Meaning, Control, and Esteem?

The last year I have worked on an argument for Religious Humanism by compiling a history of ideas, especially scientific, since the Heliocentric Theory of Copernicus 1543. It is clear from the last 500 years that it is reasonable to expect that science will continue to surprise us in revealing new knowledge from what I call the "yet unknown". The key idea of Religious Humanism is that it is possible to attribute to the "yet unknown" rather than to a supernatural personal God.

By compiling excerpts from page 1-75 in The Psychology of Religion, 4th edition, by Hood, Hill and Spilka, 2009 this is made more probable.
Religion is supposed to give meaning, control and esteem. When threatened with harm or pain, all higher organisms seek to predict and/or control the outcomes of the events that affect them. Meaning helps meet perhaps an even greater underlying need for control. Self-control can be viewed as personality’s moral muscle. Self-control is a core psychological function underlying many of the virtues addressed by religion: compassion, justice, wisdom, humility, etc. Esteem is garnered from the sociability of religious life. Church members possess larger social support networks than non-members do. Furthermore, there is more positive involvement of intra-family relationships among the religiously committed. This is attributed to enhanced feelings of social belonging and integration into a community of like-minded individuals.
Reduction of Religion
The data are not conclusive but it seems like superstition and religion are two different domains of our mental life. The term spirituality has evolved the last two decades as separate from religion as well and is now a hot topic.

Attribution in the Psychology of Religion
Attributions people make might be naturalistic or religious. In most circumstances people initially employ naturalistic attributions but shift to religious attribution when naturalistic do not satisfactorily meet the needs for meaning, control and esteem. For religious people a person’s actions and cognitions might become structured by a religious role. Research suggests that up to three quarters of religious experiences occur when individuals are engaged in religious activities or are in religious settings. Attributions to God are overwhelmingly positive. Religious persons possess a religious language which they use to describe their experience. Attributions are often made to validate and enhance self-esteem and thus perform a self-protecting function. Locus of control was initially conceptualized as a tendency to see events as either internally determined by the person or externally produced by factors beyond the control of the individual. External control is attributed to fate, luck and chance as well as control by powerful others. People who are more involved in religious activities perceive themselves as having more control over what happens to them.

Religion and Biology
People are today merging the psychology of religion with evolutionary psychology. Some hypothesize that religion is derived from having a genetic advantage. The capacity for belief might be inherited. Some, d’Aquili and Newberg, 1999, say that “God or pure consciousness is generated by the brain”. Hamer, the author of the book The God Gene, 2004, feels that more than one gene is likely to be part of the religion-spirituality complex and he is convinced that the tendency to be spiritual is genetic in origin. Relevant mutations must have occurred in Africa in the fairly distant human past for spirituality to be genetically mediated. Contemporary popular language suggests that we are “hardwired” for these expressions. The temporal lobe is known to give rise to spiritual thoughts and has been related to epilepsy since Hippocrates. Limbic structures (specifically the amygdala involved in fear) were not activated during a religious state, such as reading the 23rd psalm, but were involved during a non-religious emotional state. Religious experience is likely to be a cognitive process utilizing established neural connections between the frontal and parietal lobes. The neurobiology of spirituality has otherwise mostly been studied in meditative states.

There is general agreement that the basic purpose of a religious ritual is communication. The discomfort, distress, and threat of uncertainty are lessened when one possesses ritualistic means of coping with troublesome situations. Psychoanalysts have added that it provides a connection to one’s inner desires and feelings. More broadly, rituals are viewed as means of encouraging and controlling emotion. People want them, volunteer to participate in them, and probably gain pleasure from having ritual roles to play. The neurological network proposed to be involved in ritual is considered part of the autonomic nervous system and termed the “ergotropic-tropotropic system”. Though prayer may be aimed at reducing tension, its goal could actually be an altered state of consciousness, either contemplative or mystical. Prayer appears to be helpful, but the reasons are not so clear. Forgiveness has been conceptualized as an “emotion-focused coping strategy” that counters stress and reduces adverse physiological responses.

The philosophical question of whether God is created in our minds or whether he exists in reality is essentially solved in Religious Humanism because of its pantheistic nature. The existence of something we call God is a reflection of Nature in our minds and of course “God” exists because everything is God and has always existed. Our minds are part of God. So, we are attuned to Nature and wish for knowledge of the “yet unknown”. Attributions to the “yet unknown” should work equally well as those to a personal supernatural God.

The “yet unknown” offers an individualist perspective on the God concept. People can make it into what they feel is most important. I also found a statement in the book cited above that religiously committed scholars can consider science an avenue to God. It is apparently something people do even if they operate with a supernatural God concept. This might in principle mean that others also have thought about the “yet unknown” as part of the God concept since otherwise the materialistic prerequisite is not followed.

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