The quest for meaning and the desire for tribalism

It’s not difficult to understand the historic need for religion

Share

Thank you for your overwhelming response to last week’s column asking “which God” would allow incidents such as the shooting down of flight MH370, the protection of some would-be passengers and not others, and the deaths of innocent Palestinian children in the Gaza conflict?

I had admitted that, search as I might, the answer to these questions is not evident to me in any religion -  neither the one in which I was brought up (Catholicism) nor another. As ever, having ventured into this territory, some readers accused me of having “a closed heart” – when my entire point is that my heart and head are open, but they are simply not finding any answers, other than that humans need to be less inhumane to each other.

Richard Dawkins is a polarising figure, but at the weekend a series of his tweets caught the eye: “I don't hate Muslims. I don't hate Jews. I hate the hereditary mental illness called religion which labels targets of hate in Palestine” was one of four such tweets about different global conflicts, including ISIS and Iraq.

It’s unfortunate and self-defeating that Dawkins used the term “hereditary mental illness”, because changing those words to “hereditary belief systems” would have had greater long-term meaning, if not short-term shock value.

It’s not difficult to understand the historic need for religion: the quest for meaning on one hand and the desire for tribalism on the other have been with us since the coming of man. That search for meaning has led to so many false idols and fables becoming “God” and the “holy word”. That need to huddle together in tribalism is still evident everywhere from Amish communities to pop “fandoms” and football supporters. The need to collectively believe in a supreme being is an inevitable consequence of these primeval instincts.

Being more cynical, one might buy into the famous Marx quotation: “religion is the opium of the people”. While it’s true that Marx was articulating his belief that religion was a way of “power” saying “don’t worry if you’re downtrodden in this life, you will find a reward in the next”, in the wider quotation from which those words are taken, he was actually being more sympathetic:  acknowledging the potential of religion to give solace where there is distress.

Read more: Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse, says Dawkins

That’s how I feel when I look on in bemused fascination at members of my own family’s religious devotion despite their never-ending series of trials in this life. As a callow, arrogant youth I would try the Marx line out on them, only to be dismissed. And rightly so, because back then I was merely trying to provoke them.

Today, the conversation is different. I respect their beliefs because I can see the solace they have brought them, whilst absolutely rejecting any attempts to continue to force those beliefs upon others, or to marry them to the state.

The need for complete dis-establishment of church and state not only in this country, but in all countries, appears so obvious in the face of the many inequalities that accompany “establishment” that it is mystifying that in the 21 Century that there can be any argument against it. But then, what do I know? Apparently, my heart is closed.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of High50.com

Twitter: @stefanohat

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week