Why Religion Is For Big Infants
It is generally agreed by rational individuals that Religion is rooted in fear, ignorance and self-deception. But Religion has a further source which is in no way reprehensible like the three just mentioned: namely, a powerful [i]metaphysical need[/i]. This metaphysical need is a natural consequence of simply being alive in the world. The need is tied to a momentous awareness which comes to all thinking creatures sooner or later concerning themselves and their situation, and it usually expresses itself in the form of a question - the most fundamental question: viz. [i]Why is there such a thing as existence as opposed to complete nothingness? Why does the universe exist, along with myself, and all these other living things that I see around me? Instead of nothing, why is there anything at all?[/i]
The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, depicts this profound metaphysical awakening as follows:
[i]'In endless space countless luminous spheres, round each of which some dozen smaller illuminated ones revolve, hot at the core and covered over with a hard cold crust; on this crust a mouldy film has produced living and knowing beings: this is empirical truth, the real, the world. Yet for a being who thinks, it is a precarious position to stand on one of those numberless spheres freely floating in boundless space, without knowing whence or whither, and to be only one of innumerable similar beings that throng, press, and toil, restlessly and rapidly arising and passing away in beginningless and endless time.'[/i]
Within every human being, then, there is an enduring need to obtain an answer to the mystery of existence. But what is tragic from the point of view of humanity is that throughout the ages Religion has hijacked and perverted this need by falsely claiming to know the answer to the metaphysical mystery. As Schopenhauer notes:
[i]'The fundamental, secret and primal piece of astuteness of all priests, everywhere and at all times is as follows. They have recognised and grasped the enormous strength and the ineradicability of the metaphysical need of man: then they pretend to possess the means of satisfying it, in that the solution to the great enigma has, by extraordinary channels, been directly communicated to them. Once they have persuaded men of the truth of this, they can lead and dominate them to their heart's content.'[/i]
Unfortunately, there are many individuals who find submission to Religion extremely seductive and they are only too ready to be dominated and mentally enslaved by it. One of the reasons why these individuals are happy to surrender control over their life and mind to Religion is because this allows them to escape the responsibility of having to think and act for themselves. It is evident that at some level within the religious believer the prospect of taking charge of his own life arouses a feeling of dread ([i]angst[/i]). Therefore, the believer's surrender of his personal autonomy to Religion is an attempt on his part to eliminate the occurrence of this unpleasant affective state. However, making Religion (and 'God') the master and regulator of one's life has a detrimental effect on one's development as a human being for it results in psychological weakness and dependency. This becomes clear if we look at how religious mental enslavement works in general. Viz....
The type of religious attitude fostered by all authoritarian religions is characterised by submission to an external authority or power. Under the direction of monotheistic creeds like Christianity and Islam, the sense of power and value which individuals feel in themselves are projected onto a 'Deity'. The more steadily individuals remove power and value from themselves and accord them to a 'Deity' the more impoverished they become: so much so, that their centre of gravity shifts from within themselves and they cease to be the active propellant in their own life. Thus, the general effect of authoritarian religion is to remove any autonomy which an individual might possess and replace it with a state of dependency. In other words, authoritarian religion seeks to turn its adherents into Big Infants, or as its velvet-tongued spokesmen put it: [i]'little children of God'[/i].
As was noted above, the hijacking and perversion of the metaphysical need by Religion has been tragic for humanity historically. For instead of this need being allowed to [i]manifest itself naturally[/i] - that is, as [b]the fundamental driving force behind every attempt to understand the universe and increase human knowledge[/b] - it was channelled by Religion into myriad worthless endeavours (e.g., endless pilgrimages), preposterous theological speculation (e.g., 'How many angels can stand on the end of a pin?'), and some of the vilest conflicts on record (e.g., the Crusades)...among other lunacies. And this tragedy continues in the present day under new forms (e.g., the rise of the Religious Right in America).
The sabotaging of the metaphysical need by Religion has been harmful not just for humanity but, paradoxically, for Religion itself. Thus, Carl Sagan is correct when he writes:
[i]'How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My God is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.'[/i]