This is an HTML book. It presents a new theory of religion which sees theology as an epiphenomenon and synthetic kinship as the core. It investigates, firstly, why religion is so important to many of us, what went wrong (why we kill for religion’s sake, or tolerate educational systems that keep us stupid), and what needs to be done to fulfill its proises.
Secondly, it looks at the question of whether religion and magical thinking have direct effects on the physical world—a belief that we have maintained for 30,000 years without definitive evidence.
When it became clear that despite some 200 previous theories of religion, these questions had never been satisfactorily answered (and that The Guardian’s ‘Notes and Queries’ wasn’t going to touch them) I had to try to answer them myself, leading to an ongoing effort for some 2 decades. To my surprise—and contrary to contemporary evidence—it turned out that religion had been extraordinarily useful to us in an unexpected manner: Religion got us out of the animal kingdom, and it worked its way into our genes in the process.
It did that for us 35,000 years ago. Its function was to keep us from killing eachother, moving us beyond the ‘See a stranger, kill it!’ behavior of the chimpanzee—and out of our 160,000-year rut in the nearly static Middle Paleolithic. Religion (or its immediate precursor) allowed us to exchange ideas and thence become time-binding humans. (If it doesn’t keep us from killing eachother today, it isn’t a religion, just a tribal marker.)
Perhaps surprisingly, religion managed this without supernatural help. This is not to say that children can develop without stories, or people without myths, or that there is any dearth of imponderable mysteries. It says nothing about the existence, or not, of a Guiding Intelligence, for this remains an undecidable question. Interpretations (ideas about gods and revelations) change as we change and learn. The bottom line (the behavioral change that got us out of the animal kingdom) is fundamental. It appeared myriennia ago—whether manifested, invented, or discovered, we do not know. Consciously enunciated in the Axial Age (800–200 BCE), rediscovered by the Enlightenment, its pattern of success and failure suggests that its roots lie deeper than the vision of its prophets.
For a pair of 1- and 24-minute summaries, try the QuickStart entry in the menu above.