According to Wade, a New York Times science writer, religions are machines for manufacturing social solidarity. They bind us into groups. Long ago, codes requiring altruistic behavior, and the gods who enforced them, helped human society expand from families to bands of people who were not necessarily related. We didn’t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources.
...Rituals take time; sacrifices take money or its equivalent. Individuals willing to lavish time and money on a particular group signal their commitment to it, and a high level of commitment makes each coreligionist less loath to ignore short-term self-interest and to act for the benefit of the whole. What are gods for? They’re the enforcers. Supernatural beings scare away cheaters and freeloaders and cow everyone into loyal, unselfish, dutiful and, when appropriate, warlike behavior.
...our innate piety has adapted to our changing needs. Hunter-gatherers were egalitarian and, shamans aside, had direct access to the divine. But when humans began to farm and to settle in cities and states, religion became hierarchical. Priests emerged, turning unwritten rules and chummy gods into opaque instruments of surveillance and power. Church bureaucracies created crucial social institutions but also suppressed the more ecstatic aspects of worship, especially music, dance and trance. Wade advances the delightfully explosive thesis that the periodic rise of exuberant mystery cults represent human nature rebelling against the institutionalization of worship: “A propensity to follow the ecstatic behaviors of dance and trance was built into people’s minds and provided consistently fertile ground for revolts against established religion,”