Posted 28 August 2012 - 06:17 AM
Part of the reason that I find old religions like Christianity and Judaism more acceptable is that at the time, it seems as logical an explanation as anything else. Today we have built this whole system of scientific understanding over the course of thousands of years. But if you looked at things like the theory of relativity, or the big bang, without all those intermediary steps are just as crazy as anything in mythology. Hell, I remember when I was a kid just hearing that the world was round, and that the earth went around the sun, blew my mind when I first understood it. Basic empirical observation makes it seem like both these things are false, but there was really no evidence to contradict the events of the Bible 2000 years ago. And Christians today are just following those ideas that have been passed on for millennia.
But with Scientology, you have people who have all this knowledge of how the world really does work, and yet they're still believing all this crazy bullshit that makes no sense. Not that I agree with Christianity, but I kind of think it's just human nature and can live with it. Whereas Scientology is this wholly modern creation, and one that extorts insane amounts of money from its followers. To me it's on a different level from more traditional organized religions.
I do think there's truth to the idea that religion is inherent to human nature. Kyle says that this is something most of us would only believe if told--that we wouldn't come to that conclusion entirely on our own. But the thing is, humans are social animals. It is natural for us to interact and communicate with other humans. And I think it is human nature to want to believe in some sort of a higher power to explain the things we don't understand, and make us feel like there is meaning to our lives. And while all things in the universe do have a natural explanation, to humans just observing the world through their own five senses, it is hard to imagine that such a big and complex natural world isn't planned, and created, and maintained, by some sort of higher being or force.
One more thing: people often see hell as something that was thought up to scare nonbelievers, but I don't think that's true. As a child, hell is indeed very scary. But to an adult, being told that according to some belief system you think is horseshit, you might be suffering after you die--is that persuasive to anyone? I can't imagine it would have been in any time.
No, I think that the reason heaven and hell appealed to people is because it gave comfort to believers. I think we all want to believe that there is inherent justice in the world. We see bad things happen to good people, and vice versa, and we don't like it. To think that all those evil people will get what's coming to them, while those of us who do good will be rewarded, is a very appealing idea. Especially to people living in more pagan religions, which usually centered around superstition and mythology and didn't emphasize things like morality and justice.
Of course Christianity and all major world religions have superstition and mythology. And a lot of their followers will hold on to the superstitions, or apply a simplistic and superstitious interpretation to their own belief system. My point is that they put themselves forward as something more, and offer you a sense that you are not just obeying the whims of these powerful beings, but answering to a higher calling to be a good and righteous person. I think that if you look at all the successful major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) that is what distinguishes them from older pagan religions. Not saying that they are any more true--I'm an atheist--just that the religions that have really been successful over the years have done so by appealing to people's better natures.