Heads up: Top comment and controversy

Why are supernatural beliefs so important to religion?

Salon

The latest instalment of our "Big Questions" series was answered by the author Jared Diamond, who released the influential Guns, Germs and Steel in 1997, and whose new book, The World Until Yesterday, has just been published. A section from Diamond's latest offering addresses an old topic - why do so many supernatural beliefs persist in religion? - and has been excerpted in left wing online magazine Salon, with the provocative title "It's irrational to be religious". Intrigued?

First, Diamond compares the Hindu belief in a monkey god who can travel thousands of kilometres in a single somersault with the Catholic dogma of a woman made pregnant without having intercourse, and the ascension of her child to a place in the sky called 'heaven'.

The grand question here is: what purpose do these serve? Diamond sets out the interesting theory that religious beliefs were initially supernatural so that believers had to show their commitment to the faith by taking on - and not questioning - core ideas that went beyond anything they had ever seen before, or would ever see in their lifetime. As a bonus, somebody who has made a show of their belief in a virgin birth for decades is less likely to jump ship when times get tough.

But he goes further. Supernatural religious beliefs, to Diamond's eyes, are surprisingly similar to human, animal or other natural objects "except for having superior powers". They become like a form of wish-fulfilment, and take on the comforts inherent to it. "[gods'] powers surpassing human powers are projections of our own personal power fantasies", they're harder, better, faster, stronger. "Thus", according to Diamond, "religious supernatural beliefs are irrational, but emotionally plausible and satisfying." Hence why they've hung around so long.

SOURCE

React Now

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album