The Guardian has a short piece titled Humans ‘hardwired for religion’. The researcher quoted makes the point that humans seem to exhibit strong, powerful and sometimes
irrational intuitions and sentiments. And intuitive belief in gods is like part of this set of psychological phenomena. As I’ve noted before even those who disavow any supernatural beliefs often feel “creepy” when walking through cemeteries. Materialists may hold with their minds that our bodies are but elements and compounds driven to a state of dynamic flux by a series of intricate biochemical pathways, but often their (our) hearts can not but feel when we see the dead of our own species.
But this is a long way from the problems which institutional and systematic religion have caused in the modern world due to the passions it inflames. I may hold irrational beliefs and sentiments, but I am never moved to “witness” these beliefs to other human beings, use these beliefs as justification for my political platform or personal decision, or, threaten death to those who do not espouse the same irrational beliefs as I do. Fundamentally I take no offense when people state my beliefs are silly because I do not imbue them with ontological significance, I do not use them to cement group ties and fix a sense of belonging, I do not use them to make sense of events in my personal life.
It is important to acknowledge the psychological and biological roots of religious belief, but, it is important to remember that these parameters are necessary, but not sufficient, for the baroque complexities of religion in the modern world. I do agree with those who suggest that the jeremiads of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris will fail on the fundamental level of banishing supernaturalism from the mindspace of our species, but, I also hold that such counter-religious crusades emerge out of the nature of particular forms of “higher” religiosity which have escaped the bounds of simple psychological superstition. The idea of gods maybe immortal, but particular gods are not immune from oblivion, and that is I suspect the true practical utility of men like Harris and Dawkins.