Re: Religion: definition of

Gerold Firl (
5 Apr 1995 13:29:50 -0700

In article <> (Gerold Firl) writes:

>From this perspective, religion appears first and foremost to be a system
>for *organising* the social unit, for coordinating the actions of large
>numbers of people.

(I'm responding to one of my one posts - sheesh - how pathetic.)

One thing which I should have mentioned the first time around is that a
religion is only needed for a culture which outgrows the inate social
mechanisms evolved over the long period of small-band hunter-gather
existance, during which the human instincts adapted to that particular
social mileau. If we say that humans have been around for the last 100,000
years (which must be considered the low-end estimate, since that is when
*modern* h. sapiens appeared), and agriculture began 10,000 years ago, then
90% of human history has been spent as hunter-gathers. In my opinion, it
makes more sense to view the human race as being on the order of 1,000,000
years old, since the roots of human biology and culture are so deeply
planted in the folkways of h. erectus. In that case, 99% of human history
has been spent as small-band hunter-gathers, with the last 10,000 a tiny
addendum. In either case, it makes sense to view the instinctive human
characteristics as adaptations to small-band existance. Maladaptive
behavior when humans are organised into large, anonymous societies such as
most of us live in should not be too surprising. (Note: Wilson, in _on
human nature_, elaborates on the idea of our sociobiological roots in
hunter-gather cultures.)

In a small band, everyone knows everyone else. Typical primate dominance
heirarchy-mediated relations suffice to guide social organisation. The
advent of societies which were too large to permit everyone to know
everyone else required the invention of social mediators which provided
guidelines for how individuals should treat each other. Religion was the
result. Gods are very useful as impartial arbiters of interpersonal
disputes. In a small band, it's simple: the high-status individual wins
when there is a conflict of interest. In a large society, an anonymous
society, it is easy for violence to break-out when there is a conflict.
Religion helps to prevent such problems, by imposing an *a priori*
dominance heirarchy, or by replacing the heirarchical structure with an
entirely different mechanism for conflict resolution, such as communitarian

Note how important insignia of authority are; they give unambiguous,
verifiable mark of social rank, so the heirarchy is clear, even when no
personal knowledge is present. The social instincts of the primate
dominance heirarchy are used largely as-is. The alternative, of trying to
circumvent these instincts to impose a communitarian equality, is more
difficult. It has been tried many times, but with only limited success.

I'm kind of disappointed at the lack of response to this thread. I think
this is important stuff, cutting-edge anthropology, if such a thing exists.
People complain about all the nonsense spewed around the net, the endless
arguments about racism etc, but attempts to bring up topics of significance
sink without a trace. To make this a useful forum, we need to put-in a
little bit of effort.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf