and devil worship by modern religions.  The impression from a distance is that there has been an adaptive competition for influence and power and that the ‘primitive’ religions lost out as the ‘modern’ religions adapted more quickly to population growth, technological change, and the consequent concentrations of economic and political power.

As the human expansion proceeded, not only into physical space but into ideational space, so religion expanded into those spaces as well following the same model as source and motivator of behavioral continuity and order.  But the tenets of religion were no more based in reality than previously: they were stories and theological sophistries functioning to control human behavior, but now for the benefit of the social order, not as environmental adaptation.  As the stories became even less functional in the environment space, they began to tell of nature itself as evil.

This means that the religious belief systems are both an essential part of the design of human Consciousness Order and are supporting humanities devastating mal-adaptation with biophysical reality.

What would replace the generalities that guide behavior if present religious generalities are eliminated?  Only one human institution and intellectual system has the necessary elements of epistemology, reality based inquiry goals and international supporting structure.

Scientific principles of variable certainty based in balanced and evaluated evidence require a huge investment of time, effort and intellectual capacity for primary creation – everyone cannot do it.  Therefore various systems would have to institutionalize: trust in the intellectual products of others, a motivating and maintaining (but adaptable) design functioning in generalities, a supporting structure that offered or required regular practice with guiding principles and a bureaucracy that was the central clearing house for both the maintaining and the adapting of the institution.  In other words, a systematic structure that looks very much like religion – and it could be counted on: people would supply the need for belief and ‘tribal’ principles of belonging and exclusion. 

We see this clearly in the ad hoc “religions” that spring up especially in times of stress.  One of the things that should be clear from such ad hoc religions, but is not, is the structure of established religions – they are essentially the same, perform the same functions and have no greater claim to “reality.”  And so our dilemma.  Religions as a form of human action are necessary, but in the present world the relative states of Madness characteristic of religion have come to seriously endanger us.

Ultimately religion is just another human behavior, but its very nature depends on us believing that it comes from beyond the confined space of human capacity.  Religion’s power to support and amplify human efficacy depends on our believing that its source is beyond our power and efficacy: at its very base it perverts Reality by creating “realities” that are real only so long as they are believed in.  This was an efficient and effective adaptive design when it was underwritten by the 4 billion year old Reality of the living earth.  But, like madmen intimately adapted to the asylum, we are struggling with the freedoms that have come from escaping the immediate controls of the natural world.

To paraphrase an old canard: “We can’t live with religion and we can’t live without it.”  But we seem to have worked out ways of surviving the original source of the quote!  Humans will turn belief systems into religions as surely as they will organize into communities.  We have the capacity to, and given our power to effect change in the world, the responsibility to make our beliefs comport with biophysical Reality.  The place to begin is with the process and information of science, but this would be only a beginning.  Just as the epistemology of science grew in breadth and depth, so more general belief systems that have Reality as a goal will change, expand and reform as our considerable capacities are applied to them.  Some form of this must happen.  We cannot go on as we are.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success. Email him at: Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on June 14th, 2010 at 11:44am #

    ‘Religions’ have a scalar structure of command-control-influence. So does army. So do many societies.

    So, to me, that represents one of the greatest banes to have befallen us to date.
    Such structures obviate sanity-justice-friendship. Is it any wonder that the highest in command owned all of the land and then legalizing servitude of the majoprity of people.

    And not only that high-scaled people owned land- they also owned language: our greatest tool for common good; i.e., if controled by all people and not just clerico-noble class of people.

    We are symbolic class of life; i.e., symbols play a much greater role in our happiness, feelings of belonging-safety than for any other specie.
    There appear only two kind of languages: language of chit-chat and language of learning.
    It is the language of learning that the top classes have for millenia in toto controled.
    In US, 98% of the language of learning is controled by modern priestly and ‘noble’ classes of people.

    That means that the top classes have a constant renewable resources in just the fact that kids have to go to ‘school’; thus, obtaining all the killers, lyars, torturers, abusers they need to utterly control the lower classes ! tnx

  2. t42 said on June 14th, 2010 at 12:03pm #

    Okay, but where does genuine Spiritual Practice fit in ? I mean like Zazen, Chi Gung, Sufi practices, sweat lodges etc?

