I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
“What was that? Did you hear that?” Most of us have woken up in the middle of the night due to a loud sound, from outside or within your domicile. Maybe the cat knocked over a flower pot or a car backfired on the street outside. We have always been primed to fear the heard but unseen. In our infancy as a species, we learned to fear that which we could not see, for the simple reason that if you hear, or just suspect the presence of, something that you cannot see and you are wrong, there is no penalty. But if you do not fear what you cannot see, you can end up as a meal for a predator, or suffering from snakebite or insect bites and stings. Evolution has shaped us to fear things unseen.
We have also done some of that shaping. We taught our children to fear things they could not see because when they finally did see them, it might be too late. We still do this. We teach our children to be fearful with sharp objects and hot things, especially those that do not look hot. And when our children overtly fear things heard but not seen (lightning, animal sounds, etc.), we comfort them and tell them that we will protect them.
When the adults were frightened occasionally good things happened (e.g. when animal cries lead them to a meat animal with a broken leg which provided sustenance to the family) so things heard but not seen could be good, too.
This then got, well, expanded upon, as when a solar eclipse scared the entire group but one member out of fright or epilepsy went into a fevered dance and whatever was eating the sun went away. Status was given to those in communication with the unseen powers, at least those who could produce an occasional positive result. Then it was in the personal interests of those so favored to keep and even expand their higher status in the group.
More and more detail on one’s ability to communicate or even command unseen powers was needed when larger and larger groups congregated and soon we had many “spiritual worlds” spinning around replete with gods, goddesses, demi-gods, cherubim, imps, demons and more.
But as we study human history, pre-history, human psychology, and evolutionary biology, we exit the complex religious atmosphere we created with a clear narrative of how it got that way. We have found the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Yet, people still yearn for the ineffable in the form of unseen forces (We can sense them!), they still refer to the “religious instinct” as if the religions we created are needed to fill an inherent need on our part, rather than being a part of what was needed to survive, back when we were so vulnerable. People argue that without religion, we would have no morality, when a simple examination shows that the least religious countries have the lowest crime rates as well as other indicators indicating higher moral values.
These “longings” are just part of a normal resistance to change and will fade over time.
So, how do we live without religion?
I suggest that real “spiritual leaders” are those people who can focus our attention on how much we need one another. I am not talking about needing a plumber to fix our plumbing, or a bureaucrat to help us fill out our tax forms. I am talking about our need for social interaction. I am somewhat reclusive, and then I go to a gathering and talk everyone’s head off in conversation after conversation as if some floodgate of interaction was opened. We are social animals. We do not do well in solitary confinement, hence its use as a punishment for criminals (an unwise one as it leads to psychopathy).
We do not just need to just “take care of #1,” we need to take care of one another. If you desire life after death, embed yourself in the memories of many, many people by doing them a kindness. You will live on long after you are dead.