She formed the same way we have observed other planets forming around stars, from a portion of the gas and dust leftover after gravity ignited nuclear fusion within a swirling ball of gases that birthed our Sun.
After the dust and gases had accumulated into the Earth, our young planet survived a near ruinous collision with another planet roughly the size of Mars.
The collision obliterated the smaller Mars sized planet, and the material that was ejected into space from that collision coalesced into our Moon.
It turned out to be addition by subtraction because the new Moon pulled on our planet, stabilizing the Earth’s tilt on its planet’s axis. It’s because of the gravitational pull of the Moon that we enjoy consistent seasons that provide environments conducive to sustaining life on her surface.
After 1 billion winters, springs, summers and falls in succession like clockwork, microbial life finally took hold.
Even after life took root on our planet, the Earth continued to see its share of extinction events from a myriad of causes such as volcanic activity, meteorite impacts to even the surface of the earth being bathed by radiation from a nearby Supernova explosion.
Over the next 3.4 billion years, an incalculable variety of life forms came and went.
In fact, 98% of all of the different species of life that have ever lived on Earth’s surface, or under the waters that give our planet its distinctive blue color, have met extinction.
But life is nothing if not resilient.
Despite numerous mass extinctions, the Earth is still home to 8.7 million unique species of life, of which, Homo genus are but one group.
Homo habilis, the first of the homo genus appeared on the Earth some 2.4 million years ago.
Homo habilis wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest animal to walk the Earth by any means, but its aptitude for problem solving, ingenuity and creative expression set it apart from the umpteenth billions of life forms that had come before it.
From Homo habilis eventually came Homo sapiens (modern humans), which is now the only surviving species from the Homo genus.
For as long as man has walked the Earth he has sought to better understand the natural forces that shape how his world worked so that he could understand how to make them work to his advantage.
Scientists estimate that, in just the past 50,000 years, some 108 billion human sapiens have lived and died.
The same creativity and curiosity that helped human beings not only survive but thrive despite not being the biggest, fastest or strongest, also afforded him the luxury or curse, whichever way you want to look at it, to consider if there was a purpose in his existence.
It was to this end, that man first began to anthropomorphize these forces of nature. They assigned names and genders to the Sun, Moon and the Earth and characterized them so that they could relate to them. However, man didn’t stop there. Soon every aspect of the human experience that they wanted to influence was given a name, a personality and a way to secure their favor.
When they depicted these anthropomorphized aspects of nature, they predictably looked just like them.
From the very beginning men made God in their image.
This shouldn’t surprise you. You anthropomorphize so you can relate to things, not so that they can relate to you. This is why Yogi Bear wears a green tie and Jabberjaw, a 15-foot great white shark, plays drums for a rock band.
Soon there were Gods of the hunt, of love, of childbirth; they even created Gods that governed the animals that they relied on for food and for the materials that they used to make tools and clothing.
When situations and circumstances didn’t work out in their favor, it was assumed that the fault lay in the performance of the ritual to secure their favor. Someone missed a step in the dance routine or flubbed a word somewhere in the chant. As more and more Gods were created to address the areas of the human experience that man wanted some influence over, it became so complex that it literally became a full-time responsibility to keep track of it.
It became someone’s job to keep track of the Gods and their stories, perform the sacred rituals and to act as a mediator between humans and these deities.
The priest and priestess were born.
It was only a matter of time after that kind of power and responsibility was placed into the hands of individuals or groups of individuals, that the Gods began having definite opinions on how human beings should conduct their affairs. It’s then no coincidence that these “opinions” on how humans could conduct their affairs were in alignment with whatever values were necessary for the preservation of the group. Anthropologists have long suspected that the idea of God first arose as humans began to build larger societies, for the serviceable goal of curbing selfishness and promoting cooperation.
They were right.
In a pair of studies published in Psychological Science, University of British Columbia psychologist Ara Norenzayan and his student Azim F. Shariff seemed to prove that people treat others more fairly when they believe that someone is “watching” them whether it is a supernatural agent or a secular moral institution. (Norenzayan & Shariff, 2007)
Imagine two different groups of people. Group A lives in an area with plenty of food, water and natural resources. They are separated from their enemies by a large body of water on one side and almost impassable terrain on the other three sides so that they can see their enemies coming weeks in advance allowing plenty of time to prepare a defense for an attack.
