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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Religion -Its evolution. Origin and Purpose

Unbiased observations about religion-its role and        relevance.

This write up covers in depth many aspects of religion in general and in the journey of studying and reading it I have come across some very interesting works and most of this work has more or less been a process of joining those pearls of wisdom to make it into a bright garland.

1] Embarking on certain subjects knowing well enormity of existing literature, probability of coming up with results not in sync with existing views and the concomitant  immensity of the risks  etc makes the task as daunting as trying to churn up a ocean with a straw hoping to come up with something new.

2] It is all the more difficult when the subject is embedded in a very remote past; most of the contents are pertaining to the context of that period; the main characters have not been seen by many or perhaps anyone; followers are emotionally charged and therefore its doctrines are justified rather than subjected to rational review; but its impact and influence is ensured to spread over the entire width and depth of life as a whole and sometimes, rather more often, even about afterlife, evolution of life etc. It, in short permeates into every sphere of human activity that it becomes almost a second nature and to live without acknowledging its role, even if not accepting or following it, is really impossible.

3] Most of its literature is imbued with massive exaggerations, mind boggling myths supported by selective historical accounts etc.

4] Its ideological perpetuation is ensured through well organized institutions, intellectually appealing interpretations, propped by injecting fear and punishment for non believers or those refusing to follow.

5] I have intentionally refrained thus far from mentioning the subject to let the readers to hunch it, however to proceed further I need to indicate what subject I am discussing. It is none other than Religion.

6] I shall be refraining from venturing into any religion in particular to avoid controversies or at least to minimize the controversies and also it is a fact that I cannot claim to know any religion well enough to analyze it because I cannot claim to have followed any religion that seriously or sincerely.

7] If we are asked to come up with a word cloud about religion in general, not any particular religion, what are the things that come to our mind? In brief they could be the following in general.

8] Let me make it very clear at the outset as the write up is in English it may not include many excellent and important concepts that are conveyed by various religions in their own specific vocabulary from Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Russian, German, Punjabi, Hindi, Tamil etc

9] So the word cloud on Religion rendered in English would include at least the following:-
Religion; God or Gods or Goddesses; Divinity; Worship; Devotion; Prayers; Religious Scriptures; Sacredness; Sacrifices; Rituals; Traditions; Heaven; Hell; Symbols; Idols; Statues; Reward and Punishment; Virtue and Vice; Sin and Punya [opposite of sin]; Supernatural elements; Social Customs; Cultural activities like Music; Dance; Preaching etc; Great art and architecture; Innumerable literary works; Reverence for Nature and natural elements; Meaning of Life; Origin of Life; Universe; Origin of Universe; Creator; Angels, demons, spirits, wizards and witches; Morality as defined by  certain socio religious mores; Superstitions, Beliefs, Faith, Ferventness, Fanaticism etc; Socially sanctioned and approved norms; Sacred places or specifically assigned places of worship; Debates about  Origin of life and species; Methods of proper living; Mythologies; Miracles; Mysteries; Magic; Epics; Philosophical concepts; Benevolence; Blessing; Grace; Scholarly discussions; Soul; Spirit; Spirituality; Psychological security; Self –Realization; Social cohesion; Reality; Ultimate Truth; Authority; Sanctity; Priests; Saints; Sages; Holiness; Omni present; Omni potent; Scholarly literature; Occult science; Wise men, Popular stars endorsing religious affiliation; Preaching and   Propaganda; Doctrines; Ideologies; Charity; Love; Fear; Humility; Forgiveness; Non violence; Service to humanity; Care and Compassion; Mortality; Immortality; Many more things all ensuring Obsessive Emotional bonding; A Binding Identity so strongly glued that it assigns the very meaning to existence of the individual in a particular society; Sanctifying sex; celebrating  Births and Deaths; Justifying  Wars and Destruction and  Ruins in the name of Religion; Conversions; Rationality; Scrutiny; Science; archeology; ethnography; history; evolutionary psychology; cognitive science; Consciousness; Conscious Awareness; Inner-self; Group Identity; Social bonds; Harmony ; Unknown.

The above list is common factor for almost all religions. This list is neither exhaustive nor exclusive to any particular religion.

10] This bunch of words representing a very wide spectrum of emotions, activities etc including glaring contradictions is because Religion has or has been allowed to permeate into almost all major areas of human life primarily the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the individual being; the social, and cultural spheres of human beings as a whole; in brief religion is extremely pervasive.

