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Biological Roots of Religion

About Abhijit Naskar

Abhijit Naskar is one of the world's celebrated Neuroscientists, an International Bestselling Author of numerous books and a popular advocate of mental wellness and global harmony. He has revealed to the world with his contributions in Science how the basic awareness of the brain can completely redefine our perception of life and make our daily life much more cheerful. He takes us on a fascinating investigative journey of understanding the human mind and its vivid features. He was born in Calcutta, India. His rejuvenating scientific philosophy of the mind has been lavishing human life with the colors and sweetness of self-awareness, since its advent with his very first book "The Art of Neuroscience in Everything".

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What is Religion? This question torments a lot of young minds of modern society, especially those who are keen to study science. It is something that makes every single person on earth ponder in amazement.

white lotus flower

Religion is simply a natural phenomenon of the human mind. It is something that is deep rooted into the neural network of the human brain. Or in short, it is a neurological phenomenon. And that natural feature of neurobiology manifests in vividly different ways in different people. For example, to me exploring and investigating the fascinating realm of the human mind, is my religion. To an evolutionary biologist, the theory of evolution itself can be his or her religion. However, to the majority of the human population the term religion refers to a specific book. And there lies the most devastating perceptual error of the modern human society.
Religion is not a book. The Bible is not religion, nor are the Vedas. The Torah is not religion, nor is the Quran, or any other scripture on earth. Scriptures are born out of a basic human urge to sustain the sensation of spirituality in an organized structure.
All the religious conflicts in the human society rise from the perception that when we talk about religion, we are actually referring to a specific book. And there’s the biggest perceptual mistake of the human civilization.
All human creations including the scriptures are the product of billions of neurons firing together in proper harmony. And anything that a human creates can never be free from flaws. So cannot be the religious books of this planet. And chaos starts to invade the society when people perceive every single word from the scriptures to be literally true. Thus the mistakes of our Bronze Age ancestors become the cause of devastation in our modern society.
Biologically, the true essence of religion, lies within the human mind, not in any book, no matter how old they are. Religion is not a book. It is a natural feature of the human mind that created all the scriptures in the world, not the other way around.
Religion is the mind’s urge to become better in the spiritual domain. All those books only depict that urge. They only show what a handful of individuals in the history of mankind experienced when their brain made them transcend from an ordinary wakeful state of consciousness into an ultimate state of divinity and bliss. It is what we call an altered state of consciousness. And you don’t have to be a prophet or a messiah to experience this. The most natural way to experience a transcendental state of consciousness is through meditation. It has nothing to do with God. But it has a lot to do with exploring one’s inner self and getting familiar with one’s deepest desires, the inner divinity.
Thus all divinity, spirituality and religiosity exist within your very brain. I take immense pleasure in realizing that our perception of the whole universe emerges from the activity of the little specks of jelly inside our skull. From the complex and fascinating neural activity emerges our very human consciousness, which happens to be the most advanced among all species on planet earth. So, bring that 3 pounds lump of jelly into use. Human brain holds all the answers to you questions. You just need to ask the right question at the right moment. It is not about what the books permit you to do, or not to do. It is about what you as a precious member of mankind permit yourself to do. It is about finding the kingdom of conscience. In that kingdom of conscience you shall discover that all religions are biologically true and equal. They evolved in the human mind to ease the sufferings of daily survival.
And the ancient sensation that binds all religions together is spirituality. It is the basis of all religions on this planet, yet it is not tied to any specific religion. In fact, this neurological element of spirituality led to the birth of modern religions.
At the core of all religions, the rudimentary element of spirituality functions as a cognitive mechanism within the brain to inspire a human being in all walks of life. And all the vivid and varied religious rituals and regulations are manmade paths that lead towards that spiritual awakening. Mother Nature embedded the seeds of spirituality within our genetic blueprint because this fascinating mental quality proved its mettle in easing human anxiety and sufferings throughout our existence as a species.
Humans are the most interesting as well as confusing creature on this planet. We can be tough as iron, and quite amazingly in times of distress we can become real weak and vulnerable. So, Mother Nature thought, “Hey, I cannot let my children suffer like that. I need to do something about it.”
Naturally, she put selective pressure on the human brain and through millions of years in the pursuit of building various mechanisms in our complex neural network. These mechanisms are the pinnacle of biological revolution. They are the reason we can act as an advanced species. They provide us amazing human qualities of love, passion, compassion, kindness, empathy, curiosity, and spirituality.
And this element of spirituality in our neural network constructs our rich and vivid religious sentiments. As I have said in my book Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality,

