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

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

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Handyman

£16575 - £18785 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Dundee based butchers requ...

Recruitment Genius: Confectionery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To effectively manage a team which is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Children shouldn’t even know the word 'diet' — obesity and lack of body confidence are symptoms of the same cause

Natasha Devon
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in New York  

Tidal: An overpriced music streaming service that only benefits the super-rich members of a messianic-like cult? Where do I sign up??

Michael Segalov
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat