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Religion - Commentary
CJ Stone -
5 / 14 / 2002

Re: Some Questions

I think the answer is yes. It's quite clear that people look for answers when they have questions. Sometimes the answers are comforting in some way or help them conserve their sense of self, and people stick to those answers. For example, many people feel that if there weren't at least one god somewhere, ready to judge them for their acts, then there would be no morality. People would do whatever they wanted, and to (the now non-existent) hell with everyone else.

But we know that a belief in gods hasn't kept people from immoral acts. The Roman Catholic Church has recently demonstrated quite clearly that it's been a haven for child abusers, and its business is the purveyance of a god. From this, we know that people "do good things" because they have an internal sensation of what's right and what's wrong and they pay attention to that sensation. When they don't pay attention, they do bad things. But that formulation—that we're really on our own, gods or not—it's not very comforting.

So, some people hang on to their beliefs because believing is comforting. But religion is more than just beliefs. I think all of us have looked at a sunset, or looked out over a mountain valley, or seen a flower in the light, or just listened to the sound of the rain and felt that overwhelming sense of something more.

If you read Abraham Maslow's formulations about the pyramid of existence, there is a peak experience, a "something more" experience, at the top of the pyramid. But—and this is a very important but—Maslow discovered it was not necessary to have everything below the peak of the pyramid to get the peak experience. Many inmates in Nazi concentration camps, when essentially denied everything else below the peak, found themselves having peak experiences.

So the answer is yes. Some people need comfort from their beliefs, so they believe what is comforting; but everyone is wired for the peak "something more" experience. Humans are of one blood, but they are not of one mind; religion is largely a product of mind, so religious experience varies.

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