This article explains a good portion of “religion” in human society:
It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.
Instead of “our minds” it should say, “some people’s minds”, but it continues:
some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. “There’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired,” says Bloom.
Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a “default state” of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. “Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life,” says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.
So how does the brain conjure up gods? One of the key factors, says Bloom, is the fact that our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things – things with minds, or at least volition – and inanimate objects.
The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none. “You see bushes rustle, you assume there’s somebody or something there,” Bloom says.
This over-attribution of cause and effect probably evolved for survival. If there are predators around, it is no good spotting them 9 times out of 10. Running away when you don’t have to is a small price to pay for avoiding danger when the threat is real.
Again, experiments on young children reveal this default state of the mind. Children as young as three readily attribute design and purpose to inanimate objects. When Deborah Kelemen of the University of Arizona in Tucson asked 7 and 8-year-old children questions about inanimate objects and animals, she found that most believed they were created for a specific purpose. Pointy rocks are there for animals to scratch themselves on. Birds exist “to make nice music”, while rivers exist so boats have something to float on. “It was extraordinary to hear children saying that things like mountains and clouds were ‘for’ a purpose and appearing highly resistant to any counter-suggestion,” says Kelemen.
Still, in adults, what this does not explain is outright stupidity. Like this:
About 40 pieces of stationery — letters written on letterheads, brochures, business cards and even plain sheets of paper with just the business name were laid on a table in the center of the sanctuary of the church at 4115 Fifth Ave.
“Faith moves God. You have shown your faith in God in doing this, and he will honor that,” Student Pastor George Birmingham said.
“If you brought in a letterhead, come forward,” he said as six church members joined him at the table.
Birmingham then took a cruet with sweet-scented olive oil. He and the six members assisting him placed the oil on their hands and anointed each piece of stationery.
During the anointing, churchgoers in the pews stood and raised their hands in song and prayer.
It’s just embarrassing. Embarrassing that adults can be this delusional. Embarrassing that there are so many people like this that the paper felt need to publish a ridiculous story. Embarrassing that the paper’s readers do not protest the publication of such childish silliness.