Based on some of my Facebook conversations:
I believe any thriving religion is actually nothing more than a viral story — that was, intentionally or not, crafted to exploit some fundamental lacks in our brain.
If you look at the stories behind other thousands of religions, they all are very similar in terms of core concepts:
- They offer a simplified description of our extremely complex world — the one most of us simply cannot comprehend
- And a few amazing “perks”. The Eternal Life is almost always the top one — of course, only if you convert :) Most them cannot be proven to exist, but the value of these perks is always a +infinity in comparison to anything you might get in your real life.
- Finally, all these stories have evolved to be extremely viral. Honestly, I believe religions are simply the most viral stories humanity knows. Their virality is what actually enabled their survival and spread. Being told and rewritten millions of times, they were getting more and more features allowing them to spread faster and faster. So in this sense, the evolution of any religion is very similar to the evolution of any species on Earth.
So what kind of lack is exploited?
Well, we treat any story with a nice plot line & pieces that connect together as “likely real” somehow. Which isn’t surprising — nearly all of our ancestors never knew what logical reasoning is, so “learning” for them was mostly “seeing, listening and memorizing” rather than “deciding what’s false vs true”. They almost never had to deal with fake facts during their whole lifetime — so all the science and the communication/media craziness we have now is, frankly, very new to our brain. It never had a chance to evolve and adjust to this in past.
The same “Connects well → likely, it’s true” lack is exploited by all other categories of “bad guys” — in particular, by dictators, terrorists, fake news outlets, etc…
Assuming religions are just viruses, the fact they still prosper is an indication of weakness in our society: even though all major religions are fairly peaceful nowdays, the weakness they exploit doesn’t imply that whoever uses it has to have some good intents. So unless we become immune to such viruses, it’s hard to believe that a large group of people can make decisions based solely on data and logical reasoning — with all the consequences of that (think Hitler, Holocaust, A-bombs, …).
And this is probably a bigger problem than religions themselves — simply because it’s much more generic.