The Nature of Ritual

Early man faced many threats to his survival: wild predators, hostile tribes, storms, drought, floods and insect hordes, among others. In response, he imagined gods that exerted control over these natural forces and, through appeasement, would offer him protection. A variety of rituals, unique to each culture, were established to honor and thank these gods.

Modern religions, all of which developed prior to the scientific era, morphed from these earlier beliefs and rituals. Today, such celebrations and commemorations occur primarily in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples but spill into the public sector in the form of invocations and prayer. Despite our commitment to separate Church and State, we receive a steady stream of pronouncements from politicians and media celebrities that they will be praying for someone or something.

As with early man, such rituals profess a belief that God or gods micromanage our universe, responding to individual requests for favor or forgiveness. When "prayers are answered," such beliefs are reinforced and, when they are not, the faithful conclude that it wasn't God's will to do so. Either way, rituals give us the comfort that, through divine intercession, we have some control over our lives and over the looming threat of death.