Group B lives in a place where producing enough food for the people is always a challenge. Resources are scarce. They are surrounded by other groups who are also struggling to produce enough to survive, so conflicts between these groups over resources and food are very common. These two groups, group A that lives in abundance and relative safety, and group B that lives with scarcity and uncertainty, are going to have two entirely different types of Gods because they come from two entirely different environments. Gods tend to be much more tolerant and forgiving when people are not struggling to meet their basic needs for survival. When meeting basic needs is a concern however, Gods tend to be much less tolerant and much more authoritarian as it is much more critical in these environments that people follow the rules if the group have any chance of surviving.
In Group B, where food and resources are always a struggle to come by, the penalty for being caught stealing food might be losing a hand, and this is seen as just because food is so scarce that stealing food from someone might actually contribute to someone starving to death. This would never be acceptable to Group A where food and resources were in abundance because the consequences of stealing food would not be nearly as severe as to justify such a response.
As groups conquered other groups and expanded their areas of influence, they also expanded the reach of their particular way of viewing the world. As groups moved into other areas, they were introduced to other group identities and both the conquered as well as the conquerors often adopted aspects of the other identities. Sometimes this created situations where group identities that were reasonable in environments of scarcity were being adopted and applied in environments of abundance.
Religions are just one type of group identity. Family is another type group identity. Ethnicity, nationality, race are also all group identities.
Of the 6.5 billion human beings that currently live on the Earth, there are 4,200 different religions spread among them. At first glance, religions offer explanations to the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, but religions are more than that. They are also a reflection of how that particular group defines themselves and others and how they relate everything to one another. I eventually came to realize that the role of religion goes even deeper still.
You see, if the purpose of religion is to simply explain the cause, nature and purpose of the Universe, then as we learn more and more about how things actually work, religion should slowly, surely, begin to disappear.
Clearly, this is not the case.
A global 2012 survey reported that 59% of the world’s population consider themselves religious, and 36% are not committed, including 13% who are atheists. That means that nearly 6 out of 10 people on the Earth still identify themselves by this particular group identity.
There must still be a need that religion is filling.
According to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, 73% of people live in a country where their particular religion is the in the majority. Only 27% of people live in a country where they are the religious minority. For example, only 13% of the Christians on the entire planet live in countries where Christians are not in the majority. So in other words, WHERE you are born is more determinative of what you call God and what you think about the nature, cause and purpose of the Universe than anything else.
This only reaffirms the fact that religion is simply a group identity that people inherit from their caretakers, probably as young children. Statistically speaking, it’s no surprise that you are the same religion as your parents, as they were the same as their parents and their parents before them.
The reason people affiliate themselves with group identities is the same whether it is a gang affiliation or a religious affiliation. They adopt group identities to feel a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.
People associate the feeling of belonging with love. Once you understand that, from that point, it’s just simple logic. I always say that human beings are logical. They only appear illogical when you don’t understand the premises that their reasoning is built upon. If you are loved, then you must be worthy of love. It is only when you feel worthy of love that you are capable of loving.
Just as you learn to paint by painting, you learn to love by loving.
Group identities are by design “low hanging fruit”. What I mean by that is group identities are never asking you do to anything terribly difficult. They set out extremely simple definitions and expectations to be met in order to be accepted by the group. You meet the expectation and are rewarded with acceptance and when you fail to meet expectations, you risk being rejected. The significance of this cannot be understated. It is the fear of rejection that keeps you in line so that group identity can be preserved.
Unfortunately, it also encourages US and THEM thinking where although it is providing you an opportunity to love yourself and others, often that love is only extended to others who are meeting the expectations as outlined by the group identity. For everyone else that is different from you, all bets are off.
The problem with this is obvious. The love that you believe you’ve acquired is conditional in every respect. It is contingent on continuing to meet the expectations of the group. It is no substitute for getting down to the root of the problem, which is the mistaken belief that you are flawed in the first place.
I have since accepted that it is useless to argue the ridiculousness of some religious mythology. I don’t think anyone has ever been persuaded to reconsider their religious identity by pointing out the illogicality or the conflicting aspects of their beliefs. The reason it isn’t effective is because people aren’t religious because they were ever convinced of its truthfulness, they are religious because it makes them feel worthy of being loved, and for some, especially those who have the most difficult time finding a reason to love themselves, the feeling that they get from religion is far more persuasive than any argument you could ever present.
Psychological Science, Norenzayan & Shariff, God Is Watching You, 2007