Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(850)

Jan 30, 2013

Hi Richard,

I am definitely a convert. I have been what you have termed a social Christian. Probably half way between an agnostic and a Christian. Your book made me reappraise my beliefs in the very cold light of your systematic demolition of all the basis of my belief. I feel liberated from a burden I was carrying, and yet I also feel a sadness to lose an old friend. It has created some tension in our house as my wife is horrified by my decision, but I feel much more honest and clear headed. We will work it out.

Can I offer an observation as to why religion has taken such a strong hold on so many people. I think you might have missed an aspect of why we are predisposed to accepting religion. The key element that differentiate the human brain is that of abstract thought. This ability is a key to understanding what makes us different, but I think more importantly it is the ability to "compose" that abstract thinking into "coherent stories" that is the fundamental element leading to acceptance of religion. Our ability to "compose" stories and communicate them to others allows us to achieve all the developments in human existence. This basic need to tell and receive stories allows us to bring together groups of people to achieve outcomes at times and places removed from the point of conception. Because we can tell stories and because we love to hear stories we are able to get groups of people to co-operate on activities that lead to benefits removed from the present moment. Cavemen told stories of how to organise the tribe into hunting parties, they told stories of how they could dominate the neighbouring tribe and win their resources for themselves, they told the stories to each other and they projected themselves into the storey of the successful tribe. The Roman aristocracy had a clear and consistent story of what Rome was and what it meant to be a Roman, this story was successfully passed from generation to generation and readily accepted by those indoctrinated into that society. They projected themselves into the story and readily accepted it. Rome flourished for a thousand years. The story was a compelling one. We not only love to hear stories, we love to project ourselves into the story. So what better story can there be than that we are all going to live forever and all the bad guys will suffer in the long run. Add to this the genetic drive to survival and we are now predisposed to receive a story that leads not only to survival in the short term, but survival in perpetuity. Religion also allows us to compartmentalise all the stress of the pain and suffering of life and push off the resolution of these issues into the never land of heaven and hell.

If we are going to be successful at changing the story our society receives it needs to be a new story, more compelling than that of Abraham, or that of Jesus or that of Mahomet. People need to project themselves into a story about the future, about their life and what it means to future generations. We can create a better story based on science and reality, but it needs to be an exciting story of hope and prospects of a better world. Maybe it is humanism, or maybe it is a philosophy yet to divined. But just as you cannot fight the reality of evolution, we cannot change the reality of human nature. Simply citing the facts will not win the majority of people over to the new cause.

Regards

Paul Marshall
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