Celtic Studies : Myth Tradition (rituals) and Spirituality
Everyone on our planet earth, whether they are theist or atheist, capitalist or socialist, young or old, has come across the idea of god. Some accept it as is presented to them, some challenge the idea and others reject it. In this paper, we will dial back and delve deeper into the ‘need for the concept of god’.
Why did we need god?
Most early humans spent their entire lifetimes confined to caves, “In order to survive they needed to understand the superhuman order that regulated their valley and to adjust their behaviour accordingly” (Harari, 2015).
Early humans’ lives were deeply impacted by nature and other inanimate objects such as plants and rocks.They felt the need to communicate with nature and other inanimate objects, to offer their gratitude for food and shelter. For them, nature was the provider and hence was ‘god’ to them.
What was the need to create God’s club or religion?
1. To provide belongingness
Most early humans believed in the idea of nature as god. This common belief instilled a sense of community in them. This community wherein people followed the same belief was later on termed as ‘religion’. Many ancient religions originated only for the population of that particular area, their goal was to unite people in their immediate surroundings, not to spread teachings to other regions or to convert people from other regions.
In contrast, the idea of ‘religions being universal’ came from monotheist religions like Islam and Buddhism. These religions denied other polytheist ideas and imposed strict rituals of ancient religions at that time and revolutionized the idea of god and religion. These ideas continued to spread on so far across that it led to a growth in the followers of monotheist religions. Along with their ideas, the rituals they set resulted in being universal as well.
The need of belongingness was an important priority for early humans, they needed something that holds them together or gave them a collective purpose. “Religion has been a third great unire of humankind alongside money and empires since all social orders and hierarchies are imagined; they are all fragile and the larger the society, the more fragile it is.” (Harari, 2015)
Moreover, every human needs a purpose to be alive in order to feel a sense of self-worth. “Some individuals accentuate a sense of individual self-worth, while others follow the path of collectivism, achieving self worth through belonging to a specific group.” ( Karen et al., 2010).
2. To provide comfort
“Religions provide comfort to believers; fear and anxiety are alleviated by the belief in a powerful being.” (Goodwin 1998; Guthrie 1993; Rizutto 1979).
Psychoanalysts describe the belief in God as the projection of unmet needs on an idealised parental embodiment. “According to Freud and Rizzuto, believers shape their personal image of God through a process of identification with both parents (objects) during infancy, from which parental images are formed.” (Rizzuto 1979; Wulff 1997)
Most early humans thought that the sound of the wind rustling leaves was a potential predator. In evolutionary terms, “it was probably better for us to mistakenly assume that the wind was a lion than to ignore the rustling and risk death.” (Atran 2004). However, this thinking pattern later made us believe that God is omnipresent. “Taken together, it’s easy to see how these cognitive tendencies could allow our minds to create religions built on the idea of supernatural beings that watch over our lives” (Atran 2004)
Native myths traditions and rituals
Once the communities were formed, a binding factor was needed to preserve them. ‘Rituals were these uniting factors’. Most of the religions are made of some basic rituals that are based on morality. “through stories and rituals, religions have built on five basic moral foundations: Do no harm, play fairly, be loyal to your group, respect authority and live purely.” (Graham, Hadit, 2010)
There are different ways of looking at rituals, starting from Freud and his followers, they only examined the meaningless form of ritual. He was more interested in “the relationship between the level of "meaningless form" in religious ritual (where it is one of many) and "meaningless form" in the compulsive ceremonials of neurotics (where it is "flat" and devoid of other levels).” (Grzymała-Moszczyńska, Simpson, 1997)
Freudians make a comparison between religious rituals and compulsive rituals and according to Freudians, these two kinds of rituals aren’t exactly the same however they are closely linked to each other and are difficult to distinguish.
David Wulff  has paraphrased Freud's definitions of rituals as:
1. Religious ritual:
Religious rituals are carried out with scrupulous attention to every detail; they are conducted in isolation from all other activities and brook no interruption; and their neglect is followed by anxiety or guilt sacred rites are performed with other community members. They are meaningful in every detail and based on the suppression of certain instinctual sexual, egoistic, socially harmful] impulses. Religion may be viewed as a universal obsessional neurosis [David Wulff, 1991, p. 275].
2. Neurotic ritual:
Neurotic ceremonials are carried out with scrupulous attention to every detail; they are conducted in isolation from all other activities and brook no interruption; and their neglect is followed by anxiety or guilt. They seem utterly senseless and originate in the repression of a sexual impulse. They are a compromise so that they yield to some degree to the pleasure they are designed to forestall. Neurotic ceremonials are) a distorted private religion (ibid, p. 275).
This must raise a question: Why do people follow religious rituals without questioning them? A study suggests that by performing religious rituals a person experiences a decrease in the amount of activity. The parietal lobe “helps us to create our sense of self and how we relate that self to the world” (Conan, 2010). Further, the frontal lobe responsible for focus and concentration, sees an increase in activity (Johnson, 2007) , and the temporal lobe also gets activated. This is important because temporal lobe epilepsy is often characterized by “religious experiences'' (Persinger,1983).
