3 Inherent Human Traits that Religion Exploits

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Whether religion is overrated or underrated is difficult to answer. But it’s intensely important to the personal lives of billions of people. I thought for a while about why this might be, and came up with three inherent weaknesses in human beings that religion exploits.

1. Fear

Probably the most basic emotion of all life on Earth. We’re no exceptions. If there is one thing that unites us all, it’s the fear of death – or more precisely, the state of ‘not living’. Religion gives us deliverance from that fear. Nothing to worry about, it says, your time here on Earth is nothing more than a prelude to eternal life in a different plane.

What evidence do we have of this? Absolutely none. But we believe, because for most of us, it’s unimaginable that our consciousness will one day cease to exist. Even though we only have to think of the vast stretch of time before our births to realize that it’s not only possible but is the norm.

2. Pattern and meaning seeking

Human beings are meaning-seeking animals. All external evidence suggests that the universe is essentially meaningless, and yet our minds tell us that there must be something to it after all. We think our lives follow a narrative, that everything happens for a reason, that there are such things as fate and destiny, that the future can be altered and controlled.

So we pray to our gods to keep us safe. We bribe them to make us richer or more successful. We thank them for the good things in our lives. We cajole, chide and blame. We worship.

3. Territorialism

To put it kindly, we’re natural classifiers. In this we’re no different to other primates, but thanks to our larger brains, we’ve taken it to a whole new level. Country. Skin colour. Gender. Appearance. Self versus the other. My kind of people versus your kind of people.

There are evolutionary reasons for this. In a hunting-gathering world where tribes often competed fiercely for resources, people had to be segregationist in nature. Brotherhood towards members of your tribe. Enmity towards members of the other tribe. We did it to survive. It’s built into our genes.

Religion stokes this trait by preaching universal love and unspeakable violence in the same sentence. The former is for within the group. The latter is reserved for the other groups.

A couple of quotes

I will leave you with two quotes. One by Epicurus:

‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’

And another by Voltaire:

‘Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.’

Image Courtesy: Ekstrax.com

Comments

  1. Religion doesn’t exploit anything. It’s people connected with religion who do. Like how people in corporations exploit the very same human traits using science.

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    • If we think of religion as the ‘book’ (Gita, Bible, Quran) and the ‘people’ as the priests, at least half of the blame lies with the books themselves. All religious books have a deep set antagonism towards ‘others’ and the need to either convert or kill. Going by that, it is not really the people who are connected with religion that is at fault, but religion itself.

      What do you think?

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  2. Hi,Your post is not clear enough to say whether you believe in your religion or not ? Forget about others.Whats your take on it ?

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    • Hi Farah,

      Thanks for the comment. The post is about the three instinctive human traits that organized religions across the world (without exception) exploit in their followers. How is my belief in my religion (or lack of it) relevant to the point of the post?

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  3. Bhagirathi Kumar says:

    Sharath, religion exploits fear, uncertainty and doubt.

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  4. Inching more towards spiritualism & humanism is workable, rest religion is different than Dharma? the 2 concepts seems to have been at play.

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    • I don’t think religion is about spirituality or humanism at all, Ruchi. In fact, it has been argued many times by many historians (rather persuasively) that ethics have evolved independently of religion. Maybe I will do a post about it soon 🙂

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      • Sharath I didn’t said Religion is related with spirituality or humanism, all 3 r different concepts. I have written I feel these 2 r workable than religion concept 🙂 moreover if u wish to explore & give me insights plz share with me Dharma & Religion connotations & advice few books I can easily hunt down here at my local library. Ty 🙂

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      • You should try ‘Difficulty of being good’ by Gurcharan Das, which does a reasonable job of putting religion into the context of Dharma and ethics.

        Also, read ‘The Evolution of Cooperation’ by Robert Axelrod, which talks about how cooperation and altruism developed in animals without the intervention of religion.

        Happy reading 🙂

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      • Wow ! how much I have missed in these years of my DC with my passion 😀 Ty so much for the reference.Will grab it soon with my others pending books list.

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