What Psychological Purposes Does Religion Serve?

Revision 5
© 2012-2018 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

What is religion used for? A list.

False superiority, false pride

We have the special god-connection and prophet, not you, so we are better.

This is equivalent to a sports nut claiming that his team has the special superstar player, but in the case of religion it's an evidence-free boast about an imaginary god and charlatan (and possibly schizophrenic) prophet.

False authority

We have the right information and interpretation, not you.

Emphasis is placed on the importance of having the right beliefs, down to the tiniest detail, about the imaginary god and the World of Make-Believe that the religion constructs. This is at best mental masturbation but it can be used to wield fraudulent authority and therefore power over others.

It also also a claim that serves to distract followers away form the lack of proof that the god exists and to distract them from how irresponsible it is embrace the religion's make-believe worldview. Some people are natural followers and will follow anyone who claims to be an authority.

False wisdom

We read the special book, so we don't have to think any deeper.

Every religion must sprinkle its holy book with a little folksy wisdom. It is a requirement, in the way that every car must have four tires and seats -- because it won't sell well without it. Religion is largely an exercise in selling a bogus product, and the appearance of folksy wisdom give a believer the impression that there is more wisdom. But there is no there there.

It's a sham. The sheer bogosity of everything but the folksy wisdom else evaporates any whisp of wisdom.

Is it wise to believe made-up nonsense without asking for proof? No. Is it wise to believe fantastical claims made by long-dead total strangers who lived long ago? No.

False secret knowledge

We have the special knowledge, and everybody else is ignorant and stupid.

Religions give people a reason to think they have an inside secret about something important, and therefore they are somehow in the know or more insightful as a result. But it is an illusion built on air. It's a con.

A great many devious religious organizations train their believers to lie, cheat, and manipulate in order to spread the religion's baseless beliefs, because they believe that helping the religion and its leaders win is somehow important enough to lie and cheat for.

Hookwinking people can give religious liars a feeling of being empowered, important, and influential.

False history

Religions ask the religious person to learn detailed knowledge about his god(s) and prophet(s) that is typically either

  1. fabrications.
  2. heavily spun misreporting on historical events from the distant past.

Sometimes the distant past events were already being misrepresented in the distant past.

False righteousness

Our views are validated by this holy book and our god and prophet, therefore we are justified in our bigotry, narrow-mindedness, violence and hate.

Religion gives the stamp of approval to every form of hate, discrimination and sadism by claiming these are somehow righteous. That is one of its major functions and reasons for its popularity, in fact.

Religion certainly appeals to the cowardly bullies, who act on the assurance that their made-up god not only rubber-stamps their hate but ultimately forgives them for their evil acts, so they never need attone to their victims or accept punishment.

False security

Our beliefs are holy and sacrosanct and therefore no one can question them.

Religion is founded on wishes, bogosities and lies, but it offers its followers (the carriers of the mental religion-virus) the false belief that they deserve and should expect to be given the utmost respect for believing the complete nonsense that religions propound.

Religion is like a defective product that you bought when a child. Children will believe anything. Religion is a lemon and you should demand a refund for time and effort lost. The security that it offers is a sham.

There is no security in a lie.
One lie always leads to another, and another.
When you have enough lies, it is called a religion.

If you are swindled at a shop, do you not seek a refund from the swindler?

If you back a crooked politician, do you not seek to have him removed from office?

Likewise, if you are tricked as a child into believing in the invisible man in the sky, and the wild and unproven stories about his prophet (the ancient con-man or schizophrenic), so should you expect a refund and for the sellers to go out of business.

The religion stole from you:

  • Time
  • Effort
  • Money
  • Lost opportunities
    • Personal development
    • Meaningful progress in other projects

Don't throw good money after bad, just to support the illusion of security.

A kind person, upon seeing you have food stuck to your face after lunch, will tell you so that you can correct your problem.

In the same way, a kind person, seeing that you are basing your life upon a foundation of lies and unprovable claims, will tell you so that you can correct your problem.

False optimism

Our god will solve all of our problems because he is all-powerful.

Our god will bring our group to dominance because he specially favors us.

Without evidence for the existence of the gods, this is just wishful thinking. While religion can bring about group cohesion, history has shown that the gains of any tribe are quickly lost to corruption and infighting.

So what is a real basis for optimism? History has repeatedly shown that it is not group cohesion that brings about meaningful progress, but individual autonomy, free thought, self-questioning and inventiveness. The freedom to inquire and experiment without fear of oppression is the basis of human progress. If there is intelligent life on other planets, the same rule would apply there.

But all of these beneficial factors are largely discouraged if not outright punished by religious authority. This is why the Enlightenment was key to progress in the West, and why parts of the world that reject or never experienced the benefits of the Enlightenment remain backward (such as the Islamic world).


Religion enables and even encourages highly irresponsible behavior.

The fact is that there is no evidence whatsoever for the existence of any gods, be they Yahweh, Elohim, Allah, Odin, Thor, Loki, Zeus, Apollo, Mercury, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Ahura Mazda, Mithras, Brahma, Vishnu, or Ganesha.

The original claims about the existence of these gods come from relatively primitive people who lived very long ago, and there is no reason to believe that their era was a time when the gods made themselves visible and apparent, and ours is not. No, these primitive ancient people simply believed claims without evidence.

It is not hard to understand why. Like children, ancient people could not understand the world, but they sought an easy way to explain it. Gods became a shorthand to explain topics they were too primitive (scientifically, philosophically, technologically) to explain or comprehend. But this enabled them to slip into a world of make-believe, and the gods, more than being just their equivalent to our Harry Potter, came to be used as:

  1. a Universal Explanation
  2. a Universal Justification

Living this life of make-believe lets a person off the hook in several ways.

  1. They reject responsibility for building knowledge -- a responsibility which science has specifically embraced, but even today religion rejects.
    • The religious answer difficult questions about the world with stories and unproveable claims, rather than admitting that really, we should take the effort to build understanding and that must be based on:
      1. facts that can be verified.
      2. logic (not logical fallacies).
      3. repeatable experiments.
  2. They reject responsibility for doing positive things to solve real-world problems -- a responsibility which scientists, engineers, and regulators embrace.
    • They imagine a make-believe universe in which god(s) will save humanity after humans pollute the world with plastic, fracking chemicals, manufacturing waste and air pollution.
    • They reject the problem of maintaining life on Earth long-term, which will require curtailment of avarice, wastefulness and irresponsible behavior; because they think a father-figure god will solve humanity's problems.
  3. They reject culpability for doing negative things that make the world a worse place -- a responsibility which environmentalists and the legal system accept.
    • They pollute the environment and pretend that Jesus is their personal janitor who will clean up their messes.
    • They can be seen justifying violence and hatred because an ancient book written by primitive people said it is OK.

Not everything about religion is awful or irresponsible, but the construction of the life of make-believe ensures that religion, which is based on irresponsible avoidance of hard-won understanding, fosters irresponsible behavior.