Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Born to believe

«   Part 10 of the series, Genesis for the rest of us   »

Mayan mask
This Mayan mask unites at once the human, the animal, and the artifact. Source: Museo Popul Vuh, Guatemala City
Religion appears to be a human universal. Across time and space, human beings have been religious. Efforts to crush religion fail, often spectacularly. Justin Barrett's account of the psychology of religious belief, Why Would Anyone Believe in God?, is as persuasive as it is readable. Among other things, Barrett observes that the psychological components of agency detection -- particularly face, animal, and artifact identification -- emerge very early in childhood. From our earliest days, we know how to distinguish humans from other living things and to observe and respect boundaries between the quick, the dead, and the inanimate.

Evolutionary psychology sheds light on child development and the acquisition of what something that comes close to being a religious instinct in humans:When it comes to religious belief, Saint Paul -- perhaps unwittingly -- stated the developmental origins of faith as an expression of child psychology: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I knew as a child, I thought as a child." 1 Corinthians 13:11. The question is what to make of the next line in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "But when I grew up, I put away childish things."

Next in this series: Avant moi, le déluge.


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