Excersus XCIII: Failed Suicide, However, Isn't Painless
People seem to think that religious impulses are terribly deep and mysterious. I don't find them so. I think it's flattering to those who hold those beliefs to Think them terribly deep and mysterious, and there are enough of those folk around to push that feeling into the general discussion, but it's pretty simple. We're programmed to gather together - it makes us content on a genetic level. Now, if you're a person of middling virtues, chances are that you don't have all that many people wanting to gather with you. It's a depressing thought, and cuts to the core of the Meaning of your existence (a horrid phrase, as I've said before, which, if you could bring vocabulary up on a Crimes Against Humanity charge, would top my list), so you either are driven towards physical suicide or, lacking courage for that, mental suicide, otherwise known as religion. You let yourself believe that you really ARE plugged into a community, a community superior to that which shunned you, and that will last beyond the death you're so patently afraid of. Your genes are happy, and even if you catch yourself shuffling your feet as somebody asks you whether you REALLY believe it, enough of you needs to believe to keep you going until death settles the issue.
And organized religion knows this - it knows that a person with a real and honest feeling of Belonging and Being Loved has no use for it, so it makes sure to place itself at the center of community whenever it can. It looks at all of the times that people GATHER and makes sure that, however awkwardly, it is there - birth, death, marriage, rites of passage, harvest, inaugurations, boat launchings - it's not overly particular, and can't be. If the people at a gathering feel that their happiness is due to each other's company, the game is over, so religion needs to make itself SEEM necessary - that people can't and won't get together unless the church is somehow involved, that human connection requires divine sanction. And that worked for a while. It doesn't so much now - every year the religious connection to community seems less the integral one that it pretends to and more the vestigial one it is. We can take joy in each other, as we are, in all our limitation, and it really, genuinely works. That's kind of neat.
- Count Dolby von Luckner