Why do people believe religious mythology?

I understand, intellectually, why people believe in God. I get that it explains creation, the universe, makes people feel like they have a purpose, etc. I get why people believe in an afterlife and the psychological comfort that brings. I even understand why people would believe that God wants us all to be “good.”

What I don’t understand is how people can believe all the stories in religion. Jesus is a prime example. I don’t understand how anyone can believe in the virgin birth, and that Jesus disappeared for about 30 years, then all the sudden he came back into the picture, died for everyone’s sins, and came back to life 3 days later only to ascend to heaven, since he was the son of God all along (or maybe he was God, too, but not really, but yes. You know, the Holy Trinity and whatnot). I don’t understand why people believe that a burning bush spoke to Moses. I don’t understand why people believe that Noah managed to fit two of every living creature on the planet into a boat he built himself and that we’re not all retarded cousins thanks to Adam and Eve (don’t even get me started on the talking snake). If someone came to you today and told you a story similar to any of these, you’d laugh in their face and call them crazy.

How do perfectly sane, and often quite intelligent people believe such irrational stories? I know that a lot of religious people look at the stories in their texts and call them allegorical. Fine, I can buy that. But there are people who literally believe those things as well. Why? If you take away all of those stories, how is that threatening to the existence of God?


10 thoughts on “Why do people believe religious mythology?

  1. For me, taking away all those irrational stories does not threaten the existence of God or however each one of us might conceive The Creator to be. We and the whole universe exist. There is some creative force behind it all. We can label it whatever way we want. We can try to explain it all whatever way we want. We can be as irrational as we need to be. As individuals, we choose to accept what makes sense of our individual existence.

    I’m in no position to assess the intelligence and irrationality of others in existential matters?

    1. Thank you for your reply!

      I like your philosophy, and I think it really speaks to the last point that I was trying to make; God can exist independent of the mythology surrounding him/her/it.

      I guess where I have a breakdown is how believing that a talking snake explains why childbirth is painful helps anyone make sense of anything regarding the universe or existence.

  2. I think that people like being in a comfort zone, and being anything else than superficial and therefore superstitious is too much of a challenge for their ego’s.
    The ego tends to evolve in a negative direction, as the mind grows old. And it’s typically older people who believe in such mythologies.

    I hope this can help you in your search of the answer to your question 🙂
    Thanks for a lovely post!
    – Andy

  3. I think, in looking at a lot of the mythology stories, you have to think less like a rational person in the 21st century, and more primitively. Allegory is certainly present in a lot of these stories, but if you can put yourself in the mindset of someone more primitive than yourself, is there any reason to disbelieve these stories?

    Think of the Earth, and the discovery that it was round. People believed the Earth was flat in every direction for millenia. Why? Because thats what their senses told them, and they didn’t have the breadth of experience (personally, or transmitted through history/learning) to refute these points.

    Moses is in the desert, and has just lit a fire from dry brush, when he has a revelation about what he is supposed to do. He leaves the fire, untended, and it quickly dies out. To a person watching him from camp, it might look like the bush caught fire and gave the idea to Moses, and when the watcher shares that story later on, it’s so miraculous that it takes hold of the popular imagination and that’s the story history records, not the truth.

    I love the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with a couple of fish and loaves. Why? Because when I was a child, “Stone Soup” was one of my favourite books. The gist of it is simple: two pigs come into town hungry, but no one wants to share their food. So the pigs start cooking up water with stones in it. Everyone comes to see what’s up, gets convinced that stone soup is better than what they have, and when they realize that the pigs are willing to share, all of the other people bring their food too. The shared food is more than enough to feed everyone. Why does the story of loaves and fishes have to be more miraculous than that? Jesus only has two fish, but every second person in the crowd is carrying some food because they knew it was going to be a long day. All of a sudden, it becomes a smogasbord, because when everyone chips in their little bit, no one goes hungry.

    Look at the ancient Egyptian story of Ra riding a boat that carries the sun across the sky every day. Why does that need to be allegory, when it can be a case of a temple scribe seeing a boat in the harbour that the sun goes through as it sets on several different occasions.

