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 Being Human, unpublished, 23-24, italics his.[/ref]

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?

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

  1. I think that you nailed the need to worship in observation of particular cultural manifestations. People want validation for meaning. Whatever gives them meaning through community seems to show a need for an overarching affirming organization or person that validates their lives. The “revered” organization/idea/person above them makes it worthwhile because it is outside of the inability to see whether or not it will ultimately mean anything. We seem to place the responsibility for meaning on the higher being. Unfortunately, it’s often near-sighted and short-lived, validating the pursuit of the moment and it cannot last, fueling the fear that there is no God that could give meaning that does last. It takes a lot of faith to look to a God who intentionally created you as a fluid member of the body that does not need to rely on the validation of other humans simply because we are human and cannot see ahead of us. We can only see each other, trying and struggling.
    I hope that made sense…

    Are you asking, “how can we explore the human the need to worship God by observation other than looking to specific Biblical exhortations or doctrine?”


  2. Thanks so much for the comment. I appreciate you reading and reflecting on my short post.

    I think your thoughts definitely make sense and are exactly the direction that I was thinking.

    In regards to your question, yes, I want to be able to articulate what it means to be human (especially what it means to be a human with dignity) without the crutch of theological principles. Although the idea that humans are made in the image of God may be true, starting with that may not allow us to discover it through other means such as existential and experiential reflection. In other words, if it is true, then we will come across it no matter what place we start. I am especially curious about philosophers, who may not hold to the Christian religion, and yet recognize this “need to worship” in the human. Anyway, that may be more information then you were wanting, but thanks for asking and engaging.



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  4. I guess then my question is, how do people know that they need to worship something greater than ourselves? Could it be that if by being created in Gods image our souls long for the wholeness and perfection of him? But then looking at it from a secular standpoint why does it have to be a God and not just humans evolving and realizing that because we are so flawed and this world is full of inevitable suffering we find we need to believe in something greater than ourselves, because us as humans fail far to many times. From either point of view here we have to have faith to believe that we are created to worship god because he made us that way or that we evolved to the need of worship. Its up to us then to decide which of the two options fulfills us.

    just a randomly deep thought, thanks for your article though, it was fun to think about 🙂


  5. I wonder if a social experiment was conducted and some newborns were abandoned (theoretically) on a island with absolutely no science, communication etc. Will there be a time that all of them or some of them will find a way to discover worship and call something “god”. If they do then how long will the process of discovery be?


    • I have wondered about that myself, and although I am not sure that experiment is possible (babies obviously are helpless for a long time) I have seen people on a theological island of sorts (never taught about God) become naturally curious of the idea of God after hearing only bits and pieces.


    • There has been proof of the need to worshipping something in tribes of people that when undiscovered for hundreds of years. When explorers we able to learn their languages they discovered that they did worship idols or an ideas of a Creator, without ever having knowledge of other human existence. It is an absolute in the human existence to worship, wether it be God, idols, self or even ideas such as atheism. People dedicate their entire lives to this idea that nothing exists as a Creator, therefore worshipping.


  6. I believe the need to worship has evolved through our ancestors . The experiments of being alone in an Island, I think, is a perfect example of our ancestors, in their beginnings, wanting to, and searching to worship something greater than themselves such as the sun, the moon and everything they could see beyond what they could touch. Even today, science searches and we through them look beyond the stars, beyond the planets light years away. We look for existence of anything greater, lesser or on equal basis in regards to life. I believe if we would be able to pinpoint or discover our existence, or how we came to be, it would be a different story. But life still remains an amazing miracle.


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