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The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God Hardcover – November 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...a cut above the crowd...a terse introduction to the key ideas emerging in current psychology of religion,..." -- The Ernest Becker Foundation Newsletter, April 2005

"...amazing book...explosive and important." -- Statesman Journal, December 5, 2004

"...intriguing, entertaining, hard-hitting read, a thought-provoking book that will make a fine companion to Freud's work on religion...Essential." -- Choice, March 2005

"...very interesting reading..." -- Bookviews.com, December 2004

From the Inside Flap

Throughout the centuries, many people have conceived of supernatural beings - angels are a common example - as entities that intervene in the believer's time of need, to show that he or she is personally loved and not alone in the universe; this holds true even for those who feel abandoned or forgotten by the human world. Though some influential thinkers have attempted to suppress or banish such notions, belief in the supernatural has always resurfaced and persists to this day, not only in organized religion but also in the thriving literature - and booming industry - of New Age belief systems. Shouldn't the persistence of such a belief throughout the ages serve as a solid anecdotal support for the existence of supernatural beings? Or is there a better, simpler explanation - one that comes from our own memories?

In this insightful new study, M. D. Faber, whose previous work in the psychology of religion has won widespread critical acclaim, offers a comprehensive, naturalistic explanation of religious experience from the intertwining perspectives of neuroscience and developmental psychology. Faber argues that belief in God, the powerful sensation of His presence, and the heartfelt assent of the reality of the supernatural are all produced by the mind-brain's inherent tendency to discover in religious narrative a striking, memorial echo of its own biological development. Although Faber maintains that we are not "wired" specifically for God (as many contend), our brain is so constructed as to make us profoundly susceptible to religious myths. The psychological origins of this susceptibility may be far more earthly and physical than many would suspect.

A key point of Faber's analysis is the connection between the onset of infantile amnesia during childhood's later years and the evocative power of religious mythology. This connection, claims the author, is the unconscious emotional powerhouse that ultimately engenders and sustains religious belief. To support his argument, Faber cites the work of William James, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, and Carl Jung; testimonies of several contemporary witnesses of an angelic presence; and relevant studies from the field of developmental psychology.

In an age of religious turmoil and international terrorism linked to religious zeal, it is more important than ever to gain a rational, scientific understanding of religious motivations. Faber's insights help us realize why religious conflicts often spill over into violence. When a believer's religion is challenged, the challenge resounds at deep, unconscious levels where primal parental attachments reside.

Sure to be controversial, this pioneering, highly original work takes the reader to the neurological-psychological bedrock of religious experience.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591022673
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591022671
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,226,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. Bestick on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Religion doesn't work because it's true," said William James, "but is true because it works." The reason it works, according to MD Faber, is because religious notions tap into our deepest feeling-state, which is the symbiotic relationship we had with our primary caregiver during infancy. As he says in the middle of the book, "we turn to God as a child in distress turns to its mother." While he acknowledges Freud's insights about the connection between infancy and the religious impulse, he advances Freud's basic argument by highlighting the role of the primary caregiver (usually the mother) and by fruitfully linking psychology and neuroscience.

Drawing upon such close observers of infant behavior as DW Winnicott and Margaret Mahler, Faber leads us carefully through the developmental phases of early childhood, with the goal of tying the affective states of this life period to the feelings induced by religious rituals. Infancy is a period when we go through thousands of instances where we want something and someone provides what we need. During the earliest phases of life, we don't distinguish our self from the caregiver; later we see our self and our caregiver as a symbiotic team, working with one purpose and one all powerful will. We may not be "wired for God" as the famous phrase has it, but since "repeated patterns strengthen synaptic connections'" our brains are wired for asking and receiving from a caregiver who appears omnipotent to our childish eyes.

Then, amazingly, we forget this powerful formative experience, a process labeled infantile amnesia. (That we can't recall infant experiences is corroborated by imaging studies that demonstrate that the structures needed to form memories aren't functioning in babies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've been wondering why, in these scientifically enlightened times, belief in God, angels and saints is so common and so persistent, Faber goes a long way toward answering your question. His explanation is based on the development of the human infant's brain. I'll condense his explanation into my own words.

An infant's neocortex has billions of `seedling' neurons searching for stimuli which shape the way these neurons grow; the way its brain get `wired'. And the way the neurons grow conditions their response to future stimuli. The infant's initial experiences are with its caregivers (usually its mother). Initially the infant doesn't distinguish between itself and its caregiver; to it they're one omnipotent organism. The nurturing, warmth and comforting it receives in response to its whimpers and cries are seemingly self-induced -- the neurons in its neocortex initially get `wired' so that the infant unconsciously believes it induces it own nurturing.

As the infant grows it learns to distinguish itself from its caregivers. But the early `wiring' is still in its brain available to be re-stimulated eventho' new patterns continue to be laid down along with the initial `wiring'. Until the child reaches its third year, it has no conscious memory (infantile amnesia). But the unconscious memories are still there in its brain available to be re-stimulated. As the child separates itself from its caregivers, it may compensate with an imaginary companion (such as a doll or blanket) that it can turn to for comfort.

If at this age the child is taught about supernatural companions -- its putative Father in Heaven, Baby Jesus, Mother Mary and/or Guardian Angel -- these can re-stimulate its brain's initial `wiring' to unconsciously resonate with the child's infantile desires.
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This book finally solved the deeply personal conundrum of why I have been so deeply drawn to religion despite my intellectual many objections. The draw was so strong in me and I had several religious experiences so intense that I was being convinced by experience that there was a level of knowing far deeper than the intellect. Having no explanation that fully satisfied for the intensity and shape of this yearning and these experiences was the last remaining very sturdy thread that religious belief or at least being convinced there was something very real to this stuff hung by.

Now I understand. The missing long sought piece to the puzzle has been found. The fit is perfect. I can't thank the author enough.
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Experts from diverse fields are forever trying to understand the connection between religious belief and human life. For example, Alexis de Tocqueville says: "At the time when Christianity appeared on Earth, Providence, which no doubt was preparing the world for its reception, had united a great part of mankind, like an immense flock, under the Caesars. ... One must recognize that this new and singular condition of humanity disposed men to receive the general truths preached by Christianity, and this serves to explain the quick and easy way in which it then penetrated the human spirit."

And in "The Fragility of Freedom: Tocqueville on Religion, Democracy and the American Future," Joshua Mitchell gives this gloss on Tocqueville's meaning: "The real-life condition of the Romans `disposed' the people toward a religious idea that recapitulates what their lived experience already avowed. They could easily come to think Christianity because the life they lived already evinced the Christian pattern. Being precedes consciousness; real-life conditions ... dispose thought to accept certain religious notions."

Nowhere is the idea that, "being precedes consciousness" and disposes thought to accept certain religious notions more clear and powerfully expressed than in the fascinating book, "The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God," by M.D. Faber.
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