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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee