You would have to be a cartoonish atheist to declare that religion is of no benefit.
Most atheists on the ‘militant’ end of the spectrum say it’s not worth it. Regardless of the benefits it brings, they say it is not worth the crusades, bigotry, anti-science, brainwashing, corruption and human rights violations.
And so the search begins:
Can you get all the benefits of religion … without the ‘religion’ part?
Cynics who say that religion is nothing more than the opioid of the masses fail in this project. They come up with an Xbox, realize they already exist, and then give up in frustration.
Other doomed projects involve copying elements from the surface. They meet every week, read The Origin of Species and say that the only way to salvation is through objective and rational investigation.
When you imitate superficial details without understanding why they are there, your project falls apart ‘for no reason’.
The wisest people realize that part of the appeal (and the catch) of religion is community. This is how religion keeps its hooks on those who have lost their faith: if they stop going to church, they lose their friends, family, and support network.
So these people create not just another group of atheistic hobbies, they create a community.
Most of them fail, however, because they are still missing pieces of the puzzle.
What makes religion so powerful to people, so much so that they are willing, even eager, to give up tithes, kinky bedroom fun, and even their lives, is more than just community.
It is a regular dose of altered states of consciousness.
Altered states, stronger communities create strong ties.
And that’s where the staying power of religion comes from. Many atheists look at religious cultures with frustration, wondering why another tribe of ‘smarter’ and ‘less deluded’ people failed to outperform them in the competition.
A naive view is that fairy tales from the afterlife give them hope. Or the fear of eternal damnation motivates them to work and fight harder.
But think about what religion actually does for a religious person:
They work all day, perhaps in the field as feudal peasants, perhaps in an office as a corporate drone. They spend every moment solving the problems in front of them, lost in memories and daydreams, unable to devote much time to deep thought.
Then they go home, eat a good meal … and pray.
They spend some time connecting with something inside of them … and something bigger than themselves. They can focus on the moment and imagine a better future. Ancient and buried emotions make their way and have a chance to resolve them.
It is a form of meditation.
Once a week they go to church. They hear fantastic stories about the fundamental forces of the universe fighting each other. These stories contain clear lessons for their own lives. If they can’t see the metaphor, the preacher will point it out to them.
They sing, sing, laugh and dance as a community, as a collective, where their sense of self blends with the crowd.
It’s like philosophy, therapy, and socializing all at the same time.
Ignore the benefits of that at your own risk.
Secular substitutes for religion often overlook this part. As such, they miss out on great opportunities for problem solving and emotional cleansing. They get together, talk, share … but they don’t transform.
This is my advice to anyone looking to fight the benefits of religion at the hands of religion:
Hypnosis, hypnosis, hypnosis.
That’s all preachers do anyway.
When a person learns to pray, he learns a simple form of self-hypnosis.
When the preacher speaks passionately about a Bible verse and the lessons it contains for the life of the congregation, he is performing hypnotherapy.
Once you see hypnosis within religious rituals, you can get rid of all the nonsense and duplicate the things that work.
If your people aren’t experiencing psychological transformations every week or so, even if they’re subtle, you don’t have a church. You have a loose association of humans.
Do you want proof of my outlandish claims?
Tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, have these benefits. They forge strong social connections and induce altered states of consciousness, leading to psychological growth.
At least well-managed games do.
D&D exploded in popularity with people who were rejected by the churches. Nerds, outcasts, exhausted, gays, eccentrics, artists, and anyone else too nonconformist to benefit from religion.
If you know its history, you will also know that this is how Christianity began. Like D&D, Christianity reaches critical mass among the marginalized before bleeding into the mainstream.
The only reason D&D isn’t a literal religion (yet?) Is that the playgroups are too small. If you could play in a group of 40 people without losing the magic, so to speak, you would create a group as strong as any church.
Gary Gygax didn’t mean to do that when he created D&D, he just wanted to play. And since he died a devout Christian who loved tabletop RPGs, you can’t be offended by my comparisons either.