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The Functions Of Faith
Lyrics from 3 of the most popular Christian songs of 2012:
I fall into Your arms, Right where I belong, Your everlasting arms. And where would I be Without You. I’d be packin’ my bags when I need to stay.
I want to live like that. Am I proof That You are who you say. You are That grace can really change a heart.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. O my soul. Worship His holy name. Sing like never before. O my soul. I’ll worship Your holy name. (more)
Lyrics from 3 of the most popular Christian hymns ever:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.
Thou canst hear though from the wild, Thou canst save amid despair. Safe may we sleep beneath thy care, Though banish’d, outcast and reviled.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! (more)
A few weeks ago I attended a Christian church service, where my dad gave the sermon, and my brother ran the music. My other brother gave a sermon at an evening service, and my mom continues to write and publish Christian novels for tween girls. Yeah, we are a pretty religious family.
I’m an atheist, and atheists usually emphasize their reasons for disagreeing with religious dogma. But attending the service, I was reminded that church is mostly not about dogma. Church services, and religion more generally, serve many useful functions for their participants. Browsing the song lyrics above helps one see such functions:
Acceptance – With unusual eagerness and sincerity, churches adopt the classic forager norm of heart-felt acceptance and inclusion, on nominally equal terms, of anyone who supports their community and its norms. Its ok to violate such norms sometimes, as long as you try not to. People really do deeply crave belonging somewhere.
High Status Ally – We are truly stressed by our conflicts with higher status others. We’d rather have even higher status allies, so we can say “He told me to do this; if you don’t like it, take it up with him.” God can be such a comforting high status ally. Christians affirm this ally relationship by showing their eagerness to submit to God’s dominance. They praise the nice things he’s done, and apologize for ways they may have disappointed him. We humans don’t just enjoy dominating others – we also sincerely enjoy submitting, at least if our target seems worthy. Especially if such an ally has a reputation for severely punishing those who oppose him.
Self-Control – Religion evolved from forager spirituality to help farmers resist temptations to forager-natural behaviors. Church highlights such temptations, assures folks that everyone suffers them, and offers concrete suggestions for resisting. A balance is struck between celebrating those who succeed and not overly rejecting those who fail. Gratitude toward, and a reluctance to disappoint, one’s high status ally and community, helps with self-control. Atheists often seem surprisingly lacking in such self-control.
Ritual – While we don’t understand how exactly rituals help and comfort it us, it seems pretty clear that they do.
When atheists try to make substitutes for religion, they often do pretty well on acceptance, and on collecting specific self-control mechanisms. But they find it hard to substitute for the high-status ally, the added comfort and self-control this allows, and the rituals this makes more powerful. Yes, if there isn’t a God, and you don’t believe in him, you win points for having more true beliefs. But you may well lose in your ability to get things done that you want done. There is simply no general guarantee that humans will get more done when they believe more truths.
I’d like to know more about how industry era religion differs from farmer era religion. This might help me to project how em era religion might differ yet again.