Religion is the social bond in society

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"The major alternative theory is social: religion brings people together, giving them an edge over those who lack this social glue. [...] religion thrives because groups that have it outgrow and outlast those that do not. [1]"

"A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden -- beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. The second element thus holds a place in my definition that is no less essential than the first: In showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from the idea of a Church, it conveys the notion that religion must be an eminently collective thing."

Emile Durkheim[2]

"Finally, since religion is a community-based enterprise, it largely discourages disengaged individualism. While this has its hazards -- lock-step conformity, tribalism, narrow-mindedness, etc. -- it does promote social integration among its members and that is generally good for psychological functioning. The religions we have with us today did not just drop from the sky, they evolved, with a primary selection criterion being how well they created trusting, cooperative groups motivated for collective action. The motivations they employ and the actions they engender may be good or bad from an outside perspective; but, by and large, being part of a tight-knit social group is psychologically beneficial for its members."

— Matt J. Rossano, Why Religion Is Not Delusion, Huff Post, 06/23/10
"Sociological and historical researchers have shown that the essential core of religion is devotion to those social values which bind men together in cooperative effort for group preservation and mutual welfare; and that these values are discovered through human experiences.[3]"
"[We] argue that focusing [study on religious] beliefs is like focusing on the football: It seems to be where the action is, but if you stare too long at it, you miss the deeper purpose of the game, which is the strengthening of a community. [...Most empirical studies of religion] seem to suggest that the belief in gods comes first, so if we can explain why people believe in such things, we can then move on to the question of why people do all that other stuff to worship these gods.[... However,] “enjoy the religious services and style of worship” was the number one reason given for joining a faith, for both the previously unaffiliated and those previously affiliated with another religion [...] Moral concerns – particularly the suppression of free-riding and the creation of trust – are [...] emerging as major elements in recent approaches to explaining the origins of religion [...] However, religious moralities also include concerns not built upon the Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity foundations. [... The other foundations of morality are:] Ingroup/loyalty. Religious narratives and teachings are often aimed at the creation and maintenance of a people, church, or nation, stressing the moral obligations of loyalty and self-sacrifice for this group above all other groups. [...] Authority/respect. The world’s major religions also include moral instruction in showing proper respect to authority figures, obeying rules and commandments, fulfilling the duties of one’s social role, and respecting the traditions and institutions of the religious ingroup. [...] Purity/sanctity – Finally, the “Big Gods” are consistently concerned about the state of their worshippers’ minds and bodies. [...] we think a more inclusive definition of [descriptive] morality is needed. [...] Religions bind people together into moral communities, just as Durkheim said. You can’t see this if you approach religion as a matter of individual beliefs, and if you define morality [solely] in terms of harm and fairness.[4]"

Counter arguments

"This theory explains almost everything about religion—except the religious part.[1]"


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, Beyond Beliefs: Religions Bind Individuals Into Moral Communities, January 20, 2010, Personality and Social Psychology Review
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