(Originally published on Quora on December 29th, 2011)
I believe that the following reasons play a major role:
- Human beings have a psychological need for meaning. That meaning must be more than the simple injunction to “make the most of it.” People are looking for some way to look at life and feel that it matters in more than just a personal sense. They want to know what is a life well-lived, and what is the standard.
- Human beings have a need for everyday psychological guidance and practice. This goes beyond “curing mental disease”, which is the focus of most of today’s psychotherapy. People are looking for guidance in dealing with the normal difficulties of life. Especially the universal limitations that all human beings must deal with: limited control, limited time, uncertainty, etc. People are looking for tools for increasing happiness, satisfaction, perspective, and meaning in the face of the inherent difficulties of everyday life.
- Human beings need a systematic way of dealing with and accepting death.Even Atheists (such as myself) find it helpful to remember and “digest” the fact of their own mortality, and place it in a positive framework. Virtually every religion in the world revolved around a core concept that either denies death or explains it away in a way that help people accept it, at least as long as they believe in the model.
- Human beings have a psychological need for meaningful social ritual. By this I mean a way to share and celebrate life and its meaning with others. A structured way to share the journey with your loved ones and your community. A structured way for the community to provide emotional and moral support in times of crisis.
As an Atheist, I believe it is possible for a completely scientific, rational, and proven system to provide us with all of the above. However, it’s also important to note thatno such system exists today.
Until one is developed, people will always flock to systems that seem designed to answer those fundamental needs. They would rather ignore the light of reason when it means, to them, a meaningless and cold existence with no support network or the comfort of social rituals.