Religion’s Origins and the Unexplained


Original artwork by Catherine Mehringer

Consider a prehistoric man returning from an unsuccessful hunt with heavy casualties to the hunting party. As winter sets in, the tribe hasn’t enough food nor sufficient means to obtain more. Unless some miracle occurs, the months ahead are sure to hold hardship and starvation. The man has a few options. He could subscribe to logic and understand that he is unlikely to survive, or believe that some intervention will happen that could save him, or some combination of the two. If man acts out some ritual or believes in some power and his “miracle” occurs, he will likely believe that the ritual or power has caused the miracle, and given him control over an uncontrollable situation. His relationship with the supernatural grows.

Attributing causation and interpreting an outcome based on that belief is a self-perpetuating part of religion. In providing hope, it can be either helpful or destructive—the latter when it demands massive resources, like constant human sacrifice. Religion’s cost-benefit analysis is a complicated one, making the origin of the affinity for religion in the human brain an interesting question.

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