XV. Religious Emotions

Religion has been discussed in terms of social emotions, where as a moral code it is more of an intellectual than an emotional matter: a religious person follows a code not because he feels it, but because it is taught to him.

While the demands of religion are more akin to political laws than emotional states, there is an underlying emotional state of fear and reverence for the supernatural powers that are believed to be the rewarding and punishing force behind the rules and requirements of a religious doctrine. It is this element of fear and desire that separates religion from morality because adherence is based on this fear rather than the logical acceptance of the propriety of moral codes.

It is believed that the lower animals are incapable of religious feeling, though it can be seen in the reverence with which certain domesticated animals regard their masters. To the horse and the dog, man is a mysterious being endowed with powers they can understand, whose anger they fear and whose love they require to survive.

Primitive religions place their fear in natural forces: man recognizes the sun, the moon, storms, tides, and other natural phenomena as necessary to his existence and, being unable to come to terms with them rationally, creates spirits who are motivated by emotions familiar to mankind, and seek to develop a social relationship with these supernatural powers by creating codes of etiquette for interacting with them, appeasing them, or escaping their wrath.

From this primitive level of religion, man evolves into polytheism, creating gods with man-like shapes and behaviors, endowed with supernatural powers. And from polytheism it is a short step to monotheism, the embodiment of all supernatural power into a single being.

All of this is again an intellectual process, as man attempts to apply his cognitive faculties to derive a rational explanation for the things he does not understand and that are beyond his control. But again, it is all based on the emotions of fear and wonder at the thought of the forces that are behind the things man does not understand.

Without this fear, and without accepting the unexplained, religion would become a school of philosophy - beliefs that are derived from intelligence rather than emotion. In this sense it might be more accurate to say that there are no "religious emotions" but instead religion is an organized method of dealing with common emotions that is as sophisticated as the culture from which it derives.

It is highly unlikely that the religions of the present time would persist in a more primitive culture - and it is also likely that religion will continue to evolve as cultures do. The modern man of the industrial era is highly unlikely to fall back to the worship of the moon and the forest, as he has become more sophisticated and elaborate in the mechanisms he has created to deal with his fear of the unknown.