This article examines whether humanity is ready to move on from religion. As a growing number of people are turning away from organised religion, a correlation can be seen in nations that provide their citizens with high economic, political and existential stability. Security in society may well be a key factor in diminishing religious beliefs. There are also examples of people turning to religion after experiencing personal tragedies or natural disasters.
If ancient societies were kept in line through belief in an angry god or gods watching over them, it would seem somewhat logical for modern societies to shun these beliefs, particularly in light of science having solved a lot of the mysteries that frightened people in the past.
However, people in modern societies continue to believe that any wrongdoing on their part, or ‘sins’ in the context of religion, will lead to punishment by the god or deities that the person worships. Accidents that may occur totally coincidently are thus seen as punishment for ‘sins’.
This irrational thinking is what Sigmund Freud refers to in terms of wish-fulfilment: the person feels guilty for their ‘sins’ and therefore expects and even wants punishment.
This article will show that while religious beliefs are diminishing, they are certainly not disappearing.
Why does nobody believe in Zeus these days? What about the thousands of other gods that have been worshipped throughout history? Why do children always have the same religion as their parents, and why is this always accepted asthe right religion? Also, if you consider your religion to be the only true religion, how can all the others be wrong? These questions are markers on our journey together, as we explore the question of whether we have outgrown our gods once and for all.
Imagine how scary the night was in ancient times, and how vast the starry sky seemed, let alone the lack of understanding of what stars actually were. Imagine sitting beside a fire in a cave watching shadows flicker on the walls and thinking: ‘What does it all mean?’ It could be argued that the invention of the telescope and the microscope should have put an end to gods. Science should have provided all the answers people needed, so why did they not let go of their religious beliefs? We all know that science does not have all the answers and therefore does not necessarily lead to a rise in secularism. Science should not be held up as the ‘enemy’ of religion. Historically, there were two notable sources that advocated for science to dislodge religion. The French philosopher Augustus Comte believed that societies pass through three stages: the religious, the metaphysical and the scientific. Comte coined the term ‘sociology’, as he wished to replace religion with a new science of society. The 19th century also saw the rise of the conflict model of science and religion. This was essentially the theological versus the scientific.
In order to understand the staying power of religion, we need to look at how humans make sense of their world. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective viewed religion as the unconscious mind’s need for wish-fulfilment. People need to feel secure and to absolve themselves of their guilt. Freud believed that they chose to believe in God as a powerful father figure.
It is likely that humans will always crave a higher power or some kind of force or energy beyond themselves. As long as there are humans with human needs, religion is not going away anytime soon.
Boyd, N. (2015). Auguste Comte: Theories & Contributions to Sociology
Dawkins, R. (2020). Outgrowing God: A Beginners Guide (Penguin/Random House)
Schurman J. G. (1896). [Review of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by A. D. White]. Science, 4(102), 879–881
Boyd, N, 2015. Auguste Comte: Theories & Contributions to Sociology
Shurman, J. G. (1896). [Review of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by A. D. White]. Science, 4(102), 879–881
Turner, J. E. (1931). Freud and the Illusion of Religion. The Journal of Religion, 11(2), 212–221.