Is the “Need to Worship” Part of the Human Condition?

In the chapter, “The Heart and the Life of Feeling: A Phenomenological Sketch” of Robert Wood’s upcoming book Being Human, Wood discusses the different types of intrinsic human feelings. One type, which he calls religious feelings, are the feelings that we have in reference to the whole, the human desire to turn toward something eternal and all-encompassing. Wood remarks:

Essential to religious sensibility is a deep sense of the presence of God . . . that fills the empty space of reference to totality with something more than an inference or a conventional belief and calls forth adoration that might break forth in praise . . . which can be experienced as . . . the feeling of being called, as in the Biblical tradition[1]

I wonder if we can take such remarks a step further and make a fundamental observation about the human condition: every human desires to admire, praise, and be part of something greater than himself or herself. In other words, can we say that humans have a need to worship? Ignoring the theological connections with this idea for a moment, we can see evidence for this in human behavior all around us. In political contexts, there is the eagerness with which people join a cause or a political group to feel part of something important. In social settings, there are the lengths that people will go through to be part of certain communities such as sororities, fraternities or clubs. In “religious” settings, there is the tendency of people to follow after those who promise prosperity in this life and happiness in the next, despite the irrational requirements which a leader may have on his followers.

Part of this human behavior is the desire to be with others and in community, but it also entails a desire to adore something and praise something. Humans seem to know that there is something that they are supposed to be adoring, and even on a deeper level, worshipping, but what that thing or being consists of is fraught with confusion. In their eagerness to worship something, people may choose the wrong idea/person/thing and as a result, waste their adoration on something unworthy. Perhaps part of our human quest is searching for what is worthy of our utmost devotion.

I end with two questions for further study: Can we discover the need to worship without turning to theological principles? How would we go about such an investigation?

  1. [1] Wood, Robert. Being Human, unpublished, 23-24, italics his.