I regularly read the Irish Times letters page (online). There are often exchanges about religion, and it must be said that Catholics and other believers have been good at weighing in to them and making powerful arguments.
Today there is a response from a Dr. Hugh J Masterson of Colorado to a recent article by Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland—the article claiming that humankind invented gods to plug the gaps of their scientific ignorance. The whole letter can be found here. It concludes:
Regarding the invention of religion, the first sentiment of the human person is a desire for something “greater”, not fear, which comes from the possibility of losing the object of desire. Therefore humans, before being inventors of religion, are fundamentally religious beings, as history attests.
This seems to me a crucial point. You may argue that belief in God is deluded, but to treat it as some kind of hypothesis amongst other hypotheses, which can simply be extracted from the human psyche and leave the rest of its furnishings intact and standing, seems unwarranted. Is it any coincidence that, historically, we tend to characterise cultures first and foremost by their religion? We think of Osiris and Horus when we think of Ancient Egypt, or the Olympians when we think of ancient Greece, or Hinduism when we think of India, or Calvinism when we think of the Dutch Golden Age. The Cathecism of the Catholic Church seems justified in calling man “homo religiosus.”
The puzzle is how some people seem to be genuinely uninterested in religion, or even in religious speculation. Of course, I don’t mean the card-carrying atheists and anti-theists, since their preoccupation shows obvious signs of repression. I mean those who seem neither hostile nor friendly. Whether a whole society can maintain such indiference in the long-term is an interesting question—the future development of our post-Christian Europe should provide the answer.