Religious Belief and Cooperation By James Reed

This was passed my way by our Brian Simpson: B. Raffield (et al.), “Religious Belief and Cooperation: A View from the Viking Age,” Religion, Brain and Behavior, vol. 9, 2019. The issue is whether socio-political complexity arose from one of two hypotheses. First, is the idea that moralizing high gods who engage in supernatural monitoring, observing and punishing humans for transgressions fostered cooperation and socio-political complexity. The second hypothesis is that of the supernatural punishment hypothesis, that the fear of punishment by  non-moralizing high gods, aided the development of socio-political complexity.

These hypotheses were tested by examining pre-Christian Viking society (750-1050 CE). It was found that while the Vikings did believe that they were monitored by supernatural entities, the Norse Gods were not moralizing high gods. They thus conclude that non-moralizing high gods foster socio-political complexity.

Now, this is probably true of pagan Viking society, since the gods were essentially models of Vikings, Jungian archetypes. These gods, like Thor, did not create the world, and in fact are destroyed at the battle of Ragnarok, the final battle between good and evil. They were tribal symbols, and not explanations of the cosmos.

However, looking at ancient Israel, the opposite conclusion would be drawn, for there is a creating, all-powerful God Yahweh, who is highly moralizing and does punish transgressions. It seems to me that the development of socio-political complexity cannot therefore be generalised, since different cultures come up with different answers.



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Sunday, 05 December 2021
If you'd like to register, please fill in the username, password and name fields.

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to