What an outrageous statement for a title, “The function of religion is to shift responsibility for evil deeds to others.” We like to think and to believe that the religions of the world are a force for good, and that they give answers to the existential questions which bother thinking adults when they are young. Nearly all people by the time they reach middle age are comfortable with whatever answers they came up with for their personal needs for the existential conundrums. Generally those are unanswerable questions in a philosophical/religious sense, but are usually obvious in any empirical approach. When you die you are dead. There is no provable afterlife. Gods are created by men to provide acceptable answers to unpleasant realities. ETC.
Previously in this blog in the post, Natural and Supernatural Religion, it was concluded that, “Religion is about binding a reproductive community together.” In the post, “Striving toward a new meaning for human existence,” there was a quote from Winwood Reade, “truth is only a means toward an end—the welfare of the human race.” These ideas lay “bare and “raw” the function of religion, which is Darwinian in its outlook. The goal is simply the ongoing survival of a functioning organism and in this case it is a social organism formed of a community of people.
Social groups are bound together by various things, but those groups that do survive for a number of generations are confronted with existential problems which confound the personal morality demanded between the members of the group. With nation states for example it is permitted even required that members of the group, designated soldiers, are required to kill people of some opposing out-group. These same soldiers would be executed by the in-group for committing exactly the same actions against members of their own in-group. So, the religious commandments not to kill people really means not to kill our own in-group people and it’s okay to kill those whom our group’s leaders and our social group sanction. Morality is very similar to law; the main difference is that law is enforced by state with designated punishments and morality is enforced with the replacement of approval and acceptance with rejection and isolation.
The individual maintains acceptance within a society by being a good person, which means obeying its morals and laws. The law sometimes requires the individual to commit acts which are clearly against the morals and laws of the group, but when these actions are directed by the group and the laws of the group then they are okay and even required. The reason that these actions are okay for the individual is because the moral responsibility for the evil deed is shifted to others. In the short term it is shifted to the state, but the state represents the whole community of individuals and the way the community shifts the responsibility is by having a religion. The whole community can then shift the responsibility for their evil deeds to God. God spoke to them through their prophets and holy men and told them to do these evil things. We as individuals are sorry about the inconvenience it caused to you foreigners personally as individuals, but God told us this was the right thing to do – so we did it. We had no choice – God told us to do it. This process permits larger groups to survive for longer periods of time than personal morality applied to group problems. It is simple Darwinism, survival of the fittest, applied to social groups and to their religious institutions and it helps the people and their communities to survive.
Religion is a good thing because it allows bad things to be done to save the people.