11] Some of the above referred factors have been natural outcomes in the process of evolution of human beings as social creatures, with an additional faculty over other species, namely, Conscious Awareness. This conscious awareness coupled with thought and memory worked to create labels, identities etc to classify, distinguish [ not differentiate] different identities and reinforce them to provide a comfort zone of secured social identity and cohabitation, create a storehouse of collective wisdom and data bank of accumulated knowledge so that human species could concentrate their energies, time, resources to enhance better living, improve upon existing knowledge, help to understand in newer and more ways life and its mysteries and lead happier lives.

12] We must be very clear about one thing that no single subject, however time tested, logical or appealing, be it science or religion can be a panacea for all human problems nor can they even proclaim with axiomatic certitude that some particular thing/theory is most important or impeccable for life of everyone and everything at all times and in all issues.

13] Nothing I have said is either new or unknown but I feel a necessity to recapitulate the facts so that we proceed with the subject matter without any inhibition making a journey into the subject starting from its origin, its immense importance and impact, its relevance in the present day life, especially in terms of whether it needs to be given so much of attention and should it be prioritized over many other factors now etc. 

14] Do we need religion? Can we ignore religion? Why and how religion has evolved? Why every subject, every society, every individual, every culture had to tag on to religion? Is it an intrinsic part of human life or all life or universe? Why must religion get such a priority/greater importance over many other tangibly and obviously useful things for human beings?
All the above questions throw up answers which are in a way inter-related and inter connected.

15] Before we resort to refer to and make use of many or any very enlightened, scientific and scholarly analyzes and discussions on the subject of religion, we need to acknowledge certain undeniable facts of history, or a more preferable terminology would be, story of human evolution wherein religion not only held sway but had dominant role and wherein anything was accepted if, and only if, it had a religious sanction or approval by some religious authority. So all great emperors/leaders/literature/inventions/arts/music/ideas/philosophical concepts/discoveries almost everything had to be scanned and approved by the religious authorities/institutions or were subjected to religio-moral acceptability.

16] In places where religion was observed as a journey of the individual to experience life with freedom unfettered by any restraining religious authority or the necessity to conform to any scriptural confines, especially in some non institutionalized religious groups, thankfully due to lack of institutional control, there popped up lot of literature on astronomy, mathematics, physics, medicine, metaphysics and some other sciences and arts bereft of any religious connection or connotation but they too succumbed to exaggerated extolling of certain godheads, heroes of epics etc. But these types of religious groups were rare and few in number, mostly not within the radius of documented history, literature etc and mostly preceded the history of ferociously functional and institutional identity based fenced frontiers of religions.

17] Therefore, obviously no one can afford to avoid religion, even if he/she feels or is convinced that by and of its own it has no inherent or intrinsic value or appeal.

18] Even where religious institutions dictated and dominated human activity, gradually, despite the overwhelming or rather overbearing influence of religion in human affairs, slowly but steadily scientific reasoning, scientific discoveries, substitutable social systems and political systems, logical reasoning etc made their way and provided human species the much needed tools to explore, decipher and understand themselves and the world through other perspectives as well. They also provided life  the much needed psychological alternatives.

19] As indicated earlier because of its huge influence and impact on almost all spheres of life for a very long time totally doing away with religion is a very difficult task. So the easier option is to accept it, be kind to its positive contributions and blind to its irrelevant rituals, traditions, superstitions etc.

20] However, some well meaning intellectuals and scientists who felt/feel that religious interference has hampered scientific progress and progressive rationality have taken on themselves to expose the irrelevance of religion and all its concomitant paraphernalia or plethora of irrationality in an age when human beings have more advanced and better means to understand and experience life leading to more comfortable life styles and advanced  methods of approaching life which also aid in filling the feeling of lack of psychological solace in the realm of psychological architecture of life especially to free the mind from parochial philistinism.

21] Now let us plough through some of the scholarly literature about religion in general in terms of its role and impact on human psyche and social mores.

22] Evolutionary psychology of religion.

There is general agreement among cognitive scientists that religion is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved early in human history. However, there is disagreement on the exact mechanisms that drove the evolution of the religious mind. The two main schools of thought hold that either religion evolved due to natural selection and has selective advantage, or that religion is an evolutionary by product of other mental adaptations. Stephen Jay Gould, for example, believed that religion was an exaptation [A] or aspandrel [B], in other words that religion evolved as byproduct of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons.

