Why Religion Persists

By Leo Gura - January 23, 2017

One reason that religion persists is because it provides genuine psychological benefits to the practitioner. It is the original self-help. To those skeptics who dismiss religion so quickly by saying, “But it’s just a bunch of fairy tales” — the only way you can say that is because you lack experience with it, and so you misunderstand it. You misunderstand it, but not in the way you think. The reality is, there’s no way in hell a collection of purely fabricated stories could survive for such a long time. Religion survives because it WORKS!

It’s because it works that it becomes a problem. It’s because it works that people aren’t so eager to abandon it as your models would predict. People feel the positive effects and get seduced into thinking that everything in the religion is true because of the psychological or spiritual benefits they feel. And then that is take as evidence of the religion’s exclusivity: “My religion must be true because look! Look at all these great benefits to my life!”

The problem is not that the benefits are not real — they are REAL! The problem is that the benefits are not exclusive — but people hold them as exclusive. This cannot be seen without a more experienced, more cosmopolitan meta-perspective. It’s not possible to see the universal psychological and spiritual principles at work in a religious tradition without practice and study of other traditions and non-religious self-help techniques. If you do undertake such a study, you will see the common threads unpinning all traditions, from Mormonism to Islam to Judaism to psychoanalysis to Yoga to Scientology.

But the false exclusivity that many religious adherents subscribe to becomes a huge burden. Religion becomes dangerous when it feeds tribalism. ANY ideology becomes dangerous when it feeds tribalism. And virtually all ideologies do!

How many ideologies or religious traditions say: “We don’t care which other traditions you study or practice. In fact, let us help you study the vast diversity of ideas available in the psycho-spiritual marketplace.”?

Ha! Good luck finding an ideology like that!

How can we tell if an ideology is dangerous? Very simple. Just ask, “Is it feeding tribalism? It is putting itself on a pedestal?” Is it encouraging tolerance and unity with self and other, or separation of self from other?

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