Only the biggest God builds a civilization

Author posits religion is essential building block of society

The National Post:
Among more militant atheist circles, the argument is often made that religion is a human invention serving only to stand in the way of societal progress. In the new book, Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, University of British Columbia psychology professor Ara Norenzayan argues the exact opposite: Religions — at least those equipped with an omniscient, omnipresent “Big God” — are not only important, but the source of almost all known earthly civilization. The Post’s Tristin Hopper reached Mr. Norenzayan in Vancouver.

If religion is the “glue” that bonded modern civilization together, as your book asserts, what did human society look like before?

Let’s go back 12,000 years; you have all of humanity living in small bands of hunter-gatherers. Then something happened which, still, we’re trying to understand: In only a few thousands years, which is nothing from an evolutionary perspective, people settle down, populations skyrocket and societies start to build monumental architecture like the pyramids. At exactly the same time you have the growth of religion. My argument is that this is not a coincidence. Maybe what happened was, these human groups stumbled on the idea of a Big God, found they could solve co-operation dilemmas much better, and as a result they expanded. Other things then kicked in: Agriculture, specialization, more efficient armies, etc.


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