[A] Exaptation (a replacement for the teleologically-loaded term "pre-adaptation") and the related term co-option describe a shift in the function of a trait during evolution. For example, a trait can evolve because it served one particular function, but subsequently it may come to serve another. Exaptations are common in both anatomy and behaviour. Bird feathers are a classic example: initially they may have evolved for temperature regulation, but later were adapted for flight. Interest in exaptation relates to both the process and products of evolution: the process that creates complex traits and the products (functions, anatomical structures, biochemicals, etc.) that may be imperfectly developed.
[B] The term spandrel was an architecture term originally thought up during the Roman period to explain the triangle area between two arches that come together. Stephan Jay Gould, a paleontologist at Harvard, and Richard Lewontin, a population geneticist, originally coined this term for the use of explaining secondary byproducts of adaptions and were not necessarily adaptations themselves. The spandrel was an architectural space created as part of the gap between the area where two arches came together and the ceiling of the building. These spandrels as they were named did not actually come into use until later on when artists realized they could make designs and paint in these small areas adding to the overall design of the building.
In evolutionary biology, a spandrel is a phenotypic characteristic that is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection.

23]  I would like to reproduce here what Robin Marantz Henig states, in his column in New York Times  on March 4, 2007 titled  Darwin’s God based on study of Scott Atran ‘s work , Richard Dawkin’s work etc the following:-

Religion primarily evolved if one were to analyze intellectually to define what Scott Atran, a respected  Anthropologist called as “belief in hope beyond reason”. With all its Gods ,Messengers etc to silence the perturbed human mind and persistent human inquisitiveness to at least portray ,if not perceive  something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science.

This is different from the scientific assault on religion that has been garnering attention recently, in the form of best-selling books from scientific atheists who see religion as a scourge. In “The God Delusion,” published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful,” Dawkins wrote. He is joined by two other best-selling authors — Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith,” and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote “Breaking the Spell.” The three men differ in their personal styles and whether they are engaged in a battle against religiosity, but their names are often mentioned together. They have been portrayed as an unholy trinity of neo-atheists, promoting their secular world view with a fervor that seems almost evangelical.
 “Religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.”       

Atran wrote. “They cannot explain why people can be more steadfast in their commitment to admittedly counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs — that Mary is both a mother and a virgin, and God is sentient but bodiless — than to the most politically, economically or scientifically persuasive account of the way things are or should be.”    
“Our psychological architecture makes us think in particular ways,” says Bering, now at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “In this study, it seems, the reason afterlife beliefs are so prevalent is that underlying them is our inability to simulate our nonexistence.”                               
“Religious and secular rituals can both promote cooperation,” Sosis wrote in American Scientist in 2004. But religious rituals “generate greater belief and commitment” because they depend on belief rather than on proof. The rituals are “beyond the possibility of examination,” he wrote, and a commitment to them is therefore emotional rather than logical — a commitment that is, in Sosis’s view, deeper and more long-lasting.       

Atran says he faces an emotional and intellectual struggle to live without God in a nonatheist world, and he suspects that is where his little superstitions come from, his passing thought about crossing his fingers during turbulence or knocking on wood just in case. It is like an atavistic theism erupting when his guard is down. The comforts and consolations of belief are alluring even to him, he says, and probably will become more so as he gets closer to the end of his life. He fights it because he is a scientist and holds the values of rationalism higher than the values of spiritualism.

24] Steven Pinker of  Harvard University in his lecture titled ‘The EvolutionaryPsychology of Religion’

Presented at the annual meeting of the Freedom fromReligion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin, October 29, 2004, on receipt of “TheEmperor’s New Clothes Award.” Spoke on these lines:-
“The first is that religion gives comfort. The concepts of a benevolent shepherd, a universal plan, an afterlife, or just deserts, ease the pain of being a human; these comforting thoughts make us feel better. There's an element of truth to this, but it is not a legitimate adaptationist explanation, because it begs the question of why the mind should find comfort in beliefs that are false. Saying that something is so doesn't make it so, and there's no reason why it should be comforting to think it so, when we have reason to believe it is not so. Compare: if you're freezing, being told that you're warm is not terribly soothing. If you're being threatened by a menacing predator, being told that it's just a rabbit is not particularly comforting. In general, we are not that easily deluded. Why should we be in the case of religion? It simply begs the question                                  

The second hypothesis is that religion brings a community together. Those of you who read the cover story of Time might be familiar with this hypothesis because the geneticist Dean Hamer, whose new book The God Gene inspired the cover story, offered this as his Darwinian explanation of religion. Again I think again there's an element of truth in this. Religion certainly does bring a community together. But again it simply begs the question as to why. Why, if there is a subgoal in evolution to have people stand together to faceoff common enemies, would a belief in spirits, or a belief that ritual could change the future, be necessary to cement a community together? Why not just emotions like trust and loyalty and friendship and solidarity? There's no a priori reason you would expect a belief in a soul or a ritual would be a solution to the problem of how you get a bunch of organisms to cooperate.                                                                      

The third spurious explanation is that religion is the source of our higher ethical yearnings. Those of you who read the book Rock of Ages by Steven Jay Gould, who argued that religion and science could co-exist comfortably, are familiar with his argument: since science can't tell us what our moral values should be, that's what religion is for, and each “magisterium” should respect the other. Religions have given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers, gay-bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen, and mothers who drown their sons so they can happily be united in heaven.[ I am tempted add here  a Yiddish expression: "If God lived on earth, people would break his windows."]

