There is an interesting article in Slate today about the role an infant's pointing plays in learning how to bond with others. It seems particularly important when an infant points at an object, not because it wants something to be done, but simply to share awareness of that object with another person.
Over the last decade, a series of studies out of the Max Planck Institute for
Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have made a very good
argument for marveling at your pointing infant. A group of psychologists
there have documented that infants, beginning at around 1 year of age, point and
react to other people pointing in remarkably sophisticated ways. Babies point to
refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that
are no longer there. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room
toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy
they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an
adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that
bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their
experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else.
I have only just seen the study, but it seems enormously suggestive of why humans seek out religion as well. There is a world of human experience that does not exist in the physical world, but only in the intuited “world” of our inter-subjectivity. From one angle, such experiences are ethereal wisps of our imaginations, mere vapors of vain existence. But, from another angle, such intuitions are expressions of the universe as real and as natural as a beaver’s dam. Far from being an escape from existence, such worship would be an ephemeral expression some deeper more lasting energy, like the glow of a firefly expresses a world of energy we cannot see except in such incarnated form. What if communal prayer were understood, not as an attempt to cajole an invisible celestial overlord to grant our wishes, but instead as communal art putting our deepest subliminal ties into something we can share? What if worship is not flattery directed at a divine being, but instead an attempt to “point” at being itself, and to share a moment of gratitude that we are here at all?