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
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album