 To understand the source of moral values, we don’t have to look to religion. Psychologists have identified universal moral sentiments such as love, compassion, generosity, guilt, shame, and righteous indignation. A belief in spirits and angels need have anything to do with it. And moral philosophers such as Peter Singer (one of tomorrow’s honorees) who scrutinize the concept of morality have shown that it is logically rooted in the interchangeability of one's own interests and others
Ambrose Bierce in The Devil'sDictionary, which defines "to pray" as "to ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy."                                 

Death, of course, is the ultimate apparent evidence for the existence of the soul. A person may be walking around and seeing and hearing one minute, and the next minute be an inert and lifeless body, perhaps without any visible change. It would seem that some animating entity that was housed in the body has suddenly escaped from it.

So before the advent of modern physics, biology and especially neuroscience, a plausible explanation of these phenomena is that the soul wanders off when we sleep, lurks in the shadows, looks back at us from a surface of a pond, and leaves the body when we die.

To sum up. The universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. But many adaptationist explanations for religion, such as the one featured in Time last week, don't, I think, meet the criteria for adaptations. There is an alternative explanation, namely that religious psychology is a by-product of many parts of the mind that evolved for other purposes. Among those purposes one has to distinguish the benefits to the producer and the benefits to the consumer. Religion has obvious practical effects for producers. When it comes to the consumers, there are possible emotional adaptations in our desire 

25] So we cannot make sweeping statements like what H.L. Mencken said that “the most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It's the chief occupation of humankind.” This poses an enigma to the psychologist.

26] Here are some very interesting and thought stimulating blogs, sites etc which throw enough light on various aspects of religion in general.

On the origin of religion
[the comments therein are also quiet interesting]

27] Here is another interesting enough site about why there is always a debate or conflict between Religion and Science but this site is not very much in depth, still useful for starters.
28] Here is one that triggers debate on religious views
29] A spectrum of theories on Religion

30] A very exhaustive work based on lot of reference by Scott Atran ‘ In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition Series) 

31] The best account of this book is given here by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, in Human Nature Review
"With almost 1000 references and discussions of most of human history and culture, from Neanderthal burials to suicide-bombers in the Palestinian anti-colonialist struggle, this book is consciously and truly encyclopedic in scope, and shows both breadth and depth of scholarship...the reader finds himself constantly challenged and provoked into an intellectual ping-pong game as he follows the arguments and the huge body of findings marshaled to buttress them...Atran managed to combine the old and the new by relating the automatic cognitive operations to existential anxieties. This combination will be a benchmark and a challenge to students of religion in all disciplines."

32] Another good book is ‘Origin of Religions-an open eye by -B.K.Karkara

33] A very comprehensive and controversial and thought provoking book by John Morreal and Tamara

‘The Religion Toolkit: A Complete Guide To Religious Studies’ andby the same authors ‘50 Great Myths About Religions’

34] Another important book is ‘The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life’ by  Emile Durkheim

35]And Social Origins of Religion By Roger Bastide and Translated by Mary Baker

36] The Post-Secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary Society edited by Philip Gorski, David Kyuman Kim, John Torpey, Jonathan  VanAntwerpen

37] Durkheim's Sociology of Religion: Themes and Theories  By W. S. F. Pickering

 What is the purpose of religion?

38] Throughout the history of man, religion has been present. Religious beliefs have affected everything from personal ethics to national politics. It has been an integral part of many societies in our past and present. However the question remains: 

39] What is the purpose of religion?

I would like to quote from this link

“Religion has been presented to explain unknown intellectual problems (Comte, Tylor), to explain strong and abstract emotional feelings (Marett, Malinowski, Freud), to oppress social groups (Marx), to connect society (Durkheim), to explain arbitrary suffering (Weber), etc.

Many other purposes for religion have been theorized but no universal answer has been found.

Will a single answer ever be found? Is there only one answer?

Possible answers, further questions or any comments are welcome!

Religion has elements that are the same for everybody, for example it does unite (the origin of the word is re, again, and ligare, to tie together). So, you are correct in that religion creates community, but the greater question is for what purpose? To make peace? To create understanding?”

40] Purpose of Religion

From the Writings of Baha'u'llah:

The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.  (Baha'u'llah:  Gleanings, p. 215) 

41] Martin Luther King provided an elegant if not perfect answer to this :-

"A religion true to its natures must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself." 

42] And in this link which is more or less like  a college essay but places general facts in plain perspective

“The Purpose of Religion Introduction

Religion is derived from the two latin words “re” and “ligare” which means “to reconnect”. The concept of religion is relatively recent considering that humanity has been on earth for at least 200,000 years and the oldest living religious traditions namely Hinduism date back to only 6000 BCE. So for over 95% of human history, men and women have nourished their sense of spirituality without any formal religious constructs.

Religion, misused and exploited, can be the most dangerous and the most persuasive force on Earth, but at its best, can be the path of re-connecting a person to higher spiritual truth and the reason behind the most loving and noble actions.”

43] In these two links referring to part –I and part II  explains the purpose of religion in a very interesting manner

Steve McSwain Speaker, Author, Counselor to Congregations, Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions, and Spiritual Teacher, delves a bit in detail and with a heavy heart observes in part 2

“While all religions share the same essential purpose, they also seem to share the same essential problem. Though they start out right they soon end up obsessed with matters of lesser importance. Observe:

Instead of a bridge to God, religion is often a barrier to God.

Instead of freeing people from their burdens, religion itself is the burden.

Instead of knowing God, religion is obsessed with knowing about God.

Instead of divine acceptance, religion is preoccupied with guilt and failure, and the depiction of God as a deity displeased about both.

Instead of bringing unity to humanity, religion is the principle cause of most disunity, with its endlessly expanding hard-drive of beliefs, dogmas and doctrines around which little egos collect to argue, debate and ultimately divide.

Instead of peace and tranquility, religion is, for many its practitioners, a circus of endless activity, programs and meetings all of which are time-consuming and exhausting….” And concludes it with this paragraph, “Again, just as it is outlandish to believe your religion is going to convert the world to its way of thinking, it is equally outlandish to develop a belief system that would leave behind the world you can't convert. We've got to learn to get along. "No tree has branches so foolish as to fight among themselves" (Native American wisdom).”

44] The purpose of religion is reiterated here more as a wish in this link

“The true purpose of religion is not to enable a certain person to rule and play God, or a certain group of people to rule and play gods. Rather, it is to prevent all people from playing God, and help all people recognize how and why all human beings are related as children of God.

Thus, Jews are supposed to be taught that we should not do to others what is hurtful to ourself, Christians are supposed to be taught that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and Muslims are supposed to be taught that no one is a true believer in Allah until he loves for all others what he loves for himself. Likewise, Buddhists are taught that we should treat others as we treat ourself. Hindus are taught that we should not do unto others anything that, which if it were done to us, would cause us pain. Taoists are taught that we should regard our neighbor's gain as our own gain, and our neighbor's loss as our own loss. And, the founders of all true religions have also said that the search for the Divine should be not in the world, but within.

These virtuous teachings and spiritual values are at the very core of all genuine religions. They are compatible and consistent with all the other core universal spiritual values that all enlightened ones taught, about unconditional love, peace, freedom, honesty, humility, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, charity, and pacifism.

Religion is supposed to help human beings understand how and why abiding by these virtues will bring joy, harmony, and peace. And that is why religion is supposed to help human beings acknowledge the real God, the Omnipresent Great Spirit-Parent which loves us all, which is God by any other name.

In fact, God can also be called the Universal Consciousness, or the Divine Creative Force, or the Eternal Divine Light Energy-Source of our existence, and the very Essence of all life and form.”

45] Here is another link PAULO COELHO'S BLOG

“My daughter, Heather, recommended a book to me and I have started to read it. It is called Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho and Margaret Jull Costa. As I have begun to read it, I found these two lines that struck me. “They don’t understand that religion was created in order to share the mystery and worship, not to oppress or convert others. The greatest manifestation of the miracle of God is life.” And I was particularly attracted by two excellent comments both by a person called Isabelle Payette which run thus,

“I don't care about money, prestige and power... but even less about worship. I study all the sciences and that gives me enough to chew on. That is why education exists: To unfold some of the mysteries of nature. Organized religions are for people who don't want to bother searching for themselves and just want to gobble man-made stories and fables of all kinds. The universe is a beautiful place and I want to take care of it just as much (if not more) as anyone of any religious denomination.. Love and compassion have nothing to do whatsoever with religion. A moral sense develop out of the normal unfolding of several developmental stages early in life. If some of these stages go awry, one will need to revisit it at some point because it will create some form of chaos in one' life. The flow can be re-established in several ways (eg meditation, yoga, healthy nutrition, education/therapy, creativity, enjoyment of nature, etc). Religion is like the blind leading the blind. It goes nowhere... just babysitting until you wake up.