  3. James Keye said on June 15th, 2010 at 8:53am #

    Bozh, I agree that class formation has been exacerbated by forms that religious story has taken, but this is ultimately the use of this essential human process by political and economic interests. Just as we must learn to live with the other instinct based and consciousness order based human characteristics, we must live with the religious process and its necessity. It is easy to confuse the content of the story with the need for story itself. The content of religious story is, in today’s context, true madness, but this has not always been so. Warring with the content while not understanding the process will only recreate the same difficulties over and over again.

  4. bozh said on June 15th, 2010 at 9:39am #

    There are two statements that i am not sure ab their meanings.
    1) It is easy to confuse the content of the story with the need for the story itself.
    Are u saying that one can confuse what priests do with what pirests say?
    Of course, if that be true, u cld be talking also ab teachers, professors, pols, et al?
    But since i do not know what u meant, i’l alight from this topic.

    2) …. we must live with the religious process and its necessity.
    Well, james, and whatever u may mean, i do not have to live with religious process nor do i think this process [whatever that means to u or a priest on living level] is a necessity.

    I wld agree that we may have been religious for eons. But an elephant or gorilla cld also be religious.
    However, i affirm, that while we were religious, we did not have shamans. magicians, sorcerers, priests until, let’s say, 10 k yrs ago.
    Aren’t u tacitly equating an unorganized religion with one organized like an army?

    Recall please the priestly swindle put over on indigenes of the turtle island: that they had no religion and thus were primitve beasts? In fact, they had a religion but not white man`s!
    Indigenes fell for the artifice; which contributed to their slaughter-expulsion later on! tnx

  5. James Keye said on June 15th, 2010 at 10:33am #

    Bozh, Gorillas and Elephants can’t be religious because they do not “store their ideas of truth” in stories that they tell themselves; their “truth” is stored in the biophysical world surrounding them.

    Religion is the institutionalizing of belief, belief is the adaptive process that attaches action to the environment. If present religious institutions are eliminated, new ones will form to support and sustain beliefs adapted to the new environment. The stories of any one religion are not the issue, mostly today they are real insanity; religious process is an unavoidable part of human design. Thus to reject religious process because some religious story is destructive and crazy is mistaken.

    We have to bring our human adaptations back into the biophysical fold, that is, we have to adapt to the power of our consciousness adaptation rather than have it run its course to the destruction of the biophysical space. There is no clearer expression of that idea currently before us than the situation in the Gulf. Our great capacity to create change is uninhibited.

    Religion began as the process that adapted community behavior to the environment; it began almost certainly with Homo erectus or even earlier (when tool making became a recognized industry). The beginning was belief systems that controlled behavior and were transferred across communities and generations by stories – ‘truth’ was separated from the environment and storied in systems of belief.

    Belief will always create religion; we must find a way to live with the religions that are created.

  6. bozh said on June 15th, 2010 at 12:08pm #

    James, religions and all other ideologies are, to me and other thinkers, ideating, thinking and experiencing.
    Ideating does not exist apart from experience. Since religion is thinking to some of us, it can be compared with any thinking whatever.
    In other words, an apple can be compared with another apple, but not with an orange; thus any ism, including communism, can be compared with any ideology.

    The problem arises when people set religion [and whatever it may be to each individual] apart from other thinking; in effect saying: hey, this is god’s thinking; thus, cannot be evaluated by person.

    Suppose there is god and its ideating? So, what? What good it’l do? Zilch. For god’s thinking cannot ever be compared with person’s thinking. The fact is that god’s thinking is person’s thinking.

    One cannot be more antihuman than saying than that person knows how god thinks or that one receives god’s thoughts.
    With 4 – 6 bn people thinking like that, is it any wonder we are near extinction?

    U’r not saying we live with that; i.e., welcome it?
    Let us consider that god or nature gave each one of ab the same or same structure of our nervous system; thus, not one human being is special in any way whatsoever.
    This thinking ends nobles, priests, rulers, serfs; we simply teach one another according to how our nervous sytem is structured. And it is structured butifully.
    This ends all mystory imposed on us. My whom-how-when-what for?
    That’s for us to find out!
    And the hell with god 1, 2, 3, x!

