Religion at its root is based on a claim of special access to supernatural processes. These supernatural things which the prophets of any given religious belief system claim, are what give the religion a basis which can not be challenged by rational thought or experiment. That claim to special wisdom, which cannot be challenged, permits the believers to be led by their leaders to perform actions which are normally considered immoral. Such things as taking another person’s property and even their life is stated to be a good thing to do because the spiritual leader said it was a good thing. They can make clearly illegitimate claims like – GOD has given us this land – which the other people have been occupying from time immemorial, and therefore they can kill those occupiers and take their property for our own. Only a religious system can make such vicious claims with impunity. A group with a strictly secular system of belief would be forced to make rationalizations before they could take another people’s land, and these arguments would always be weak and subject to quibbling and logical challenges. The religious people can generate more conviction and cohesion within their group with their supernatural claims and thus they will typically triumph over those with weak conviction and little cohesion. Religion gives people the power to kill other people while maintaining a clear conscience, because they are doing god’s work and that is a good thing. They know they are right and good because their authorities told them they were right. They may be wrong in any logical sense but they are powerful.
Supernatural authority must be paid in loyalty and in cash. If a person is to live within a society they must abide by the laws and conventions of that society. If they disobey the laws they are punished by the powers of the state, and if they disobey the conventions of the land they are avoided by the other people of the land and are forced to live a substandard existence. Loyalty is demonstrated by voluntarily participating in the activities of the group and obedience to the group is shown by performing necessary acts to defend the group’s cohesion. A secular group is reasonable in its demands and can defend the needed actions of its people with reasonable arguments, but these are always contingent on events, and the group is weak. A religious group isn’t saddled with the need to be reasonable because its members can claim to be following the directives of their supernatural entity, and it cannot be challenged, because it is accepted as being infinitely correct. In a struggle for existence the group with the most cohesion tends to win, and thus we still have religions even though everyone knows they are based on a fabricated supernatural claims. The whole religious thing is riddled with accepted lies, but they are beautiful lies which appeal to people’s emotions and their existential needs and so they persist. When a serious problem comes along these hope-filled thoughts will be so ingrained that they are easy to use to justify what ever behavior is needed by the group.
I was discussing these things with my friend Mike Schmitz, and when I asked him about the monetary value of religions and why people are willing to pay money to participate in them. He said, Religion provides a service by stroking people’s delusions. It’s a nice bon mot, and clarifies in a tight little statement why people participate and even pay good money to be a member, even though there are inevitably parts of the religion which even they believe are absurd. An easy example of stroking a delusion – people don’t want to die – so an authority figure telling them they will live forever in heaven if they are good and believe the churches teachings, gives them hope. All they need to do is believe in an eternal-soul-spirit inside of them and the rest becomes easy. Of course there isn’t the slightest shadow of evidence to prove any part of that claim and so there is the need for a prophet, out of the picture of course, to have had some sort of conversation with the supernatural entity. Then a sincere sounding person to convey the message to this fearful person and the hoped for life after death, or other absurdity is accepted. Religion has the ability to generate hope for absolute and permanent personal meaning and promise a better time to come. Those types of hopes keep the group together as it permits them to defend the group against all comers, and endure and reproduce.