Science does not change, it evolves with the new evidence and technology. We're just connecting the dots. Unfortunately, sometimes, people connect things that don't even have anything whatsoever to do with each other. We don't need an answer for everything but only to understand better what is going on in the world so that we can better protect it and reduce suffering any way we can. When someone says something without any shred of evidence, why should we believe it? That is just plain stupid - you call it faith. Conscious awareness does not come from God but it does have many levels. Lower levels are preoccupied by security, sensations and power - which are where most people who believe in God are - and the next 4 levels are something we learn as we detach from the ego. At the highest level, you feel the unity and the connections between every living creatures. I don't see why people need to read some outdated book to understand why and where they are at or even where they should be going. That is the kind of thing you need to learn for yourself by reflecting on your experience and learning from it. Your job is to EVOLVE into the higher planes of your own consciousness which is to say to participate in the unfolding of the full potential of the Universe.”.

46] Here is a wonderful speech on the methods and purposes of religion

47] From

According to Erich Fromm, “humans have a need for a stable frame of reference. Religion apparently fills this need. In effect, humans crave answers to questions that no other source of knowledge has an answer to, which only religion may seem to answer. However, a sense of free will must be given in order for religion to appear healthy. An authoritarian notion of religion appears detrimental.”

William James said it well: "The science of religions would forever have to confess, as every science confesses, that the subtlety of nature flies beyond it, and that its formulas are but approximations."

William James also writes "That the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and that when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge beyond reasoning comes.... All the different steps in yoga are intended to bring us scientifically to the superconscious state or samadhi.... Just as unconscious work is beneath consciousness, so there is another work which is above consciousness, and which, also, is not accompanied with the feeling of egoism.... There is no feeling of I, and yet the mind works, desireless, free from restlessness, objectless, bodiless. Then the Truth shines in its full effulgence, and we know ourselves- for Samadhi lies potential in us all- for what we truly are, free, immortal, omnipotent, loosed from the finite, and its contrasts of good and evil altogether, and identical with the Atman or Universal Soul." *

* My quotations are from VIVEKANANDA, Raja Yoga, London, 1896. The completest source of information on Yoga is the work translated by VIHARI LALA MITRA: Yoga Vasishta Maha Ramayana, 4 vols., Calcutta. 1891-99.

48]  gain William James writes in his The Varieties of Religious Experience chapter 20 titled conclusion. Here I have changed the order of certain sentences and statements.

“To learn the secrets of any science, we go to expert specialists, even though they may be eccentric persons, and not to commonplace pupils. We combine what they tell us with the rest of our wisdom, and form our final judgment independently. Even so with religion. We who have pursued such radical expressions of it may now be sure that we know its secrets as authentically as any one can know them who learns them from another; and we have next to answer, each of us for himself, the practical question: what are the dangers in this element of life? and in what proportion may it need to be restrained by other elements, to give the proper balance?”

“But this question suggests another one which I will answer immediately and get it out of the way, for it has more than once already vexed us. Ought it to be assumed that in all men the mixture of religion with other elements should be identical? Ought it, indeed, to be assumed that the lives of all men should show identical religious elements? In other words, is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds regrettable?

To these questions I answer 'No' emphatically. And my reason is that I do not see how it is possible that creatures in such different positions and with such different powers as human individuals are, should have exactly the same functions and the same duties. No two of us have identical difficulties, nor should we be expected to work out identical solutions. Each, from his peculiar angle of observation, takes in a certain sphere of fact and trouble, which each must deal with in a unique manner. One of us must soften himself, another must harden himself; one must yield a point, another must stand firm,- in order the better to defend the position assigned him. If an Emerson were forced to be a Wesley, or a Moody forced to be a Whitman, the total human consciousness of the divine would suffer. The divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions. Each attitude being a syllable in human nature's total message, it takes the whole of us to spell the meaning out completely. So a 'god of battles' must be allowed to be the god for one kind of person, a god of peace and heaven and home, the god for another. We must frankly recognize the fact that we live in partial systems, and that parts are not interchangeable in the spiritual life. If we are peevish and jealous, destruction of the self must be an element of our religion; why need it be one if we are good and sympathetic from the outset? If we are sick souls, we require a religion of deliverance; but why think so much of deliverance, if we are healthy-minded? * Unquestionably, some men have the completer experience and the higher vocation, here just as in the social world; but for each man to stay in his own experience, whate'er it be, and for others to tolerate him there, is surely best.

