Early in my life I found it almost impossible to avoid returning what I had been told was right my entire life. Even when all logic pointed to the invalidity of religious I found the desire, out of personal comfort and social circumstances, to return to religion. My pastor and zealous family would always explain to me that it was the “conviction of God” attempting to lead me back to him. That thought seems beautiful, but you see this same return pattern time and time again in various other (less beautiful) situations as well. For example, many Mormon women leave their faith after being in abusive polygamist relationships only to return later to “what feels natural”. This same principal applies to cults and, drugs, and even abusive relationships. So, it would seem there is something in our nature pushing us to return to what feels natural and comforting.
While I am not trying to demonize religion by comparing it to drugs or abuse, I am simply trying to make a point that this pattern is not unique only to religion, but in a variety of social circumstances. In any case, after much thought I realized there are several reasons religion is so effective in “keeping” its followers.
Religion, in general, has a head start when it comes to determining your way of thinking. If you grew up in Sunday School or going to church as a child people were driving Religious Dogma in your head from the beginning. So it’s no surprise that people who were raised in church find themselves with religious feelings for the rest of their life.
Early indoctrination doesn’t occur for just those of us who were raised in church, however. The status quo of the United states is a Christian worldview. I mean how many people feel the urge to convert to Christianity in China or other non-Christian nations or visa versa? You can see the same result in secular nations, such as Holland, were there is no feelings of “conviction from God” to be religious. (re: demographics of atheism) So, it seems, that your perceptions as an adult are highly determined by your upbringing – whether it is secular or religious – NOT based on natural convictions embedded by a God(s).
Continued Reinforcement of Validity:
It is no coincidence that religious practice encourages you to study the bible, pray, and attend church regularly. To continually reaffirm your belief in any religious dogma (or in anything for that matter) it takes repetition. Without it, we stray. This is especially interesting since the religious argue conviction by God is a natral mechanism ingrained in your soul by God himself. It seem strange that people who do not attend church, or who have never attended a Christian ceremony (Native Americans for example) feel no natural conviction from the Christian/Muslim/Jewish God.
Ask a Buddhist monk, a Christian Pastor, or any other religious believer in God and I doubt that they feel any conviction toward any other supernatural begin, other than their own. For this reason, I conclude that any particular religions strength comes from a continued reinforcement of validity.
Social and Community Acceptance:
With almost any group a driving force of said group’s success is acceptance. People want to be accepted, period. It feels good. We are a social species and continually seek fellowship with our species. If you get enough like minded people in a room – it just feels good – this might help explain why a church congregation is so powerful. Where else can you find a group of people that share the same values, are likely the same race, have similar socio-economic beliefs, and share the same regional culture. It is an instant and deep connection – that is powerful. I call this group the Micro-community.
In addition to the micro-community there is also another powerful force at work. The macro-community. That is society as a whole. We find more acceptance as a society via a belief in God – especially a Christian God. Our values as a nation are essentially Christian – which makes it much easier to feel connected. Subconsciously we reap the benefits of this all the time.
For example, we see Christian churches all the time and it’s normal. Our major holiday are Christian holidays. We can talk about the bible or Christianity relatively openly without the fear of being chastised. We can even talk to other people and assume relatively easily that they are Christians. Most people in America take these small benefits for granted. However, put yourself in a Buddhist or even a Muslim’s position and everything changes. Think about your Muslim child being asked what he/she is getting for Christmas this year and your child having to explain (s)he doesn’t celebrate it, things get complicated quickly.
For now, Region is the status-quo and a source of acceptance – that means power.
An explanation of the unknown:
As I have touched on in other posts (re: Is religion becoming obsolete?) religion is a great way to explain things we fear and/or do not understand.
In the early days of Man’s history we explained the Sun and the stars as Gods. Later those Gods became elements of nature. Our ancestors used to blame sickness and death on acts of sin, but we now know that death is caused by bacteria, viruses, cancer, failing organs, etc. In fact, when we see the sheer variety of beliefs on the planet earth, with little or no reconcilable pattern it becomes clear people were simply trying to explain the unknown. Even among Native American tribes, which were relatively close in proximity, beliefs varied tremendously. (re: Indian Legends)
Similarly, we use Religion to comfort us about perhaps the biggest mystery of all – death. Some scientist even claim that religion and belief in a God/afterlife may be a natural evolutionary development to help us balance consciousness and accepting our own death (re: Religion an adaptation) This is controversial (obviously), but an interesting thought.
So I suppose the real question is: Do we feel these things because there is a God or is there a God because we feel these things?