“your spiritual goals can be as numerous as there are stars in the sky, and so can be your religions. But in all your vivid and diverse paths of practicing religion, here is one common element that knows no bounds. That element is the eternal bliss that enables you to attain unimaginable feats of excellence.”
That divine element constructed all the philosophical teachings of the scriptures. However, some of the verses of those books which inadvertently advocate and promote hatred or violence, are simply the product of the dark side of the human mind. All those scriptures are like philosophical literature. Some parts of them are beneficial to the society and some others are quite harmful. Thus, taking every single word of those books to be literally true, only leads to chaos. This is what we call fundamentalism, and it is dangerous. It not only harms the society, but leads the entire human civilization back to the Stone Age.
Hence, to avoid such catastrophic scenario, every scripture, no matter how ancient, must go through rigorous human scrutiny. A rational mind should not accept a single word from the scriptures without properly examining it. A modern human being must be brave and upright, and embrace the goodness from all the scriptures and throw away the poisonous particles.

Religion itself is not harmful for the society. In fact it is quite the opposite. It is what gives a person hope to keep walking even in the darkest times. And we have proven this with countless neuroscientific studies. We the neuroscientists have proven that religion is healthy for the human species as a whole. It is an incontrovertible fact of science, just like evolution or gravity. In fact, religion is a crucial part of evolution.

But, on the other hand, the greatest threat to mankind is fundamentalism. It is the fuel for terrorism. And the moment, fundamentalism disappears from the face of earth, society would finally get rid of religious terrorism.
The point is, every person on this planet has been endowed with an inexplicable human conscience. Through various neurochemical processes, that conscience can solve quintessential problems of life. That conscience can tell you, whether something is right or wrong. And that very conscience can show you, that all religions serve a single purpose in human life. It serves as an infinite domain of hope. And we live in a society, where hope has become scarce. So, we need more of it. And if a person takes comfort in his or her faith upon divinity in times of utter distress, who the hell am I to say, “that person is delusional”. Only a blind idiot would call the faith upon divinity, a delusion.
My conscience doesn’t allow me to be such ruthless. I am a human, who happens to be a scientist. And my scientific exploration of the biological roots of divinity has taught me Universal Tolerance.

Whatever may be the position of science, whatever may be the position of philosophy, as long as there is such a thing as death in the world, as long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, as long as the human heart sheds a drop of tear in weakness, there shall be a faith in God and divinity. And the beauty of Mother Nature is that, every time a person tries to inflict harm to that graceful element of faith, it reinforces itself in the human mind.
My goal is simple. It is to take the human civilization with me on the path of sweet general harmony. The beauty is in assimilating the appealing elements from all religions. The world has ample place for everybody. And once all the humans of this planet learn to embrace the goodness of each other, this tiny blue world of ours, shall become the happiest planet in the universe.
The point is, based upon one’s needs, his or her brain develops various fascinating beliefs – religious, non- religious or purely spiritual. When a seed is put in the ground, and soil, air and water are placed around it, does the seed become the soil, or the air or the water? No, it becomes a plant. It develops according to its own law of growth, assimilates the air, the water and the soil, converts them into plant substance and grows into a plant. Similar is a human mind. And similar is a belief system. The Christian is not to become a Muslim or a Hindu, nor a Muslim or a Jew is to become a Christian or a Hindu. In the name of general harmony, each must assimilate the spirit of the others, yet preserve his or her individuality and grow according to his or her own law of growth.
Any idea of separation is a bondage. True liberation of the mind is in non-differentiation. And that liberation can only be attained though love and compassion. So, in the name of general harmony, let’s break the barriers down and embrace each other. Let’s build a world beyond chaos and religious conflicts. Let’s construct a world better than this one, where ones individuality finds new meaning in accepting the goodness of others. Where love and compassion shall run in the veins of every single human being.

(This Article was originally published on Goodreads, under the title “Biology of Religion”)
Further Reading
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Biopsy of Religions: Neuroanalysis towards Universal Tolerance
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, What is Mind?


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