Re: FW: Religous Variation / Holy Infants

mike shupp (ms44278@HUEY.CSUN.EDU)
Sat, 3 Aug 1996 21:19:28 -0700

On Wed, 31 Jul 1996, John McCreery wrote:

> An aside to Mike Shupp. The lone believer communing with his God is a
> binary social relationship that occurs in a larger social context. Putting
> aside the believer's view that what is going on is sacred, it bears a
> strong resemblance to a toddler's talking to an imaginary friend, an act
> which the person most directly concerned may also take very seriously
> indeed. One can see the toddler as practicing an ability that may ripen
> into a serious faith or the believer as behaving in an childish way. Or one
> may step back, note the similarity, and try to see if there is something
> homologous in the social or other circumstances in which the two behaviors
> appear. Which is doing anthropology?

A nice analogy! Let's look at that toddler. What's he getting out
of his conversation with imaginary friends? Some psychological
rewards of course. (Not to be sneered at. Is the toddler's
bahavior that much different than reading Jane Austen?)

What else does he get? Language and speech practice. Social
interaction practice. Learning to deal with other people, in
short. He's probably also learning to explain his reasoning
to others, and getting adjusted to the idea that "reality" contains
non-material entities and invisible entities (would you care to
explain to a child why talking to invisible Freddy-the-frog is
a waste of time, and why "talking" to an invisible "anthro-l
list" is serious business?) Which is valuable training for
dealing with invented entities (tribes, nations, the next
generation) and abstractions.

In short, the child's babbling eventually is of use, regardless
of the fact that his companion is imaginary. (I wouldn't say
that the babbling is actually "functional", since the child has
no idea of the benefits he is gaining nor intended to secure any
benefit from talking, but it explains why we don't shut the kid
up immediately.)

I suspect religion is the same sort of phenomenon-- for whatever
reason it came into being, it has useful payoffs and thus has
been allowed to continue in most cultures. One such payoff, I
suspect, is that a god is a role model for an absolute ruler;
ie, commoners weigh the rulers against a Godly standard, which
probably makes temporal rulers behave a bit better than they
would otherwise.

Which isn't terribly responsive to your post. I fear our
interests are skewed.

Mike Shupp
California State University, Northridge