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Strengthening Your Atheism - The Psychological Explanation for Religion
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The Embryonic and Parental Shell Theory

In summary, the theory states that the basis for religious feeling is the crave in all human beings for a substitute to the ultimate protection offered in the embryonic state by the womb and in infancy by the parents.


The embryo, surrounded by the womb's fluid and warmth, receives almost complete comfort and protection.
At birth, the baby at first encounters the shock of coldness and bright light, but soon again finds the comfort embraced in the arms and held against the warm breasts of the mother. Though not quite as complete as in the womb, the baby still feels surrounded by a shell of protection and security.


Developing from an infant into a toddler the small human being perceives the parents as almighty beings, omnipresent, all-knowing and all-providing. The small child learns another phenomenon too - the parents anger. At times it he/she gets yelled at or even spanked. Sometimes the toddler consciously or subconsciously senses the reason for this anger and interprets it as punishment for improper actions. At other times the anger is seemingly without cause and is not understood. The child learns to accept these incidents of hurt or scare as integral part of that encompassing shell that attends, cares and shelters him as did the womb at the onset of life.


It is to be understood that the keyword is "shell", an omnipresent entity surrounding you. Even if the shell may occasionally hurt you, as the womb may have shaken, or the mother's hands may have hurt you, it is always there, reliable and sheltering from that threatening outside. The shell may show many faces, male and female, loving and punishing, giving and demanding, but it is always there to rely on.

(In this respect it may be interesting to note, as all who deal with family therapy have no doubt noticed, that children who were often spanked or even severely beaten by their parents in early childhood will often say: "still, I love them", while children whose parents left them or were hardly ever around to attend to them will express much more frequently feelings of hate and resentment. It would seem that breach of the shell is felt as a much worse abuse than the affliction of physical pain.)

Eventually of course, the childs eyes are opened to the world. It starts evaluating and comparing and soon it comes to realize the limitations of the parents power and
knowledge. It witnesses the parents inability at times to cope with difficult situations, solve problems or answer questions. At the same time it starts to fully appreciate and comprehend the enormous challenges paired with dangers that are posed by the world around him.

This is when that shell of absolute protection and safety that constituted an integral and perhaps central part of the life experienced so far, falls away.

And at that very moment the human starts craving for its replacement. The human mind, always self-protecting, will not allow a vacuum, perceived as dangerous to its equilibrium, to exist for too long. The process of compensation in general is well known and researched. If a vital component for the mental well-being disappears, a substitute is found. If no substitute is found - it is created by the mind. This lies at the base of many healthy as well as pathological mental processes.


And so - God or gods are created. They too may have many different faces, male and female, caring and punishing, giving and demanding. All those faces may reside in one God showing a different face at each occasion, or the god may actually have multiple heads. There may be many gods, each of them representing a different facet.
They may be clearly visualized as a parent's face is, or rather be invisible and amorphous as the womb, residing somewhere in the skies, the mountains or the trees.

In whatever variation, they are always there surrounding us, omnipresent and almighty. Sometimes angry and demanding, sometimes smiling and loving, but always there to turn to, to beg from, to talk to, to pray to. Always constituting that shell around us that satisfies the basic deep need to be looked after and cared for.
Even when bad times arise and disasters occur, we know that somewhere there is someone who takes it all into account and will eventually set it all straight.

This basic psychological process, is the cause of the fact that religion has existed in all its different facets throughout the centuries. That is why so many people feel this urging drive inside to believe in a god, to pray even against their own rational reasoning. It is because every human being through all times and all in all nations went through that same process in embryonic state, infancy and early childhood.
Because all, no matter what culture they grew up in, needed compensation for the loss of the blind belief in their parents' almightiness and of the shell they provided.

It is no wonder therefore that those few religions that do not embrace the clear concept of a God or gods (like some eastern religions) are those that stress the inner completeness of the human soul. They supply the compensation for the loss of the protective shell by training the human mind and body to be its own shell, to feel complete within itself, irrespective of outer occurrences.

We now also understand that the main force behind religion is not the attempt to explain the world, as often assumed by many atheists. This would maybe explain the onset of religion in primitive cultures, but would not explain it's thriving amongst advanced civilizations and highly educated people. No doubt religion offered answers to many otherwise unanswered questions and offered explanations for seemingly incomprehensible phenomena, but this is not the cause of it's existence. Rather; in this aspect religion continues the work of parents with the infant, initiating it into understanding the worlds complexity, teaching and guiding it along dangerous roads, setting behavioral rules and prohibitions. Always, of course, knowing better than the child.

Just as the child often thought different, but learned to accept the parents' command without further questioning as the prize to be paid for their sheltering and protection, so the college professor willingly adopts religious axioms, contrary to clear scientific proof and logical reasoning, in exchange for the ultimate protective shell offered by God. The shell he knew as an infant, an embryo.


In case some amongst you are less familiar with psycho-analytic theories, I would recommend reading articles about embryonic positions taken by many people while asleep and in particular by people in times of stress and fear.

In my experience many atheists, struggling with their religious tendencies, find it much easier to cope and experience great relief once they realize that the real origin of this deep urge inside themselves and millions of other people, is not a divine inner voice, a seed of God planted in everyone, or similar common misconceptions, but a prenatal inborn psychological need. Once this is established, all healthy people manage to achieve a new equilibrium, not based on the replacement of a real psychological loss by an imaginary divine shell, but based on the trust that our own strength, ability and wisdom can provide the shell that is necessary to cope with a challenging and often dangerous world, at times aided by family or friends and at times offering them support when needed.

This completes the brief outlay of the Embryonic and Parental Shell Theory.
On the next pages you will find some examples and issues related to this theory, presented as food for thought to whoever may be interested.

Father and Mother Figures in Religions

Cornelis Mondt - Atheism for Everyone