  7. James Keye said on June 15th, 2010 at 12:20pm #

    Religion is not about God(s). God(s) are a construct created by the process of religion. While God(s) cannot “exist” outside of religion’s stories, religions can and do exist without God(s). You are letting the utter madness of present religious/political/economic institutions distort the understanding of the underlying process.

  8. Don Hawkins said on June 15th, 2010 at 12:50pm #

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    And come hell and high water we are going to do it anyway so far.

  9. James Keye said on June 15th, 2010 at 1:13pm #

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

    If that were true Don, everything would already be explained simply. Some things are just more convoluted than others. There is another old saying: “Simple explanations are always wrong somewhere.”

    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    Sometimes the only thinking we have is the thinking we used to get us into trouble and so we must use it in some new way (and then is it new thinking or not).

  10. Don Hawkins said on June 15th, 2010 at 1:40pm #

    “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

    “Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.”

    “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.”

    “I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice,” and if Albert was correct about that we human’s who do play dice have just bet the house and farm in the known Universe wait our known Galaxy, solar system, the Earth, a dot on the Earth.

  11. bozh said on June 15th, 2010 at 2:47pm #

    Religions, of which there are hundreds, are thinkings or ideologies. We know that god exists. God exists inside people’s nervous system. An intelligence, that we may call god, may exists ouside our skins, but we can forget ab that forever, hopefully.
    So, when a person thinks ab god 1, that person reacts to one’s thinking ab one’s god 1. And reacts to to one’s reactions, evaluation, etc., and so on forever.

    So, one does not need to call thinking ab god 1, 2, 3, “religion”; just saying that one is thinking of what is going on inside one’s skin, suffices.

    We are right back to the fact that we all think. Alas, some people insist that solely their thinking is true and holy. And we all have same or similar nervous structure.
    A bishop wld never ever admit that a godless person has the same thinking structure that a godful person has.

    Some people persist to deem selves as extraterrestrial thinkers in some aspects of life. And the whole hell decends upon us!
    Anent ur asssertion that a religion [or some, many] can exist w.o. god, we need for u to tell us which ones have no concept of god.
    I have never heard of any ideology that doesn’t know of god. Even cummuism does: as of an utopia. tnx

  12. bozh said on June 15th, 2010 at 3:10pm #

    Don, We all think! A simplicity that cannot be simplified! This simplicity has been complexified into: some people think better than others.
    Yet we cannot see thinking; it being a process entirely inside our skins. So, how then can a person say that one person thinks better than another.
    And both the ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’ person made by one and the only maker.

    Is it any wonder people are driven to madness by such complexity and not one by the above simplicity.
    We all think, walk, eat, sleep, sweat, etc. But nobody walks, eats, sleeps stupidly. But when it comes to thinking, then we don’t think and behave differently- we suddenly think-behave smartly or stupidly.

    Don i am not gonna take a walk with u because u walk very stupid walk.
    OK. tell me? Did i complexify or simplify? But i am not gonna write this again! Once was enough! And with my typing-thinking stupidly, it took me, i think, 15 minutes to write this! I still type with one finger of one hand. Now how’s that for stupidity? tnx

  13. Don Hawkins said on June 15th, 2010 at 3:56pm #

    You see Bozh you see and for me much anymore complete amazement to watch how these few make there thinking seem important. I have to admit it now seems to be turning into a sane form of madness but like the energizer bunny they just keep going and going and going afraid to stop I guess even for a second maybe they fear the light will catch them. Cup of coffee and see what I can see.

  14. Don Hawkins said on June 15th, 2010 at 4:19pm #

    (AP) – 1 hour ago
    WASHINGTON — A climate and energy bill being pushed in the Senate would cost American households 22 to 40 cents a day — less than the cost of a first-class postage stamp, the Obama administration said Tuesday.

    An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would cost households an average of $79 to $146 per year. A first-class postage stamp costs 44 cents.

    The bill, dubbed the American Power Act, aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050. Both goals are achievable under the legislation, the EPA said.

    The bill would for the first time set a price on carbon emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters. Carbon prices would range from about to $16 to $17 per metric ton in 2013 to about $23 or $24 per ton in 2020, the EPA said.

    But Kerry said the moment for the climate bill is now. “This isn’t a time to tinker around the edges,” he said.

    What we just read is a perfect example of madness all made to seem sane. We are all going down the drain in not such slow motion and instead of facing this problem head on with, “Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler,” oh no complex illusion all made to seem sane and in the real World it’s still here hasn’t gone anywhere well a few words from one smart dude.

