Have a question you want to ask Brittany or me? We’re having an open combox “ask anything” on Friday, September 27.
Sarah: There is a well-discussed theory/explanation among Christians/Catholics that people have a longing for God or religion or, according to Joseph Campbell (himself non-theistic), myth and ritual. How do you address that?
Brittany: Stories are more memorable, more enjoyable, and more persuasive than any other type of communication, so stories are an excellent way to transmit culture and rules for conduct. So it’s not surprising that we have so many stories from long ago.
As for ritual, there’s some research that doing things in sync with others (like dancing or singing) makes us happy and is useful for coordinating other efforts. It makes the group more cohesive, which promotes cooperation. So the most successful groups had the best stories and rituals. The other advantage of those things is that they can spread culture without conquering.
I don’t know that people have a longing for God so much as they are happier when they share stories and culture and rituals. It makes the world seem smaller and friendlier when you can be with strangers, but nonetheless know all the words to the same stories and movements to the same rituals. I think we see that on a smaller scale when we enjoy inside jokes or secret handshakes. People long for meaningful connections, and religion is one way people can fill this need.
Sarah: What would it take for you to consider yourself a believer? (Hey, I’m pulling out ALL the stops. “Hell freezing over” is NOT an acceptable answer for this one — ha! Dante considered the last rung of hell frozen anyway…)
Brittany: Hey, that’s a fair question! It’s one nonbelievers should have an answer to. If you’re going to say there’s no good evidence, you’d better know what that good evidence would look like. I don’t mean specifics, but criteria certainly. Personally, I’d want to be reasonably sure it wasn’t a hoax, or mass hysteria, or hallucination.
I would need to see and hear something directly, with many other witnesses, that did something good. I’d be suspicious of video and I’d be suspicious if I was the only witness or one of a small number of witnesses. And it would have to be something good. I don’t think I’d worship an evil god, although I guess I would have to believe in it.
Next week, we’re going to talk about the greater good and some characteristics of nonbelievers.
And don’t forget: we’re having an open combox “ask anything” on Friday, September 27.