But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect —life in its fullness until you overflow!John 10:10b
We might have different understandings on how religions developed. One explanation, and a pretty good one for that matter, looks at our faculty to see faces.
It is astonishing how well most people recognize faces. But it is even more flabbergasting that we see faces in so many things that are not actually faces.
On the other hand, equally surprising, we never misinterpret a face for anything else.
Our sense that detects faces errs on the side of false positives and has no false negatives.
This is important. Imagine the consequences of running from a predator when there is none. It might be tiredness or breathlessness. Now imagine not detecting a predator when there is one. Maybe that is the last thing you would do.
False negatives in this case turn out to be potentially fatal. Thus, if 100% accuracy cannot be achieved, we better err in the direction of false positives.
But we are talking about religion, not faces. What comes to mind is Pascal’s wager:
Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though (the Christian) God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas if God does exist, he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).Wikipedia
Here too, it is better to err in the direction of a false positive.
This has been recognised intuitively, even subconsciously very early in human development. It was more advantageous to believe that there is cause and effect and that there is a spiritual realm than not.
I give you a personal example of this mechanism in play: I believe that the above is not happen chance. I believe that it is directed by God, and it is part of the God shaped hole each of us experiences.
Just as the sense to detect faces is a relational feature that allows for survival when encountering a predator or enemy as much as deep friendship and love when encountering the right person, and for much fun detecting those weird faces in the least expected places, the religious sense of detecting God in things and happenings is deeply relational as well.
It sends us on a journey to discover God, and it allows for deep connections between people.
We could on the other hand conclude that I am wrong and that I experience exactly such a false positive in my interpretation and that all this is mere evolution. We do not know, thus Pascal.
Humanity became conscious and learned about death. Before, death was a non-issue, just part of life. But now, being self- and other-conscious, people started to recognize that what was happening to others would one day happen to them.
A dead body was succinctly different from a living one, and people asked themselves where the living part of the beloved or feared person had gone. So they started to explain the things around them as actions of those gone from their midst.
This evolved into mythical creatures like spirits of waters, animals and plants, and soon gods.
If you believe in the existence of one monotheistic God as I do, this was the preparation for the revelation of the existence of God himself. Humanity was now ready to recognise that there is one God.
When we read the bible with the understanding that it was penned down in a time when this recognition of the one and only God had been made and mostly prevailed, we can see the traces of this development from spirits to gods to power gods to one God, explained through the lens of monotheism, in stories told by people who interpreted that one Go back into those ancient stories, picking up on the subtle traces they found.
There is one drawback to this development: we interpret such a God by making our understanding of a human soul gone after death grander and grander. This God will always have many super-human characteristics, and we will be caught in our own imaginary ability.
There is especially one dimension that causes many problems: cause and effect developing into rules.
At the beginning of this journey, people interpreted bad things happening to them as rage, revenge by or mood of the ancestors. They remembered uncle Joe being vicious in his lifetime, and he certainly had not lost this trait after the great passage. They needed to appease the ancestors, live certain lifestyles, and that resulted in God imposing 10 commandments and over 600 laws.
Though God had throughout the old testament spoken about grace and love, that was only attainable to those that lived a clean life.
We valued salvation over inclusion. In order to experience God’s grace and love, we needed to adhere to his rules. Adhering to his rules meant being saved. Everybody else was excluded.
The new testament is absolutely different from this. It is the next revelation of the nature of God as love and grace.
But since our image of God has taken such deep roots within us, as it developed over thousands of years, we still interpret the new testament revelation from the same place. We still make salvation a prerequisite of God’s grace and love, and sacrifice many as we exclude them. Of course we say that they excluded themselves.
Thus, Jesus died. His death is a metaphor for the death of the God of the old testament, among many other things.
Historically, this death manifested in our minds during the aftermath of the reformation. The enlightenment put God to death, which was acknowledged by Nietzsche when he exclaimed that God is dead.
Above explanation that humanity errs on the side of false positives when detecting supernatural interventions and thus the existence of God was from then on called a delusion. Three possible reactions were found about how to proceed from there and what religion could serve for now that we had discovered our error.
The 4 horseman of new atheism decided that we have to kill religion and live purely rational lives as religion is misleading.
Scott Atran and Joe Henrich stated that religion now serves to strengthen cooperation using group selection, that groups with a common belief system are more effectively cooperating and as cooperation proves evolutionary valuable, religion should survive.
Durkheim sees the maypole as a metaphor for religion: doing the maypole dance together serves to bind people together. Religions therefore fulfills a deep need people have for belonging.
Jesus rose from the dead. If this metaphor holds, putting religion to death is not the end, but, to somewhat quote Churchill, the end of the beginning.
During this time period of God being dead, people value inclusion over salvation. We are all to participate, but there is nothing higher, no deeper sense, no eternal life, no salvation. It’s all on us.
I believe that God will rise again. Not as a super-human projection as we entertained it for thousands of years because we did not understand better, but as something much closer to reality. We do not know yet what he/she/it/they will look like, but we have begun a new search. Scattered, esoteric, confused by our loss, but with a growing understanding and strive.
And since this is relational, we will also develop a better understanding of ourselves.
We have lived in a world of scarcity that made it necessary to fight for resources. Salvation over inclusion was a direct corollary.
Being excluded naturally lead to the negation of the system that did the excluding and therefore to the negation of salvation in the first place: inclusion over salvation was a natural corollary and counteraction.
We have changed this around and more and more are living in a world of overflow. This slowly changes our mindset and we can combine the two now: salvation and inclusion.
God is a god of more than enough. He never had to prioritise salvation over inclusion.