THE material of our study of human nature is now spread before us; and in this parting hour, set free from the duty of description, we can draw our theoretical and practical conclusions. In my first lecture, defending the empirical method, I foretold that whatever conclusions we might come to could be reached by spiritual judgments only, appreciations of the significance for life of religion, taken 'on the whole.' Our conclusions cannot be as sharp as dogmatic conclusions would be, but I will formulate them, when the time comes, as sharply as I can.”

“Summing up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life, as we have found them, it includes the following beliefs:

1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;

3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof- be that spirit 'God' or 'law'- is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world

Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:

4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism.

5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.

In illustrating these characteristics by documents, we have been literally bathed in sentiment. In re-reading my manuscript, I am almost appalled at the amount of emotionality which I find in it. After so much of this, we can afford to be dryer and less sympathetic in the rest of the work that lies before us.

The sentimentality of many of my documents is a consequence of the fact that I sought them among the extravagances of the subject. If any of you are enemies of what our ancestors used to brand as enthusiasm, and are, nevertheless, still listening to me now, you have probably felt my selection to have been sometimes almost perverse, and have wished I might have stuck to soberer examples. I reply that I took these extremer examples as yielding the profounder information.

Knowledge about a thing is not the thing itself. You remember what Al-Ghazzali told us in the Lecture on Mysticism,- that to understand the causes of drunkenness, as a physician understands them, is not to be drunk. A science might come to understand everything about the causes and elements of religion, and might even decide which elements were qualified, by their general harmony with other branches of knowledge, to be considered true; and yet the best man at this science might be the man who found it hardest to be personally devout. Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner. The name of Renan would doubtless occur to many persons as an example of the way in which breadth of knowledge may make one only a dilettante in possibilities, and blunt the acuteness of one's living faith. * If religion be a function by which either God's cause or man's cause is to be really advanced, then he who lives the life of it, however narrowly, is a better servant than he who merely knows about it, however much. Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.

The world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective and a subjective part, of which the former may be incalculably more extensive than the latter, and yet the latter can never be omitted or suppressed. The objective part is the sum total of whatsoever at any given time we may be thinking of, the subjective part is the inner 'state' in which the thinking comes to pass. What we think of may be enormous, the cosmic times and spaces, for example,- whereas the inner state may be the most fugitive and paltry activity of mind. Yet the cosmic objects, so far as the experience yields them, are but ideal pictures of something whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly, while the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of our experience are one. A conscious field plus its object as felt or thought of plus an attitude towards the object plus the sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs- such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but it is a solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract element of experience, such as the 'object' is when taken all alone. It is a full fact, even though it be an insignificant fact; it is of the kind to which all realities whatsoever must belong; the motor currents of the world run through the like of it; it is on the line connecting real events with real events. That unsharable feeling which each one of us has of the pinch of his individual destiny as he privately feels it rolling out on fortune's wheel may be disparaged for its egotism, may be sneered at as unscientific, but it is the one thing that fills up the measure of our concrete actuality, and any would-be existent that should lack such a feeling, or its analogue, would be a piece of reality only half made up.

By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all.

In a still more radical vein, Professor Ribot (Psychologie des Sentiments, p. 310) describes the evaporation of religion. He sums it up in a single formula- the ever-growing predominance of the rational intellectual element, with the gradual fading out of the emotional element, this latter tending to enter into the group of purely intellectual sentiments. "Of religions sentiment properly so called, nothing survives at last save a vague respect for the unknowable x which is a last relic of the fear, and a certain attraction towards the ideal, which is a relic of the love, that characterized the earlier periods of religious growth. To state this more simply, religion tends to turn into religious philosophy.- These are psychologically entirely different things, the one being a theoretic construction of ratiocination, whereas the other is the living work of a group of persons, or of a great inspired leader, calling into play the entire thinking and feeling organism of man."

And William James continues in the same book , “Taking creeds and faith-state together, as forming 'religions,' and treating these as purely subjective phenomena, without regard to the question of their 'truth,' we are obliged, on account of their extraordinary influence upon action and endurance, to class them amongst the most important biological functions of mankind. Their stimulant and anaesthetic effect is so great that Professor Leuba, in a recent article, *(2 The Contents of Religious Consciousness, in The Monist, xi. 536, July, 1901.) goes so far as to say that so long as men can use their God, they care very little who he is, or even whether he is at all. "The truth of the matter can be put," says Leuba, "in this way: God is not known, he is not understood; he is used- sometimes as meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is, in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse. *(3 Loc. cit., pp. 571, 572, abridged. See, also, this writer's extraordinarily true criticism of the notion that religion primarily seeks to solve the intellectual mystery of the world. Compare what W. BENDER says (in his Wesen der Religion, Bonn, 1888, pp. 85, 38): "Not the question about God, and not the inquiry into the origin and purpose of the world is religion, but the question about Man. All religious views of life are anthropocentric." "Religion is that activity of the human impulse towards self-preservation by means of which Man seeks to carry his essential vital purposes through against the adverse pressure of the world by raising himself freely towards the world's ordering and governing powers when the limits of his own strength are reached." The whole book is little more than a development of these words.)

