Christianity as well as most other religions are, I believe, false in the sense that their view of the world do not agree with the world as we perceive it. However, one might ask why false theories flourish so much. Would so many people believe in something which is false? My answer to this is obviously, yes they would! Here I want to propose one explanation of why there is religion.
Last time I wrote about Plato who grew up in wartime. I do not think that it is a coincidence that his republic, his utopia, is a state which would be very static. Everyone has their role, and there is left no room for progress, scientific or otherwise, in this state. Could it be that Plato somewhere desired something lasting and permanent? His idea of ideas similarly refers to something which is constant albeit not in our world.
Stoicism is another example of a philosophy which seeks something permanent beyond the world that we perceive. This philosophy advice us that the path to happiness is to ignore all calamities in your life. Do not let people irritate you. If your wife dies then there is no point in grief, after all what good does it do that you are also unhappy?
I am not entirely sure how the concept of philosophy and that of religion is connected. However, in this case I see religion as just another instance of the search for something permanent. I do not know whether there is any data on the hypothesis that I am just about to spell out, I was not able to find any when I did a google search, however, if true it would fit perfectly with where I am going here. I think that as hardships disappear from a society, more people become atheist, and vice versa. When life is rough people rely on religion or philosophies of endurance such as stoicism to achieve something permanent. Religion is in other words just an expression of people longing for a safe haven, something they need to cope with the hardships around them. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, many people really do need religion, however, some of the consequences of such beliefs have been devastating as I have indicated in other posts (I think).
Some personal experience can also be used as evidence of the point I am trying to make. I remember when I was little and did not know whether I believed in God or not. Perhaps this is an after construction, but as I remember it, I used to pray to God about only when I was in some sort of trouble or when I needed something, not when everything was going well for me. It was as if God was some sort of last resort when I could not handle the situation myself. I do not think that I am the only young boy exhibiting this type of behavior. Further I do not think it is even limited to boys. In Denmark where I was born and lived until I was seven, the most religious part, traditionally, is western Jylland. Coincidentally, this is also where people have traditionally made a living of fishing. Many people who went out a random day to catch fish never came back. What can you do about this (in the absence of supercomputers that predict the weather)?, not much except pray to God , who will in most cases answer your prays...
Much of the inspiration to this post came from Bertrand Russell and his book ”History of western philosophy”, a book that I highly recommends. He sums up the point I tried to make above in these words:
”The search for something permanent is one of the deepest of the instincts leading men to philosophy. It is derived, no doubt, from love of home and desire for a refuge from danger; we find, accordingly, that it is most passionate in those whose lives are most exposed to catastrophe. Religion seeks permanence in two forms, God and immortality. In God is no variableness neither shadow of turning; the life after death is eternal and unchanging. The cheerfulness of the nineteenth century turned men against these static conceptions, and modern liberal theology believes that there is progress in heaven and evolution in the Godhead. But even in this conception there is something permanent, namely progress itself and its immanent goal. And a dose of disaster is likely to bring men's hopes back to their older super-terrestrial forms: if life on earth is despaired of, it is only in heaven that peace can be sought.”