The later warmaking, by contrast, is an arid and inherently more competitive environment born of the Abrahamic old-world; with water-resources and petty states established under centralized, kingly rule, periodically extracting the ultimate taxation from their subjects by warmaking. I am by no means a scholar of that region's history but I perceive this model as carrying on primarily between Central Asia and the north-west of the Indian subcontinent in the east, to the easternmost edge of the Mediterranean in the west.
Although I do tend to look on these civilisations as being run by the bully at school who was beaten up by his dad and had no real idea why he was angry so much. If he was big clever and angry he could take over a tribe pretty quick and self select.
I see religions mostly as Conway's game of life - blips of colors fighting for territory using various ways, sometimes removing the competition, sometimes behing destroyed by competition, sometimes dying by themselves, etc.
It's like competition in a soul market :-)
But in what they do, they seem push humanity forward, to give a reason, a hope.
Yet I would be worried if a religion achieved dominant status (monopoly) in a way that could be used to eradicate newcomers and innovation.
We already have an oligopoly - see the problems it makes on a worldwide scale.
I'd argue that the surviving religions are more like the strongest viruses of the mind, not really the most useful mutations for society. You could look at the progress of societies and religions as the co-evolution of hosts and parasites, rather than of a single species acquiring useful new features :)
I'd say the truth is somewhere in between. Religions were a useful adaption. But after being supplanted by more useful mind viruses (like philosophy, which is itself becoming outdated; or formal justice systems), then their utility no longer mattered - just their ability to cling on.
That depends very much on how easy it is to find new hosts.
From Wikipedia: The book presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program which he called a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah (a re-interpretation of the ancient Near Eastern story of the Tower of Babel).
Do they? How can you tell? Maybe they actually slow humanity's progress.
They were the best way to do this in the past, but we have better reasons to hope now: The world is comprehensible and our efforts to understand it meaningfully improve our lives, leading to meaningful improvements in our selves. We are, on the whole, less violent now than we were through most of our history, and there is reason to hope this will continue.
Furthermore, religions claim to have a revelation of truth not discoverable by the western, Enlightenment-based assumptions that the world consists of only the physical reality. There could actually be a spiritual reality, and one of the religions might actually be correct. For example, I personally think that the Christian worldview that we are all selfish (in opposition to God, who is giving, since he needs nothing) explains a lot of things: poverty, oppression, why we can't stop fighting among ourselves, why communes fail, among others.
Religion might just be made up; some certainly seem to be. But, it might also be that some are actually right, and if one of them is right, it might have profound implications on how we live our lives. For example, if there really is a God who loves us so much that he died so that we could eternally relate to him as a child deeply loved by a father, we do ourselves a disservice by assuming that it is just made up. Christianity might be wrong, some other truth claim might be right, but until we have established that religions do not reflect reality, we should at least remain open to that possibility.
How would you propose that we set about determining which religion or mythology is "correct"?
> until we have established that religions do not reflect reality, we should at least remain open to that possibility.
The burden of proof is on the religious. If they can offer testable, reproducible proof that a religion makes valid predictions in specific circumstances, and explains how the universe operates, then they should do so. Once they have, we can call it "science".
In the meantime, as Christopher Hitchens said, "that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."
If such a being does exist, it's fatally damaged any relationship we might have had by never being present in my life.
We all need to be told that someone, somewhere loves us. Some of us had bad relationships with our fathers. But by attributing this to an invisible man, we're not really sharing it with the people who do love us. And finding someone else to call "father" isn't dealing with my own daddy issues.
The first explanation has served us amazingly well and continues to do so. The second explanation would require either that the designed universe we happen to find ourselves in behaves exactly like a universe that came about by blind adherence to natural laws, which is a coincidence so massive it would require a massive amount of evidence to demonstrate, or that the universe was perfectly designed to appear the product of blind natural laws, in which case it is pointless to act as if there is a supernatural plan.
In particular I liked the numerous little tidbits such as Even subtle exposure to drawings resembling eyes encourages good behaviour towards strangers.
Perhaps changing the title to something more grabbing might help to generate interest, eg. "Hacking Society: Religion and Surveillance".
as the top search result.
Some of the reasons:
1) We're hard wired to remember and transmit some types of information - Want to remember the X different types of blood vessels? Hard problem. Want to remember a story about a mountain that eats people? Much Easier
2) Religion and religious structures provide order
3) Religious systems explain and help handle death
4) They provide a form of control against randomness (pray and your child will not die.)
5) Religious systems as social moderators and interaction protocols
6) Act as the super set for superstition and offer explanations and systems to handle unexplained events.
I may have missed or mixed a few points, (Its been a while.)
ALL these reasons combined, ensure that religion will be always be created, and it fills, or ends up filling, multiple key niches human beings encounter
And finally because of our internal wiring, we will always end up remembering and building on these traditions.
So as you say, religion for many reasons really is an emergent property of human existence.
Yeesh, that's sort of an insulting (and rather broad) conclusion to draw about religious people. It seems akin to saying "Religious people are too simple-minded to understand the concept of morality; They can only conceive of good behavior enforced by the threat of torture/violence/all the other stuff that hell entails."