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Barbara G. Walker: Religions grew out of utter dependence

Barbara G. Walker

By Barbara G. Walker

It has been scientifically proven that humans evolved from earlier apelike forms by overdevelopment of the brain at the expense of the physical body. In the womb, physical growth of the fetus slows down at the period when brain growth is foremost. Thus, through a process called infantilization, humans are better able than other animals to think, to imagine, to create, to solve problems and to invent language for communication. However, humans have inferior senses and strength than other animals. The fittest human athlete has nowhere near the muscle power or the keen environmental awareness of the average of what we snobbishly call the “lower” animals.

As a result of this infantilizing process, humans are born much more helpless than other creatures. Human babies can’t get themselves to the teat for milk, as other infant mammals can. They must be picked up and carried and cared for, all day, every day, for many months. During this time, the brain takes in a huge amount of knowledge while the body lags. What the human infant experiences before and above everything else is its own utter helplessness, the need to be cared for by a giant being, much stronger and wiser, who voluntarily supplies all the infant’s needs — the mother. The infant has a primal, inborn need for her nurturing touch. Being fed and hugged and rocked into soothing sleep is the first experience of bliss.

That deepest, most essential feeling of utter dependence naturally affects the human psyche, that keen creator of answers to our questions. It inevitably creates humankind’s first deity, the Great Mother, who supposedly created everything and supplies everything and loves her children and teaches them the basics of behavior. To follow her instruction is natural, to disobey her might prove dangerous and is a sin. Language makes it possible to transmit her description throughout the community, and to create methods of worship that presumably communicate with her and ensure her goodwill.

It is that bone-deep feeling of helplessness that is never quite outgrown, affecting a majority of human beings throughout our history, and making ever more elaborate images of a presumed spirit world of superior intelligence, ready to hear prayers and watch over us.

When fatherhood was finally recognized and father gods were created, the same characteristics persisted, though the father god tended to be more strict and his punishments more terrible. For what could be more appalling than the eternity of torture that the patriarchal priesthood invented? They finally managed to eliminate the mother goddessses as “pagan” to destroy or appropriate their temples, to murder their priestesses as “witches” and to overturn female ownership of property and family names, though the process took many centuries.

Now we have a paternal god who claims to be the sole source of everything and serves as the single authority figure that our infantilization needs to envision, embodying a promise of eternal bliss. But for those of us who have outgrown this imaginative/emotional dependence, he is obviously as ridiculous as all the numerous deities of the past, or the other supernaturals we have invented: fairies, gnomes, vampires, ghosts, angels, demons, dragons, giants, werewolves, elves or monsters. He has no other substance than our hot air (language) and serves mainly to make unbelievable amounts of money for the organizations that continue to reinforce his image. The childlike souls in our majority keep him going, and it is the perfect scam — getting rich by making promises that never have to be kept.

FFRF Lifetime Member Barbara G. Walker is a researcher, lecturer and author of 24 books.