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My “philosophical” explanation of why religion and other oppressive belief systems are successful

Maybe the reason that religion works is this:

It is philosophically impossible to disprove something just because it has never been observed.

Of course, there is no reason to believe it either.

But then, our human nature seems strongly influenced by fear.

That is, even when there is no real reason to really believe in the existence of God, evolution has “programmed” us so that the mere possibility of the existence of a threat (hell) motivates us to avoid it, even if we may err on the side of too much safety.

It’s of course the same with politics. Even when there is no real 100% reliable proof of a certain threat, our nature has us prefer to err on the safe side and, although we may not deeply believe in the threat’s existence, we act to avoid it.

For instance, a friend may tell us about a really angry bear that is hiding in some cave. And although it may be the first time we hear of it and although it may never have been observed by us or anybody else, we will likely avoid going into that cave just to prove that there is no bear.

If somebody who appears rather weak tells you that he has a gun hidden in his bulky jacket or that he knows deadly martial arts tricks or that he has powerful friends or that he can sue us, we may not necessarily believe him, but neither does our disbelief outweigh our caution.

Which is where it goes back to evolution. My theory is that for survival of the human race, it is less important to avoid being lied to than to avoid dying because of distrust. E.g. if your parents tell you that a speeding car will kill you if it hits you, evolution has proven it useful for your survival to believe them – even if they may be wrong.

And of course, science can be used in the exact same way to manipulate you as religion.

When somebody tells you that science has proven that doing something is fatal, you tend to believe it, even if it may not be true. Again, here is an example of why this is useful: Let’s say science knows about an odorless and translucent liquid that will kill you from merely touching it. But it basically looks like water. Now you could either say “Nah nonsense” and touch it to prove “science” wrong. Or you prefer to believe “science”. You end up preferring safety, even if it comes at the cost of somebody being basically able to keep you from drinking perfectly fine water by claiming it’s toxic.

So in terms of evolution and survival, the cost of assuming a false claim of danger to be true is lower than the cost of assuming a true claim of danger to be false.

In turn, the amount of people with the predisposition to test claims of danger for validity (at the extreme end of the spectrum the psychopath?) is significantly lower than the amount of people with the predisposition to avoid danger over challenging these claims, because the former are much more likely to die from something that the latter would consider an “avoidable risk”. On the other hand, the latter are more likely to believe in risks that are not real and actually suffer a life much more intensely filled with anxiety and fear – but since they survive in greater quantity, they are the predominant predisposition of humans.

And that is my explanation of why religion, manipulation and fear works and prevails.

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  • Dano

    The human nature is to fear death and value life, correct? Humans must survive- to reproduce- in order to ensure the survival of the human race. So, the few people on the far end of the spectrum, who will test claims while putting there life on the line- what do you believe their reasons are? Don’t you think they will likely have strong passion and sense of self (so I won’t imagine them being the suicidal type). But they are going against the human nature of valuing life, right?

    Or perhaps they unconsciously have the strongest sense of ensuring human survival. They will give their life if it proves truth of danger- is there any better way to ensure the survival of the human race?

    As you stated, “And that is my explanation of why religion, manipulation and fear works and prevails.” Perhaps it only works if there are those few “psychopaths” who are willing to challenge claims. If they didn’t exist, I believe the fear and anxiety in the fearful people will be too great to bear. We NEED to know that there are others out there testing the poison. We NEED to know that people are testing the laws of physics while getting into car accidents. We NEED to know people are willing to “die” to “prove”. Maybe we are not putting our trust in the people who make the claims- but rather- we are putting our trust in the people willing to challenge them.

    • Except, those are all just stories you tell yourself. About “reasons” and “motivations” and stuff like that. About “human nature”.

      I think it’s simpler than that. There is no “human nature”. Neither is there “a will to survive” or a “desire to sustain humanity”.

      Things simply are what they are. Survival … is not a purpose. It just is. Those who do not value survival may even lead more satisfying lives and be … happier? But they do not survive in great amount quantity to tell us about it. Or sometimes they do.

      Either way … yeah, they probably contribute to the survival. In fact, their numbers may not even be actually that low. They may just keep automatically weeding themselves out, thus keeping their numbers low.

      Not that it matters. If they didn’t exist, something else would exist. Or nothing would exist. It wouldn’t matter either way.

      • Dano

        If there is no “will to survive” then what is it we fear?

        • Who is “we”?

          Fearing death does not necessarily imply a will to survive. It’s just that … a reaction to a certain stimulus that some of “us” have and some don’t. Interpreting it as a “will” with a “purpose” is story telling.

          At least that would make sense to me.

          • Dano

            If you were dehydrated in the middle of the desert with only a flask of the potential-poisonous water substance you mentioned in your post, what would you do? Drink the substance with a chance of it being just water (bearing in mind a sooner death), or not drink it, eventually dying- but having more time to live?

            Wouldn’t you say the person who chooses to drink it has a “will” to survive. They know there death is near and unavoidable- yet they grasp that slivering thread of survival.

            Likewise, wouldn’t you say the person who chooses NOT to drink it also has a “will” to survive- even if survival would last for a few minutes.

            However, maybe there is the person who will drink that liquid in order to die a sooner death (betting that the liquid was indeed poisonous). Does that mean this person feared suffering from dehydration more than death? Now say the liquid indeed was water. How would they react- someone who accepted death only to have survived. I think they would be pretty happy, no? Isn’t this also due to the “will” to survive?

          • I’d probably wait with drinking it until I’d no longer be able to resist … realistically.

            Yeah, I mean, there is an impulse to sustain one’s life (in most people). I just don’t think there’s anything special or profound about it. It’s just that … the way our brain is wired to react.

            Surely we can imagine a human who does not care about sustaining his life … but we can also imagine he would not survive long enough to tell his story.

          • Dano

            “in terms of evolution and survival, the cost of assuming a false claim of danger to be true is lower than the cost of assuming a true claim of danger to be false.” Unless in the face of death- “I’d probably wait with drinking it until I’d no longer be able to resist”

            It’s pretty funny how fickle humans are. We may believe a claim to avoid fearsome things (such as death)- yet when death strikes us, we will disbelieve the same thing to avoid death.

            Don’t you think it’s the same with religion? Say an atheist was dying- do you think the thought of religion may come to their mind? The thought of there being something after death? It’s easy to ignore an event until it becomes close to realism- a human may throw away everything they believed in once that even occurs, such as death.

          • Quite likely, me thinks.

            Yeah … it’s not so much that we are fickle as that our predispositions can be exploited. What you describe is a “double bind”. A situation where one’s programming essentially gets turned against itself: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

            The result, if you survive, is learned helplessness and trauma.

          • Dano

            But in a “double bind” you must choose one or another- to choose whether your belief is “oppressive” or “true”
            So in the case of religion- what you choose to believe, in the end, is either oppressive or true.

            It is easy to ignore the bear and the cave- unless you MUST enter the cave. So you choose to believe- is there a bear, or is there not? But does it matter- you must go regardless. So the least you can do is armor up to attack the bear. Isn’t that the same idea with religion? Prepare for the afterlife. Would you really call it an “oppressive belief system” if it exists?

          • The point of a double bind is that you can’t choose. Both options are unacceptable. So you’re basically … paralyzed.

            Like … if someone made you choose between cutting off your arms or your legs.

          • Dano

            I see. I learn some good vocabulary from your page and comments ’cause I have to search up some words you use sometimes LOL

  • If people truly feared hell, they wouldn’t sin so much. We believe in God, yes, but somehow we hope He will forgive us all our bad deeds.