49] Religion is hard to pin down. I don't think it has clear cut boundaries.

Most dictionary and wiki definitions are on the right track. Most religions are a subset of supernatural spiritual belief systems, the shared ones typically with dogma. Most started as cults but have become established over time and less reliant on one living person.

50] This link attempts to come out with a more comprehensive definition of religion

“A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that aim to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people may derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferredlifestyle. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.

Many religions may have organized behaviors, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration (of a deity, gods or goddesses), sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religions may also contain mythology.

The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is "something eminently social". A global 2012 poll reports 59% of the world's population as "religious" and 36% as not religious, including 13% who are atheists, with a 9% decrease in religious belief from 2005. On average, women are "more religious" than men.[6] Some people follow multiple religions or multiple religious principles at the same time, regardless of whether or not the religious principles they follow traditionally allow for syncretism

51] Psychology of Religion Pages  By Michael Nielsen, Ph.D.

52] Positive Atheism

53] The Psychology of Religion  Joseph McCabe                   

54] The following site gives a graphic record of origin of religions      

55] Here is one on Origin of Major Religions

56] One on Timeline of Sacred Texts

57] one on Sacred texts

58] Value/role of  religion

Organized religion emerged as a means of providing social and economic stability to large populations through the following ways:

Organized religion served to justify the central authority, which in turn possessed the right to collect taxes in return for providing social and security services to the state. The empires of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were theocracies, with chiefs, kings and emperors playing dual roles of political and spiritual leaders.[9] Virtually all state societies and chiefdoms around the world have similar political structures where political authority is justified by divine sanction.

Organized religion emerged as means of maintaining peace between unrelated individuals. Bands and tribes consist of small number of related individuals. However states and nations are composed of thousands or millions of unrelated individuals. Jared Diamond argues that organized religion served to provide a bond between unrelated individuals who would otherwise be more prone to enmity. He argues that the leading cause of death among hunter gatherer societies is murder.

59] In his book The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond states: "An original function of religion was explanation. Pre-scientific traditional peoples offer explanations for everything they encounter..."

Experience taught Stone Age people the difference between what poisoned them and what satisfied their hunger. Experience made them able hunters and gatherers, and later made them adept at herding. Their minds gathered empirical realities necessary for survival.

the same write up well explained for easy understanding here

60] Notable People in Psychology of Religion     

Does everyone need religion? And what are the supposed functions of religion?        

Religion isn’t for everybody — others find their “purpose” or create their “purpose” other ways.

On the other hand, as you know, laws of physics don’t change from place to place and from time to time

Yes — agreed. This is part of why religion is different from science. It’s also why literature and other of the humanities are different from science — what is “good literature” is often a culturally dependent judgement, whereas I do firmly believe in an objective reality, described by laws of physics that are universal.

61] Philip Goldberg’s  on the several functions of religion  in this link   

In brief  With alliterative flair, Goldberg lists these functions:

1. Transmission: to impart to each generation a sense of identity through shared customs, rituals, stories, and historical continuity.

2. Translation: to help individuals interpret life events, acquire a sense of meaning and purpose, and understand their relationship to a larger whole (in both the social and cosmic senses).

3. Transaction: to create and sustain healthy communities and provide guidelines for moral behavior and ethical relationships.

4. Transformation: to foster maturation and ongoing growth, helping people to become more fulfilled and more complete.

5. Transcendence: to satisfy the longing to expand the perceived boundaries of the self, become more aware of the sacred aspect of life, and experience union with the ultimate ground of Being.

These are  explained in detail in the link above

62] The Horrible truth about religion as practiced in most places are indicated here

63] Great site with lot of interpretive literature available   

64] Surprisingly a very pertinent statement from a link on medicine      

“There are times in our evolution as a cultural species when we need to unlearn what we think we know. We have to move out of the comfort of certainty and into the freeing light of uncertainty. It is from this space of acknowledged unknowing that we can truly grow”.

65] I would like to conclude from one of my favorite author Bertrand Russell

The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

1.         Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2.         Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3.         Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4.         When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5.         Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6.         Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7.         Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8.         Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9.         Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10.    Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

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