    Reality. Governments worldwide are ignoring these conclusions from the science. In
    their policy discussions they seemingly do not appreciate a fossil fuel/economics “law” that is as
    sure as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, the world will keep
    burning them.
    I did not write my talk, except the final few paragraphs, which were:
    It is not my job to suggest policy, and I certainly will not interfere in French politics. However, I
    would like to note that we, the world, desperately need some nation to stand up and tell the other
    nations the truth: we cannot solve the climate/energy problem without a rising price on carbon, a
    tax. Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work. And China and India will never accept a cap –
    why should they, as long as their per capita emissions are much smaller than the West?* There
    needs to be a steadily rising price on carbon, with the money collected distributed to the public.
    I think that it is my job as a scientist to connect the dots all the way with scientific
    objectivity using all empirical evidence. And it is my job, as a father and grandfather concerned
    about young people, future generations, and the other species that share our planet, to point out
    that the path the world is on, if we stay on it, guarantees that we will push the climate system
    beyond tipping points.
    This is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational injustice. Because of the inertia and
    slow response of the climate system, our generation burns most of the fossil fuels and reaps the
    benefits while future generations bear the costs. We, the older generations and our governments,
    cannot pretend that we do not understand this situation – we must accept responsibility.
    *China, the United States and Europe need to agree to a carbon fee on their internal
    consumption of fossil fuels. Why would China agree: to avoid fossil fuel addiction, clean up its
    polluted air and water, avoid climate catastrophe, and economics (a leg up on clean technology). James Hansen

    Cap-and-trade with offsets will not work and who else knows this well the people who would like to pass cap and trade and the people who don’t the thinking is somewhat the same it’s called madness. The light the light it’s right behind us go faster say something anything.

  15. duaner said on June 16th, 2010 at 3:12pm #

    I’m with James, I think. Religion is not going away. People need to feel that there is indeed a ‘meaning of life’, and religion supplies that – more or less.

    I would generalize even further – it is not religion that people need, but something to believe in. In fact, I think many people who would consider themselves atheists or agnostics are in fact believers, or people of faith, in that they all have an explanation of ‘why we are here’ and what is ‘right action’ – and these explanations cannot be proven correct, and are therefore articles of faith.

    Let me get personal – I believe that the meaning of life is to help other creatures, human or otherwise*, on our common journey through existence. The journey ends in death, of course, but through our actions we can make the journey as pleasant as possible so that arrival at the destination is not so tragic. Be fully alive – have children and teach them to live fully, have friends and love them fully, and leave the world a better place if you can.

    Does this make me a person of faith? I think it does. This is my personal value system, my religion. Is my faith demonstrably right or correct? I don’t think so. In the end, these things come down to your personal values – what you feel in your unreasoning heart is right or wrong. My heart tells me that cooperation, not competition, is humanity’s only hope. I can wrap some logic around that if I like (and indeed I used logic to arrive at that conclusion), but in the end it comes down to what you think is right – a conclusion lies slightly outside of the realm of reason and more in the realm of belief.

    *except mosquitoes, woodticks and the extremely wealthy – I just can’t find a place in my heart for parasites…

  16. bozh said on June 16th, 2010 at 5:34pm #

    I am not saying that a particular-peculiar way of thinking, called religious thininking or religion is going or shld go away.

    I am saying this in case duaner is alluding that i am saying this. Actually, i welcome people who believe in god or are searching for a meaning in being.

    I am, tho, condemning the dichotomy of thinking and thinkers into godful and godless thinking and thinkers.
    Religions do not have to be organized and with a scalar command; very similar or same to that of the army and the societies.

    In fact, i am against any human being commanding another. I am against priestly ‘teachings’; because it is very easy to ‘teach’ others, but nigh impossible to teach self w.o. teachers.
    So, let the priests pull out the beam in their eyes…. tnx

  17. James Keye said on June 18th, 2010 at 9:56am #

    T42, I consider the meditative arts to be a very ancient behavioral design that enhances intuitive contact with the raw reality. A goal is to remove intermediary behavioral and mental devices like thoughtful action and language. This way of adapting complex behaviors to reality has been co-opted by institutional religions.