Saturday, June 13, 2015

Did Affluence Influence The Growth Of Religion?

Human Needs

On Justice: In this painting by French painter Bernard d’Agesci (1757-1828), it depicts “God, the law and the king” on one page and The Golden Rule on the other. The scales of justice are balanced between heavenly authority and human goodness.
Image Source & Credit: Wikipedia
An interesting hypothesis is raised in this article, by Bret Stetka, in Scientific American, which questions whether societal affluence, which began 2,500 years ago, influenced the rise and staying power of modern religions and the codification of a moral system of behaviour. The article cites the paper (Current Biology: January 5, 2015), “Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions, whose lead author is Nicolas Baumard of École Normale Supérieure’s Département d’Études Cognitives, in Paris. 

In “Did Affluence Spur the Rise of Modern Religions?” (April 9, 2015), Stetka writes for Scientific American:
About 2,500 years ago something changed the way humans think. Within the span of two centuries, in three separate regions of Eurasia, spiritual movements emerged that would give rise to the world's major moral religions, those preaching some combination of compassion, humility and asceticism. Scholars often attribute the rise of these moral religions—Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity included—to population growth, seeing morality as a necessary social stabilizer in increasingly large and volatile human communities. Yet findings from a recent study published in Current Biology point to a different factor: rising affluence.
The authors investigated variables relating to political complexity and living standards. Affluence emerged as a major force in the rise of moral religion, in particular, access to energy. Across cultures moral religions abruptly emerged when members of a population could reliably source 20,000 calories of energy a day, including food (for humans and livestock), fuel and raw materials.
“This number appears to correspond with a certain peace of mind,” says lead author Nicolas Baumard, a research scientist at École Normale Supérieure in Paris. “Having a roof over your head, not feeling like the world is full of predators and enemies, knowing that you'll have enough to eat tomorrow.” As Baumard points out, psychology research shows that affluence appears to influence our motivations and reward circuitry away from short-term gain to also considering the benefits of long-term strategy. In other words, with a steady energy supply, we had more time to cooperate, cultivate skills and consider consequences. Affluence also allowed more time for existential pondering: maybe we have some greater moral responsibility; perhaps life has a purpose.
In other words, when an individual’s immediate needs of food and shelter are met, there is sufficient time to think about philosophical ideas, such as the purpose and meaning of life, and, moreover, whether altruism and cooperation are fundamental to a better life. This, to a large degree, can be summed up by the Golden Rule, the ethic of reciprocity, which is universally known; Wikipedia writes:
The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic"[30] from the Parliament of the World’s Religions[31][32] (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule ("We must treat others as we wish others to treat us") as the common principle for many religions.[33] The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 leaders from all of the world's major faiths, including Baha'i Faith, Brahmanism, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Indigenous, Interfaith, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American, Neo-Pagan, Sikhism, Taoism, Theosophist, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian.[33][34] In the folklore of several cultures{31} the Golden Rule is depicted by the allegory of the long spoons.
Let us return, briefly, to the article’s hypothesis, which begs further analysis, leading to some opposing views, or at least another view. Whether societal affluence led to the increase in religious morality or vice-versa, as some have pointed out, cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

What we can say is that today religion acts as an anchor in a sea of uncertainty for billions of people around the world, and that it remains highly attractive (and beneficial) to the poorest of the poor, to those individuals who do not have sufficient food or shelter. One can argue that the link between being poor and having a religious belief or outlook is strong.

And understandably so; when one does not have much in the way of material goods, the spiritual life that religion offers becomes exceedingly necessary and attractive to many; the promises of a better world in the afterlife becomes a balm to the tired soul, and an elixir of hope. Religious beliefs will remain ever-present as long as there remains poverty, as long as society, the world, is in need of repair.

Needless to say, this article and the paper is interesting, but this question requires further study.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]; and for the original paper cited, go to [CurrentBiology],

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