The one thing I have strayed away from both here and in 60 Posts is the god issue. I have touched on it in many places and discussed morality occasionally (see here for example) but I have avoided a detailed look. When others have spoken of dualism and monism, the reference to a spiritual dimension always seems to come up.
Moral dualism began as a theological belief. Dualism was first seen implicitly in Egyptian Religious beliefs by the contrast of the gods Set (disorder, death) and Osiris (order, life). The first explicit conception of dualism came from the Ancient Persian Religion of Zoroastrianism around the mid-fifth century BC. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion that believes that Ahura Mazda is the eternal creator of all good things. Any violations of Ahura Mazda’s order arise from druj, which is everything uncreated. From this comes a significant choice for humans to make. Either they fully participate in human life for Ahura Mazda or they do not and give druj power. Personal dualism is even more distinct in the beliefs of later religions (see here for reference).
The god issue is a long and complicated story. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006) demonstrates comprehensively why we have courted mythology for so long. I will simply try to see how it fits into this story.
To an evolutionist, religious rituals ‘stand out like peacocks in a sunlit glade’ (Dan Dennett’s phrase). Religious behaviour is a writ-large human equivalent of anting or bower-building. It is time-consuming, energy-consuming, often as extravagantly ornate as the plumage of a bird of paradise. Religion can endanger the life of the pious individual, as well as the lives of others.Thousands of people have been tortured form their loyalty to a religion, persecuted by zealots for what is in many cases a scarcely distinguishable alternative faith (Dawkins, 2006).
The god space that we keep for ourselves consoles us by explaining away circumstances in our lives that are beyond our understanding (Dawkins, 2006 quoting Daniel Dennett, 1981). All the elaborate religious rituals, mating calls of the priests and the preachers, dances and machinations of the shamans, concoctions and chants of the witchdoctors, voodoo celebrations in the Caribbean, all are part of the human travesty that we call religion and all created and nurtured within the male psyche. Yes, the male psyche in it’s effort to attract a mate from amongst its female congregation.
We may need a god space. There may be something in our nature that calls for it. Where we go wrong is when we create stringent ideologies that lock us into a faith in that god. Acting on behalf of these faiths we kill and maim in the god’s name, shifting moral responsibility for the massacre onto the god’s shoulders.
We may also look upon religious faith as a hormonal reaction to feeling comfortable within a group (as in a church/synagogue/mosque). We say we are in the presence of god when in fact we are in the thrall of a serotonin release through social communion. Exercise helps in the release of these and possibly other hormones. One might say that standing up and sitting down at regular intervals for hymns or for prayer, as you do in your church services or repeatedly bowing and chanting when in a mosque may be enough gentle exercise to encourage hormonal releases, especially if it’s for the purpose of common prayer.
The god space may even have been an evolutionary necessity. Belief in some kind of mythology may have kept different groups together for a common purpose. This aspect of religion continues to play out today. Al Shabaab in Somalia use it to ‘keep the faith’ amongst their fellow henchmen. The persecuted Coptic Christians in Egypt no doubt use it to console themselves in the face of destructive Muslim extremism. The Israelis use it in the face of Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian hatred. Evangelists use it to drum up more followers (and subsequently to generate more wealth as well as more prospective sexual liaisons). Evolution continues to move on however. If the preservation of group identity leads to conflict between the various communities on our crowded planet then those groups who have adopted a more flexible, forgiving belief system, demonstrated by their ability to accommodate and tolerate, these groups will prevail. Their ability to adapt to changing circumstances will give them an edge over those groups with closed belief systems, and who are either unwilling or unable to adapt.