    With or without mythology or religion attached to it, it’s important to remember that human beings love stories. There is a reason that oral story-telling was how we recorded history for millenia before the written word was available. The mind remembers stories, invents stories. Imagine your own childhood. Did you have fantastical adventures in a cardboard box? Who told you what stories to play out? If someone showed you that exact same cardboard box today, would you say “Where’d you find that old box?” or “There’s my old spaceship!”

    As for why modern people continue to believe, literally, in some myths… think back to those people who believed the Earth was flat. It took a long time for that idea to change. Why? Because if you’re Joe Q Public in rural Italy 700 years ago, and some guy tells you that he heard from some sailor a few months back that the Earth isn’t flat at all but round, but your parents, teachers, and local leaders all say he’s wrong… you’re going to go on believing the Earth is flat until you get proof otherwise. Your own children will believe the Earth is flat. So will your grandchildren, until someone in your own community comes back to change everyone else’s mind.

    1. Excellent, salient points. Thank you for the reply! I guess I would have just hoped that as knowledge and scientific reasoning expands (sometimes at an exponential rate) that the need for viewing things through the prism of fantasy would die off. But I guess science moves faster than humanity.

  4. I like this question, and hopefully I will be some help in answering it. First to get a good hold on mythology, the ancient Greeks used their myth to explain the natural world (example: why do volcanoes erupt? The god’s are fighting). It started out like that, any time someone didn’t know the answer to something they would create a myth about it and over time they just kept getting more and more ridiculous. Take for example Noah’s Ark. This is a classic flood story (like the Epic of Gilgamesh), however, the groups recording such flood stories were all living around the Euphrates River (which flooded every spring). One spring around June (about 125 miles South East of present day Baghdad) in 2900 BC there was a six day storm that caused the river to flood even more and killed a whole lot of people. A local Sumerian king named Ziusudra living in the village of Shuruppak (in the place I was talking about before) commandeered a local barge and filled it with valuables and rode the river downstream to the Persian Gulf where he landed on a hilltop and gave thanks to God (http://www.noahs-ark-flood.com/otscholr.htm). It is not odd that all of the cultures living around the Euphrates have similar stories about floods and so on.
    My other theory is that religion is part of evolution (not in the way that religious people think). There is no doubt that before man there was no such thing as religion. There are no temples built by dinosaurs or pre-historic apes. Only once man was able to communicate in a way that they could form societies (with farms that could produce livestock – thus eliminating the need to hunt [just about]) did religion start to appear. Now this is a theory of mine, so bear with me. In order to create such a society people would have to be able to communicate in some way, and this allowed people to gossip. I am not entirely sure how much you know about Natural Selection, but I assume you know that the animal with the least favorable qualities does not reproduce. The idea of God came about because of the need to be favorable. To clarify, if you were to do something unfavorable to the society you live in (kill another member, steal someone’s livestock, etc.) then the society would outcast you (this also has some implications as to the history of morals, but I’ll stick to my original point for now) thus meaning that you would not reproduce. In order to make sure that you did not act unfavorably people imagined that an invisible being was watching them at all times so as they would not act in such unfavorable way. Obviously those who held this being did not act in such unfavorable ways, and those who didn’t hold this belief did not reproduce to pass on their non-belief. This is when all the craziness started with religion.

  5. excellent post! interestingly enough, you gave a small part of the answer in one of your responses to my posts (which i’ll respond to properly in due course haha): we can’t be so sure, because what we think is the case now might be different in the future.
    in the past people thought it absurd that we would be purchasing things digitally, but now that we are experiencing it we do not think twice.
    similarly not seeing a burning bush that speaks (assuming it is a literal reference) sounds absurd to us but IF we were somehow presented with it (assuming it exists) then all that will change.

    you also raise an excellent point about intelligence and believing such story. in my faith we are taught to question things and not follow something till we are sure of it. part of the reason behind this is that man eventually evolved to what we are today, people of logic, reason and thinking, from people who were obsessed with miracles (people of Moses), healing (people of Jesus) and so on. i therefore accept that whilst some of the things in religious texts might sound absurd to us now, they were appropriate for their target audience (the people of that time).

    unfortunately it is my believe that many people, of faith or not, have forgotten this ‘thinking’ aspect of life and/or religion, for whatever reason. it is even sadder that people have changed and modified religion to suit their desires, and then themselves, as well as many others, subscribe to their interpretation of something that MIGHT have been pure and divine to begin with. then they are merely sheep. we need more thinkers like you around!

