It's not hard to guess why we have epic myths about creation, but religion goes much further. The typically well formed religion offers buffers against all sorts of ailments, distress and indecision. If you aren't sure about something - perhaps an ethical question, or how to treat loss - you can always seek an answer from a priest or from a book. In fact religion goes deeper again and provides solace and protection against even the thought of our inevitable death. Or so the research tells us. This is from SCIENCE, Volume 314, Issue 5803
dated November 24 2006 (originally published in J. Pers. Soc. Psychol
. 91, 553; 2006) and is worth quoting at some length:
"PSYCHOLOGY: Managing Terror by Gilbert Chin. Our awareness that we exist exposes us, unfortunately, to the inescapable terror of dying. Jonas and Fischer have explored the role of religious beliefs in allowing people to manage their terror in situations where mortality is made salient. In particular, they focus on the distinction between extrinsic (searching for safety and solace) and intrinsic (searching for meaning and value) religious beliefs. Just after the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul, customers in a Munich coffee shop were more likely to rise in defense of their cultural worldview (to disagree with newspaper articles that were inconsistent with their own assessments of the likelihood of an attack in Germany) if they scored low on an intrinsic religiousness scale than if they scored high; this difference in behavior dissipated with time as the reminder of death became less salient. In follow-up experiments involving students from a Jesuit school and a local university, they found that intrinsically religious people did not think more about dying when reminded of mortality (in contrast to extrinsically oriented individuals) and that this capacity to buffer one's state of mind contributed to their not having to mobilize terror management defenses in the face of death."
Now I see the word 'psychology' and imediately have doubts. I haven't seen the research but my rule of thumb is to doubt. Firstly how do you define someone on the 'intrinsic religiousness scale'?
By survey, or by their actions? If by survey, how strongly correlated are their actions against the scale? Secondly how do you actually know what someone thought? Electrodes? Mind merge? They told
Could it be that the 'extrinsically oriented individuals'
told something closer to the truth (as they had not been indoctrinated or 'taught' what to think)? And perhaps the 'intrinsically religious people'
simply had been taught how to respond and merely did so? Now you may say 'ah-ha!
' as if that's the point, but simply because people can't
express a fear of death and instead mumble an incantation that they have learned at Church on Sundays doesn't mean they don't actually have a fear of death, rather that they just that they don't like telling researchers about it.