Naturally some religious people will choose to skip reading this article because of the length or because of the content. For those who do choose to read on, I will explain how not reading this is actually good for your religion. I intend to explain the origins of modern day religions ironically by using the theory of evolution.
Evolution is put when something simple becomes more complex over time. In order for this to happen, there are two crucial things that must occur. Firstly, mutations must occur and secondly, the most advantageous traits survive while the least effective traits die off. This is also known as survival of the fittest. Mutations, survival of the fittest, and moving from simplicity to complexity over time are all things that occur in religion. Evolutionary adaptations in religion have convinced billions of people over thousands of years to suspend rational thinking in favor of irrational beliefs.
Mutations in religion can be easily understood by examining language. Despite common origins, languages are constantly changing and evolving. This occurs naturally through human errors or mistakes in communication or interpretation. An obvious example being the American spelling of the words ‘Labor’ and ‘Neighbor’ despite its proper English roots which are “Labour” and ‘Neighbour’. Even the most un-questioning religious believer would agree that religion has been both communicated and interpreted for thousands of years. Accurate mass duplication of religious texts only became possible by the 1439 invention of the printing press which until meant that until that time, duplications of religious texts were subject to human errors. It should also be stated that prior to the late 1700s, formal education was nonexistent which meant the majority of the population were actually illiterate. Just like a game of “The Telephone Game” (AKA “Chinese Whispers”), this allowed for several millennia of misunderstandings and alterations of stories and ideas. All of this is compounded by the fact that many religions needed to be translated from one language to another several times over. We need to look no further than the phenomenon known as “Engrish” to understand that languages do not directly translate and can only be interpreted from one language to another.
Both language and religion are also susceptible to intentional changes as well. The use of slang is prevalent across most, if not all languages which has resulted countless dialects in each language. You could even make the argument that languages are born through slang by looking at the recent formation of the Ebonics. Other changes born out of necessity or practicality such as abbreviations or because a word is needed to describe something that does not exist. It is not hard to understand that intentional changes can be made to religions for any number of reasons. Although it may not be honest to make intentional changes to religious books, there is always the possibility that the changes were justified by existing passages for the betterment of the religion as a whole. Additionally, a corrupt or dishonest person could make changes for personal reasons in an attempt to gain wealth or power. For example, a person might falsely claim that a very powerful and authoritative being is privately speaking to them in order to artificially control and profit other people. A verse that condemns greed for example could have been an attempt to increase donations from believers. A change like that would have a very profound and advantageous impact on the success and survival of the religion.
In addition to increasing donation amounts, intentional changes to texts could also be made in order to attract and retain larger numbers of people as well as to increase the frequency of attending religious events. These concepts are actually the start of a business equation which goes as follows (The bold variables are the ones that can be manipulated and improved):
Number of Clients
Average # of Sales/Year
When you examine the intricate details of a religion and start to question why the religion is the way it is with this equation in mind, it becomes rather apparent that religion is a highly tuned profit machine. In fact, many churches around the world are able to ignore their margins because of overhead is not a concern. In fact, many churches have enough money to spend vast amounts of money on marketing and improving their “store front”. Google is one of the largest companies in the world and yet their main headquarters, the Googleplex, looks like a Pinto next to a Bentley. This is 100% necessary though in order to maintain the image of a religion “blessed” by God. In a way, religions are like open source franchise businesses. Build the church, follow the franchise agreement (the holy book) and you can use the corporate name and logo to gain instant recognition for immediate success. On top of that, they do all of that without paying a single penny of taxes to the government. Think about that next time you are asked for a donation at church service (not retail or manufacturing). Imagine what the US Government could do with the economy if they had 50 years worth of religious tax revenues and were not distracted by the money and demands thrown around by the Christian and Jewish Lobbies.
Coming back to the evolution of religion, in order to understand my next point, it is important to view each and every change or adaptation of religion as the birth of a brand new type of religion. No matter how minor the change, the difference between the old religion and the new one makes each one unique with their own advantages and disadvantages. In terms of language, each new religion would be the equivalent of a new inflection of a syllable of a word of a dialect of a language. Biology would refer to it as a new life in the domain of the kingdom of the phylum of the class of the order of the family of the genus of the species. When a religion changes or splits, the two different religions will compete for survival. They could both survive, both die, or one dies while the other survives. The fact that both religions can survive and continue to change independently of the other explains how different religions share so many common traits. Just like the French and English languages share many common traits because of their common ancestor, Latin. many of the modern day religions share common traits of the ancient Egyptian religion Paganism which pre-dates Christianity by over 1000 years.
While the some things like the printing press and record keeping techniques have allowed religions to extend their grasp on the world, these will also be their downfall. As soon as the holy books were mass produced and distributed throughout the world, no more additions or subtractions could be made without someone noticing. So after several millennia of evolution, holy text books were essentially written in stone. This would be perfectly okay if the rest of the world stopped evolving as well, however, this was not the case. Between the internal contradictions of the holy books and the contradictions newly discovered scientific facts, religion’s only survival technique is to manipulate interpretations and have religious prophets “speak to god” for instructions. And because the printing also brought the ability to spread factual knowledge alongside spiritual knowledge, we can ultimately blame a simple invention for the eventual demise of religion.
Studies have conclusively shown that the more intelligent someone is, the less likely they are to subscribe to a super natural belief system. Without trying to insult anyone, religion has survived as long as it has because of the abundance of naïve, gullible, and ignorant people in the world. In terms of evolution, religions are highly adapted for acquiring their prey species, people who are not skeptical or willing to research things properly. These are people who respect authority and believe what they are told even if it doesn’t make sense. And because of the sheer abundance of gullible minds across the globe, religions remain well nourished and continue to thrive. However, with the advent of the internet and the ability to answer questions with a few simple key strokes, the number of minds that religions will be able to prey upon will dwindle. Ultimately, literal belief systems and those that preach with any kind of certainty will starve to death unless they are somehow able to make another evolutionary adaptation.
In November of 2008, Father Federico Lombardi, spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI stated that “in the age of the cell phone and the Internet, it is probably more difficult than before to protect silence and to nourish the interior dimension of life." He goes on to make an ominous warning that without developing an internal, spiritual life, "you will lose your soul"! This is a very clever adaptation that is designed to prevent Catholics from accessing information that would dissuade belief. Not only is this statement entirely self serving in the interests of the church, but it does so by locking believers out of the most important technologies that have ever been developed. Now, in order to be a devout catholic, you must renounce technologies that have existed for 30 years now and have contributed to the exponential development of human civilization.
One religion that is already equipped to survive the onslaught of information is the Amish. Most people know that the Amish have beliefs which prevent them from using electricity and modern technologies which actually shields their members from outside influences. For an Amish person to read this article and look at is as anything more than blasphemy, I would need to physically mail it to them and circumnavigate all of the other survival adaptations already in place. Even then, it would be difficult to penetrate the real-time rationalizations of religious leaders whose expertise lays in their ability to recall and manipulate the interpretations of scriptures in order to disarm almost any surge of information. This can be put on the same level as “media spin”. The point however is, that the Amish religion, as strange as this sounds, has evolutionary traits which will allow it to survive into the future.
Restriction of information is hardly a revolutionary concept although it is a powerful survival adaption of organized religion. In fact, my Grandparents belong to a religion which uses the verse about worshiping false idols to restrict them from watching television or reading certain sources of information. Restriction and manipulation of information is actually a tactic used in totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany. This means that religions and religious leaders are quite similar to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. This should be a sobering thought for anyone who still hangs on to the meme that Hitler was an Atheist. Many religious believers will even sensor themselves by avoiding anything they deem as “blasphemous” while manipulating information via rationalization. Length aside, many people will either dismiss this article because of a religious scripture or refuse to read it because they view it as “blasphemous”. Whatever their technique of choice may be, the method can be derived from a survival adaptation which is aimed at disarming intelligent information.
Other survival adaptations of religions include consequences of non-belief, the mission to spread the religion, god acting in mysterious ways, belief that God will test peoples’ faiths, belief in the afterlife, belief that Atheists lack any morals. My personal favorite is the saying “the greatest trick the devil ever played was making you believe he doesn’t exist”. I am sure that this allowed many religions to retain and attract many minds and probably helped to fund a small section of the Vatican. These are all man-made and contrived adaptations which have ensured the success and survival of religion. In fact, every religious verse probably owes its current existence to the part they played in their religions survival. Some have outlived their usefulness not unlike the appendix in the human body while others are key components for success like the human brain. One that I don’t quite understand is the tendency for religious people to dismiss entire bodies of information by pointing out a single error. I have already pointed out that humans make errors so it is usually not hard to refute information if all you need to do is poke a small hole in the argument. The really interesting part will be to see which methods of survival are used to refute the information in this article.
My point is this; Religion is a naturally occurring phenomenon which evolved over time just like life itself. It is a collection of ideas and thoughts, some true but mostly false which all contributed to its survival. The religions which were most effective at fooling the human mind and acquiring wealth are the religions which still exist today. Just like life, language, business, sports, automobiles, electronics, and anything complex, religion started from simplicity. It evolved from a question that has mystified humanity since we first developed a consciousness, “why do I exist”. Just like the first audible grunts which formed our modern languages or the single celled organisms that eventually evolved into all the species of the Earth, religion started as a simple question that slowly evolved over thousands of years into a massively complex set of beliefs. The religions that exist today are the ones that survived scrutiny, doubt and skepticism. They are the religions which could not be broken by cynicism or rational thought. They are the ultimate examples of a naturally occurring phenomenon called Evolution.
Evolution is much more than just a theory. It is an irrefutable law of the universe. Traits which are suited to survival will survive to reproduce. It has survived as a theory for 150 years despite of constant attacks from religious organizations. Evolution has survived because it is the perfectly explanation for the origins of life, even when faced with the pressures of scientific scrutiny. Not only is it perfect, it is beautiful just like rest of science and discovery.
Religion has had many battles with science and has always lost. If we listened to religion, we would still believe the world was flat, the sun revolved around the Earth, gravity was the force of god, virgin sacrifices will make it rain and many other irrational and outdated ideas. It would be nice to see all religions viewed for what they are, clever stories with moral lessons and nothing further. In a world where powerful and destructive religious ideas are being combined with powerful and destructive technologies, the literal belief in ancient scriptures has outlived its usefulness. As long as people continue to view religion as a literal explanation for the universe, there will always be an opportunity for someone to commit a horrendous act in the name of god. Additionally, religion will continue to impede the progress made through science. Countless people will invest their lives into something which has very little left to contribute to human civilization and potential geniuses will be warped into ignorant slaves of the mind. The sooner people move beyond their antique beliefs and into reality as we know it, the faster we will reach a Utopian civilization. Science is much more fantastic than the idea of god.
That’s my 2 cents and a hopefully a handful of change.