Human nature is to connect with something greater than ourselves. Human history is a testament to this impulse in the as illustrated in the long history of varied religions that emerge within even the most primitive of cultures. Why is religion so attractive to human nature? What is the psychology behind religion?
The psychology of religion:
RELIGION OFFERS SECURITY
Religion offers a sense of security. Psychologists Alfred Adler theorized that everyone is born with an innate struggle to overcome a sense of insecurity about self and life. Religion normally includes some type of providential oversight over the world be that God, nature, spiritual forces, etc. The desire for security would certainly be a concern in primitive cultures that were primarily agrarian and reliant on the natural forces for survival. The same desire that “everything will be okay” can be equally strong in other cultures facing stress such as those facing economic or political turmoil. Religions offer a formula for how to better one’s chances that life will go well.
RELIGION PROVIDES AN EXPLANATION FOR LIFE
Religions explain why we exist. The explanation offers a sense of meaning for life. The sense of meaning and purpose is often this “worldly” and “other worldly.” The explanation for life includes the expectation of devotion to the dogma of the religion and the promise of some form of eternal reward for compliance.
RELIGION PROVIDES A SENSE OF ORDER IN LIFE
Religion removes the chaos from life. The religious system promotes principles that explain the mechanics of how life works. The principles purport to remove the mysteries of life as everything by interpreting every part of life in relation to the religious truths that create order. Part of order is the promotion of a prescribed lifestyle that embodies the tenets of the religion.
RELIGION GIVES IDENTITY
A powerful motivation for religion is to gain an identity. The human psyche naturally wants to know who we are. Identity can include a perception of how we fit within the big picture. Religions offer identity as one conforms to the expectations of the religion. The more meaningful the relationship with the religion the more valued the identity will be.
RELIGION OFFERS EXCLUSIVITY
The ability to possess exclusivity we deem as positive can be powerful motivation for religion. Religions typically provide an “us” vs. “them” perspective. In-group membership provides access to relationships with other members we might otherwise not experience. Exclusivity can easily transform into prejudice against those outside the group. Exclusivity meets social needs and the need for significance.