03 Oct 1994 12:02

I'm particularly interested in what one might call, with a nod towards Mr. Hume, the natural history of religion --- religion considered as an utterly mundane, human phenomenon, something invoking various mental and social processes, much like book-collecting, politics or protection rackets, all of which, in some ways, resemble it. The basic observations about the natural histories of religion would seem to be that (1) religion is nearly but not quite universal among human beings; (2) religions are not believed because they are true; (3) every religion is full of wishful thinking, and the more popular the strain, the more wishful it is, and the more anthropomorphic. (A brief explanation of (2): at most one religion can be correct. Therefore most of them cannot be believed because they are true, because they are not. But even if we suppose that one of the existing faiths is true, it is manifestly propagated by exactly the same mechanisms as all the false ones, so its truth is not the reason it is adhered to.)

See also: Cognitive Science; Conversion; Cults; Goddess, The; Initiation Rites; Islam; Magic; Memes; Millenarianism; Myths; Possession; Shamanism; Social Neuroscience; Sociology; Superstition; Terrorism; Zen