Sexual Competition and Religion
A series of recent studies have shown that a person's sexual reproductive strategy determines their religious choices and their attitude toward the use of non-medical drugs. We've all—sexologists, sociologists, anthropologists and clergy alike—thought it was the other way around. If our sex strategy is the cause (rather than the effect) of religion and beliefs, then there are a lot of things to rethink.
In the first of several studies reported, scientists questioned participants about their sexual attitudes, religion, morality and family plans. They found that people chose to participate in religion due to their feelings about sex and family. It was not the religious training that caused these feelings.
Then the scientists manipulated the situation when asking participants about their religion, and found that both men and women professed a higher level of religiosity when they were surrounded by attractive members of their own sex. The scientists concluded that these participants had chosen to go with a monogamous sexual strategy when they felt that the competition in a free-for-all setting would not favor them. Since they chose a monogamous strategy, they were more likely to choose traditional religion which reinforces a morality of monogamy. These results fit with some of the anthropological theories developed in the past few decades about ancient societies.
Since the fields of anthropology, archeology, and other ologies were developed by men (primarily) during the past few centuries, they have intrinsic biases in favor of a Euro-centric, Christian, male point of view. Finds were interpreted in the best way they knew how for their day, but in recent decades these findings have been re-evaluated by more culturally diverse scholars who are less inclined to make assumptions based on today's cultural values. No doubt they introduce their own biases, and generalizations are a necessary evil in order to make any conclusions at all. Caveats in place, here are some recent conclusions.
Archeological finds indicate a human prehistory of cultures that were patriarchal or matrifocal and matrilineal, but none that were matriarchal. “Patriarchal” and “matriarchal” refer to male and female (respectively) layered authoritarian control structures. Matrifocal means that the society was centered around women, though not necessarily controlled by women; and matrilineal means that ownership, and sometimes leadership, was passed through a female line of succession.
In other words, when men were in charge they created a layered, authoritarian form of government. When women were in charge, their cultures were organized in a more egalitarian and cooperative way. This parallels the way youngsters, even today, tend to live and play. Boys run around in packs with a leader who makes most of the decisions for all of them. Girls tend to hang out in groups and make decisions collectively using a modified consensus method.
Other characteristics typical of matrifocal cultures were sexual promiscuity and the fact that their religions were polytheistic and included female deities. In this context, “promiscuity” means having sex without marriage or the requirement of long-term partnering.
These societies were matrilineal, anthropologists say, because they were not monogamous and no one knew who their father might be. Children stayed with their mother and their father was irrelevant. The females owned the land because they were the farmers and the males roamed. The word "husband" was used to denote a man who stuck around and took care of things, that is, he husbanded resources, livestock, etc. He might do some of the farming. But he was not a husband as we understand them today, with expectations about who has sex with whom and who owns the children.
If the theory that religion is chosen based upon a person's sexual strategy is, in principle, applicable to societies then, as well as now, then the goddess religions arose out of the sexual reproductive strategy of promiscuity. Men had sex whenever they had the opportunity in the hopes of propagating, then moved on looking for other sexual partners to repeat the process. Many mammals use this strategy. Some may stick around long enough to make sure their progeny survive to a level of independence.