Dr. Andrew Newberg posits that the pleasurable states resulting from brain activity associated with religion actually have long-term effects on our mental health and quality of life (Conan, 2010).
The amygdala, which is mainly responsible for emotional response is activated during religious activity and as a result of this activity, works to rein in our emotional response even during day-to-day pursuits (Conan, 2010). This may give us a biological explanation for why extremely religious people tend to have lower rates of mental illness (Myers & Diener, 1995).
How does religion create dominance based society?
If religion was made to provide unity among each other then why did one group of people become inferior to other groups? According to the Social dominance orientation theory, “societies minimize group conflict by creating consensus on ideologies that promote the superiority of one group over others” (Pratto et al 1994).
According to Webster et al. (2014) individuals high in SDO follow a Darwinian perspective, as they perceive that resources are limited. Therefore, they are driven to behave in a manner that tries to secure these resources for their in-group.
”For SDO to work, it is essential that ideologies maintain a sense of group inequality, thereby giving discrimination legitimacy (Oxendine, 2018).Societies accomplish this by making sure that these ideologies are accepted throughout societies that certain groups are superior to lesser inferior groups or hierarchy-legitimizing myths (Cokely et al.; Pratto et al.)
These dominance based divides are based on gender, race, caste etc. If you read any history book you can see that women were always a part of the inferior group. It can be seen that men were are more socially dominating than women (Oxendine, 2018)
Similarly, the black population has been treated as an inferior race throughout history. Even today they face racism in subtle ways. It can be seen that in this day and age conservative whites seem to support policies of racial equality but simultaneously work in opposition of racial equality and seek to revoke these policies fitting nicely social dominance orientation (Cokely et al., 2010; Crawford & Pilanski, 2014; Dimdins et al., 2016; Duckitt & Sibley, 2007; Grina et al., 2015; Guimond et al., 2013; Ho et al., 2012; Oxendine, 2016b; Sidanius et al., 1996, Sniderman, Piazza, Tedlock, & Kendrick, 1991).
One would believe that religious people are the most harmonious and peace loving people as they follow the principles of universal harmony, brotherhood and peacemaking. However, it is popular in the social psychological literature that religious people are also inclined to be prejudiced, although there can be some exceptions (Allport & Ross, 1967; Altemeyer, 2003).
We can say that this prejudice is built in the structure of religion itself. Every major culture in this world has a specific religion. “Therefore the nature of religious thought is that these beliefs are internalized as being the “only true belief,” thereby creating the conflict between in-group and out-group believers. If one does not follow my ‘true belief,’ they are wrong, thereby, creating religious tribalism”(Oxendine, 2018).
Religion and its involvement with politics
Religion has been a huge part of politics since the beginning. Whatever may be your political views you cannot deny that there is a huge connection between them. "Those who think that religion has nothing to do with politics understand neither religion nor politics" (Gandhi and Desai, 1966: 371).
What might be the reason behind this inter linkage?
One’s political identity as well as religious affiliation is attained in the process of socialization and influenced by the values and beliefs of one’s family and peers. Thus, partisanship turns into a true form of social identity, where individuals have a determined perception of who is affiliated to which political parties and whether they can be associated with these groups (Green et al., 2002).
Most individuals want to vote for a candidate that they identify with or find some sort of familiarity with. This familiarity can be in terms of religion, race, gender etc. “According to the ‘psycho-social model’, which is also known as the ‘Michigan Model’ or ‘model of identification with the party’, political affiliation and religious affiliation are almost identical in terms of content and functioning” (Aslan and Erbay, 2017)
What is the issue with religious and political linkage?
Since religion is backed so well by politics, it is very difficult to raise questions about the same or even oppose certain religious practices. According to Richard Dawkins “All of our society has limply brought into the idea that faith should somehow be treated with exaggerated respect. Even secular individuals have come to accept the idea that faith should somehow be immune to criticism simply because it is faith.” People are okay with criticizing anything else that differs from their own perspective but when it comes to criticizing faith, suddenly it is not good manners to do so.“The truth is that without the convention of good manners which pervades our society faith couldn’t withstand criticism.” (Dawkins)
Through the ideas laid down in this paper, the author wants to highlight the origin of god and religion according to researchers and the contemporary meaning of religion. The ideas on which god and religion were mostly based were for building communities and a sense of belongingness. However, contemporary religion has taken a rather political turn.
Religion may give hope and the will to live to many individuals however, shouldn’t be held in such high regards that questions on the same are shunned away. In a healthy civil society, questions regarding religion and rituals should be open for discussion.
Critical thinking is one of the life-defining skills in individuals.
Curiosity is embedded in our neural structure. Hence, questions on the concept of god and religion and the need of certain rituals should be more commonplace than they are in contemporary societies.
Lastly, in the author's opinion, ‘God and religion’ are created as a concept and it should also be treated as one.
“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill and die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people livin’ life in peace”
- John Lenon, song writer
This article on 'The Maps We Make' has been contributed by Aastha Panjwani, who is a Psychology student from Jai Hind College, Mumbai. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
She is a research oriented person with a passion for psychology.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification