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Things that donors know: is it worth believing?

Religion is not just a system of supernatural beliefs. Faith is not a religion, in fact a religion can exist without an orderly theological meaning but will always include worship, rules of conduct and above all community. Religion is probably a product of human evolution at the level of community survival

Blowing of the shofar. Illustration:
Blowing of the shofar. Illustration:

The previous column dealt with the adaptation of religious belief to the way we perceive and interpret the world. But religion is not just a system of supernatural beliefs. Faith is not a religion, in fact a religion can exist without an orderly theological meaning but will always include worship, rules of conduct and above all community.

When the question is not "what does religion make us believe"? But "how does religion make us live" or "is it worth believing"? Religion becomes an evolutionary puzzle. How does a system survive that requires wasting valuable food on offerings and sacrifices, devoting a long time to prayers and rituals, effort in building temples and synagogues and countless prohibitions, fasts and restrictions?

Are believers happier than unbelievers?

Apparently the answer to the question "is it worth believing" is simple, let's check whether believers are happier than those without faith. The problem is that it is difficult to measure happiness and it is even more difficult to isolate religious belief from other variables related to it. In Israel, the average believer will have a lower income and have a larger family - factors that affect the quality of life and satisfaction at least as much as the belief in Mount Sinai. The countless surveys conducted among diverse populations have produced conflicting results on the question of the correlation between religiosity and happiness. A broad survey among believers and unbelievers from 160 countries revealed that religiosity increases the feeling of happiness (subjective well-being) The effect was stronger in cultures where the majority of the population is religious, meaning that it is worthwhile to be religious if most of the people around you are religious. Other studies indicate a positive effect of religiosity in reducing loneliness and anxiety, and from the Central Bureau of Statistics surveys we can learn that the residents of Bnei Brak express more "satisfaction with life" than the residents of Kfar Saba, although it is not clear whether this answer to the survey really reflects happiness or a culture that does not encourage complaints and believes that " A person likes to bless the bad just as he blesses the good." Even when a statistically significant difference is found in happiness indices, the differences are not dramatic and for the success of religions, more complex explanations than survey results must be sought.

These explanations can be divided into two, there are those who find important advantages for the individual in belonging to a community with unique characteristics and a rigid set of rules of conduct, and there are those who see the religious community itself as a "superorganism", meaning a unit that is more than the sum of its parts and that it itself, and not the individual believer, becomes the raw material in an evolutionary process of competition, Change and adaptation.

Religion - a set of rules and laws under the assumption of the existence of a supervising entity

For the sociologist Dominic Johnson, religion is first of all a system of rules and laws, the difference between them and secular laws is the existence of an omniscient supervising entity with infinite punishment capacity. The use of tools and the development of language shifted the evolutionary challenge from physical survival to social integration. Those who want to succeed and pass the genes to the next generation need a reputation as a good, reliable and unselfish friend - one that is worth sharing in the coalition. of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi articulates the idea in Tractate Avot "What is a straight path that man breaks for him - whatever is a glory to its doers, and glory to him from man". In the existence of a social hierarchy, we are similar to our brothers the chimpanzees, except that language allows us to memorize social information for a long time and to transmit it efficiently to other members of the group. Language has made human society more transparent than any herd of monkeys and therefore the reputation on which evolutionary success depends has become more vulnerable. Much more caution is required not to be caught in violation of the group's rules when anyone can tell about your actions, gossip and cause long-term damage to your status. Because this is how our ancestors were required to readjust the management of errors in the social sphere. Error management is the way we manage the risks of our decisions under conditions of uncertainty. When setting smoke detectors to detect fires, the sensitivity must be calibrated. Too low sensitivity may delay the identification of a real fire, while high sensitivity will cause false alarms. Since it is not possible to guarantee a state of 0 errors, they prefer to bring the detector to over-sensitivity, which means paying the price of false alarms to prevent much greater damage from a real fire. In science, a deliberately high threshold of statistical significance is set, which is necessary to confirm a hypothesis because, unlike the smoke detector case, the damage caused by a false discovery is considered higher than that of missing a true discovery. A supervising and punishing deity is, according to Johnson, the way our ancestors' social error management system was diverted with the development of language. Whoever transferred the role of the human observer to be feared to a superhuman observer lost here and there opportunities for easy profit but greatly reduced the greater danger of criminality being exposed. Indeed, those who continue to read the Rabbi's words in the chapters of Avot also find the way in which the believer assures himself of glory from man: "Look at three things and you will not come to transgression, know what is above you that an eye sees and an ear hears, and all your deeds are written in a book."

A system of rituals?

Other researchers see religion first of all as a system of rituals: prayers, rituals and sacrifices. Researcher R. Sosis explains that the rituals and customs, especially the demanding and expensive ones, are a device that ensures social cohesion, which, in his opinion, is the survival advantage of religions. Among neighboring tribes in New Guinea it was found that the communities that require difficult and arduous rituals are the most successful economically and socially. Belonging to a supportive community based on trust, mutual help and willingness to sacrifice on the part of its members is an important asset, but such a group is threatened from within by counterfeiters. Those who enjoy the benefits of the group but avoid contributing to the group will gain a great advantage, therefore over time the number of counterfeiters will increase at the expense of the reliable members and the structure will collapse. To ensure stability, the group must mark those who are truly committed to the rules, that is, set a high price for acceptance. A study that examined initiation ceremonies (zubur) for young men in various societies found that the ceremonies become more difficult and demanding as the external danger increases, meaning that the more essential it is to identify the reliable members of the group. Public prayers, burdensome clothing, sacrifices, ritual cutting of the skin or genitals (of the believer himself or his descendants) all serve social cohesion because they are too expensive and painful behaviors for counterfeiters. Thus, among religious communes that flourished in the 19th century in the USA, those that demanded greater sacrifice from their members survived over time. Among the Jews, it is precisely the strictest groups that manage to preserve and grow the community. The schism in Christianity in the 16th century is commonly attributed to the extravagance of the popes who charged the believers with the financing of their large construction projects. But the history of religions shows that Pope Julius II did not make a mistake in collecting too much money to build the magnificent churches in Rome. Such a sacrifice could actually serve the cohesion of the community of believers just as the sacrifice to build the Mishkan helped the Likud with Israel and the great sacrifice to the Crusades strengthened the Catholic Church in previous generations. The error of the popes was to obtain the money by selling forgiveness of sins so that the basic function of the religious commandment was compromised: the community's ability to distinguish between the faithful and the crooks. The process, it turns out, is two-way: the sacrifice required by the religion not only illustrates the faith but also strengthens it: those who are required to suffer and sacrifice in the name of faith will tend to hold on to it more devoutly.

Evolution of groups and communities

A different type of explanation is offered by David Wilson, who expands the scope of evolution to include groups and communities. The driving forces of biological evolution: variation, competition, and adaptation to the environment can also be found outside of biology. Religions compete with each other for believers, undergo changes and have to adapt to a changing economic, political and cultural environment. The religion should offer a supportive community and satisfaction of material and emotional needs and do it better than competing religions. Every religion encourages cooperation and mutual help within the community and almost all of them adopt one version or another of "love your neighbor as yourself". Religion moderates competition and conflicts within the community (resolving internal conflicts is the primary role of priests of all religions) and intensifies competition against groups outside of it. In this way, religion becomes a kind of super organism that diverts the "war of existence" from the level of the individual to the level of the group in a way that can be compared to the creation of a multicellular organism from a collection of single cells. When behavior was examined in games in which one had to choose between a sure profit through selfish behavior or a concession that would only benefit if the game partner chooses to cooperate, it became clear that religious believers are more inclined to trust and share than secularists. Similar to biological species, most religions disappear with the generations and succeed those who succeed in increasing the number of believers through natural reproduction (all religions encourage their shepherds to adhere to the commandment of "produce and multiply"), to spread their faith outwards, to prevent the conversion of community members. A comparative review shows that Religions serve the community in which they operate and preserve its social structure. The success of a religion depends on how effectively it fulfills its social function. When the political and economic world changes, religions are also forced to change or become extinct, just as the extinction of the dinosaurs allowed the rise of mammals, so the disintegration of the Roman Empire made the Christian communities that provided security and support attractive to large audiences and thus Christianity turned from a fringe sect into a mass religion. Similarly the destruction of the Temple made Sadducean Judaism irrelevant and the Pharisaic current that suited scattered communities won the competition.

"How can it be that in the 21st century we still believe in such nonsense?" is a common reaction of unbelievers to manifestations of piety that seem primitive to them. Paradoxically, the biological and social research whose starting point is atheist carries optimistic news for believers: as long as our brain works as it does, as long as we live in societies and communities, take care of our social status and are forced to create laws and rules for living together, then religions will continue to prosper.

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More of the topic in Hayadan:

5 תגובות

  1. FYI: I had a brother named Yoram who fell in the Yom Kuphur War and for his memory and honor I demand that you stop using his name as a nickname for nerds and geeks. He never did you harm, on the contrary, he sacrificed his life for you, and this is your thanks?

  2. It is also interesting to think about secular religious-like structures that fulfill some of the functions that religions once fulfilled exclusively.
    You can look at sample veganism (full disclosure, I'm vegan), you can't fake sample veganism, that is, if you declare yourself a vegan, you won't be able to eat more, say, of the cake that we brought to the office.
    But vegans for example create a community, it is interesting to do research but I am sure that vegans will be ready to trust each other no less than believers in demanding religions.
    You can also see protecting the environment in an extreme way, such as not using a straw (which probably doesn't really have a real effect, it's more of a statement, I guess less than ten percent of all the plastic in the world is actually used to make disposable straws)

  3. As usual, interesting and good, but after referring to my response in the previous list,
    It is also appropriate to be precise here that again: according to the order of things in the Rem:
    - It is written: "How does a system survive that requires the waste of valuable food on offerings and sacrifices," not true, there is no waste since the food and offerings are eaten
    By the parasitic clerics that are their livelihood,
    - The question "Are believers happier than those without faith?" was recently given a positive answer in articles on Channel 11, and I added "It turns out that the greater the belief in a higher power and the greater the ignorance, the greater the happiness."
    - "Religion is first of all a system of rules and laws that differ from secular laws in the existence of a supervising entity" as I wrote in the previous response: as soon as human society created a system of rules and secular law, religion became completely unnecessary.
    - The last paragraph: "As long as we live in societies and communities, take care of our social status and are forced to create laws and rules for living together, then the religions will continue to prosper." Emphasizes the fact that the more "the laws and rules..." become more secular the religions become unnecessary...
    - because again and again the hidden fact becomes clear that the religion that preceded secular law systems, systems that allowed religion, still dominates many societies and populations, as the extent of the ignorance, so the extent of the faith...

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