Why Do You Go To Church? This May Surprise You

Do you go to church?  Synagogue?  Mosque?

Do you know the reason why?  Some go because it's a social event, meeting people you know and like.  Others, because they've lost a job, or a loved one and need comfort.  Even others, like me, because they are desperately hoping for something they don't have and want (a child).

When my prayers were finally answered, yes, I became more spiritual.  But it didn't take long to forget about this miracle.  Then I was diagnosed with cancer, twice, and God (or what I call God) came back into my life.

But a new study has found that while all these reasons may be what's compelling us, there's something else going on we don't even know about.

Researchers say it's because religion satisfies all of the 16 basic desires that humans share.  Say, what? That's right.  Acceptance, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, romance, saving, social contact, status, tranquility and yes, even vengeance. But it's a little more complicated than that.

“It’s not just about fear of death. Religion couldn’t achieve mass acceptance if it only fulfilled one or two basic desires,” says Steven Reiss, a professor emeritus of psychology at The Ohio State University and author of The 16 Strivings for God (Mercer University Press, 2016), at newswise.com.  “People are attracted to religion because it provides believers the opportunity to satisfy all their basic desires over and over again. You can’t boil religion down to one essence.”

 Reiss’s theory of what attracts people to religion is based on his research in the 1990s on motivation. He and his colleagues surveyed thousands of people and asked them to rate the degree to which they embraced hundreds of different possible goals, according to the web site.


“We all share the same 16 goals, but what makes us different is how much we value each one,” Reiss says.
“How much an individual values each of those 16 desires corresponds closely to what he or she likes and dislikes about religion.”

I don't quite get this but newswise.com reports that a key point is that each of the 16 desires motivates personality opposites and those opposites all have to find a home in a successful religion, Reiss says. 

For example, there is the desire for social contact. “Religion has to appeal to both introverts and extroverts,” Reiss says. For extroverts, religion offers festivals and teaches that God blesses fellowship. For introverts, religion encourages meditation and private retreats and teaches that God blesses solitude.

Religion even finds ways to deal with the desire for vengeance, Reiss says. While some religions preach of a God of peace and encourage followers to “turn the other cheek,” there is also the other side: the wrath of God and holy wars. “Religion attracts all kinds, including peacemakers and those who want a vengeful God.”

All religious beliefs and practices are designed to meet one or more of these 16 desires, Reiss explained.
For example, religious rituals fulfill the desire for order. Religious teachings about salvation and forgiveness tap into the basic human need for acceptance. Promises of an afterlife are designed to help people achieve tranquility.

While all people need to fulfill the same basic desires, not everyone will turn to religion to satisfy them, Reiss says.  He's talking about atheists. He claims that secular society offers alternatives to fulfill all of the basic desires, even for them.

“Religion competes with secular society to meet those 16 needs and can gain or lose popularity based on how well people believe it does compared to secular society,” Reiss says.

One of the basic desires – independence – may separate religious and non-religious people. In a study published in 2000, Reiss found that religious people (the study included mostly Christians) expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

But here's an interesting thought.  While the theory can tell us a lot about the types of people who are attracted to religion and different religious experiences, it cannot say anything about the truth of religious beliefs, Reiss says.  “I’m not trying to answer theological questions about the existence or nature of God,” he says. “What I’m trying to answer is the nature of why people embrace religion and God.”

I guess the end point is that religion gives us, each of us, what we need.

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