    1. I suppose you’re right that I should keep in mind the historical context during which religious texts were written, and the average level of education of the people reading them at the time. And I think that by and large, most people in the current day and age don’t take the stories in religious texts literally, instead opting to use logic and viewing religious mythology as allegory instead. Still, I know there are a small number of fundamentalists out there who believe that the earth is 6000 years old and that dinosaurs and people once shared the planet at the same time…and that’s what’s scary to me.

      1. this world is full of nuts. till this day we’ve got people who believe they were abducted by aliens or were fish in their past life hahaha

  6. I’ll be glad to answer your question from a Christian perspective.

    Firstly, I think there’s a real distinction between religious mythology and true religion. Why people believe in religious mythology is much of what you’ve already stated: it provides answers to the human condition. It answers the question of who we are, where we came from, where we’re going, and what is expected of us. We naturally want answers to these questions. Even atheism provides answers to these questions, which is why that’s a modern day mythology too. Of course most atheists try to rationalize this by claiming an intellectual high ground, but I think that’s done to help them justify their beliefs.

    The difference with Christianity is that it’s more than a religion; it’s a relationship with Jesus Christ, and everything is centered on him. How can I believe in a virgin birth and that he died for our sins and rose from the dead? Well, it was a progression of being introduced to Christianity as a child, not wanting to go to hell, and believing what I heard. But at that point I can’t say that I had a relationship with Jesus. At that point I was still a self-centered kid. But as a senior in high school, I really came to know Jesus, and that’s when things started to make sense. I don’t believe in a virgin birth simply because it’s written in some book by someone who long ago tried to profit in some way from religion. I believe it’s real history, rational, and makes sense of Christianity. For example Jesus had to be born in order to share in our humanity. Keep in mind that God had a plan from the very beginning to redeem mankind from their sin, and this was prophesied about by Moses in Genesis 3:15. There are other passages in Scripture that prophesy about the coming Christ and Messiah. I don’t think that’s refutable because we know from other sources that the Jewish nation was expecting a Messiah. But what they weren’t expecting was for that Messiah to be Jesus. They were expecting a warrior that would physically deliver them from their enemies and rule as a king on earth (which is why Harod killed all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under). They weren’t expecting a meek lamb who would lay down his life and save them from their sins and had no intention of being king on earth. It’s also important to know that all sin must be punished, and the only punishment that can satisfy the penalty is death. So in order for Jesus to be a substitute for us, he had to become one of us, and to do that he would have to be born. Otherwise if he simply came down from heaven (as he did at various places in the Old Testament), he wouldn’t share in our humanity. So that’s why he had to be born. But he’s also perfect and without sin, so he could not be conceived by a man- otherwise he’d be born into sin just like you and me. Since Jesus is without sin he had to be born of a virgin. I don’t know where Jesus went for 30 years because the Bible doesn’t tell us. But that doesn’t negate him being God.

    I do believe that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, and that Noah took two of every kind of bird and land animal (not two of every living creature). Actually we are retarded cousins in one sense. The genetic diversity before the flood would have been much greater, which is why they lived hundreds of years (Noah lived to be 950). After the flood their gene pool would have been limited to only their family, and that explains why we don’t have those long life spans. And why is it so hard to believe in a talking snake if God and Satan are real and can perform supernatural acts? If God is really all powerful, why is it so hard to believe in miracles of any kind? Do you believe in talking birds? Do you believe in chimps that can use sign language? God opened the mouth of a donkey in Numbers 22, so why can’t Satan use a talking snake? To suggest that none of those miracles could happen because you find them unbelievable isn’t a rational argument if God exists and is all powerful. I find that there’s a legitimate rationale to everything God has done.

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