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What is the true purpose of religion?

I don't think the deepest, original, authentic essence of religion is simply a lie we tell ourselves to to distract our attention from our suffering.

It appears to me, rather, a discipline, or practice, we can employ to, eventually, learn how to disconnect a psychological suffering response from the chaos and tragedy inherent in reality. This is to say that real suffering is optional even though physical misfortune is not. But avoiding this suffering is not an innate talent. It is a skill that must be learned by practice, and religion's purpose is to teach that practice. Science is a natural ally to this enterprise; not an enemy.

This purpose may be more readily recognized in non-theistic traditions like Buddhism than in a deity-centered religion like Christianity, but it is there as well if you are willing to see it.

Regardless of what they call themselves, worldviews whose primary focus is on pacifying the neonatal parent-worship instinct into adulthood are not true religions; they are just that; pacifiers.

The central act of religion is to train the individual to release ego-identity, and thereby release psychological suffering regardless of material circumstances. Metaphorical imagery of this act is found in every major world religion. Those who take these metaphors to be intended as historical fact have missed the entire point, whether they be believers or non-believers.

By skado8
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I think it is a pre-scientific method of making sense of the world around us. I don't believe the early founders of the world's religions had evil, or manipulative goals in mind. They were just trying to figure things out. Of course, religion has been subverted by those who do have evil intentions of control.

Keith_J Level 6 Oct 27, 2018

Seriously, the true purpose of religion is to control the population.

I agree. Power and control.


Clearly that's what it's evolved to be, but I don't think you could support an argument that that's how and why it started.

Toward what end? For example.. would you prefer to live in a population that was "out of control"? Certain kinds of "control" are good.

@skado What has religion brought us, men trying to control women's reproductive right, in some places what women wear, where they can go, what they can do, who they can be with. Religion can control what the people think, what they ask, how they spend their money, how much they can earn, what kind of medical procedures they have, how children are raised or indoctrinated. Shall I go on?

Yes, please go on. Do you believe religion is the only field of human behavior that tries to do these things? When we get rid of religion will all those efforts cease? Do we not find those very same corruptions in politics too? How about business? Entertainment? How many babies must we throw out to get rid of this bathwater?

@skado I never said that religion is the only one trying to control people. Politics does it all the time, and at least in the US does it with the aid of religion. Business uses other methods to control people. I don't understand what you're asking and/or why.

@HippieChick58 what about religious groups run mainly by women? How do they fit into your argument?

I'm saying why blame it on religion when it is in every kind of organized activity humans inhabit? Would you say that the only purpose of politics is to control the population? Isn't it also to keep the roads paved, and to build schools and provide useful guidelines (laws) to live by? Of course institutions of power attract corruption, but isn't it a bit cynical to then say that is their only purpose?


@WilliamFleming The Controlling factor (male, female, god, goddess, ruler, etc, its all the same. If its establish as a "Religion" rather than "spiritual teachings by teachers (not those to be honored, prayed to or idolized" the effects are the same because the intent is the same. To control and or govern those they deem less than or "followers" . A true spiritual teacher will teach that each has his/her own individual power, information and all that is necessary for you in this life time. Your ability to access and use the information you need is only limited by your own ability to trust yourself. Only you have the answer's for your life. A "god" is used as the punisher for those who do not comply with the rules and implementation of such. A "god" is also used to create a false sense of the "bringer of rewards" to those who do comply..


Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology, famously said that religion was "society worshipping itself" symbolically. For him, religion existed to promote social solidarity, to keep the society together, and everyone on the same page. Karl Marx said that religion was the capitalists' way of distracting workers from their oppressed and overworked condition by promising that their reward would be in the afterlife. Economic anthropologist Marvin Harris feels religion is there to keep the local ecology and economy in line, and that "primitive" religious practices really serve other purposes. For example the Hindu prohibition on killing cows makes ecological sense because you can feed more people longer on the milk, butter, and cheese that a living cow produces than if you killed it and ate its meat. Those are the major social science perspectives on it. There are more, but I don't want to write a novel.

Orbit Level 7 Dec 11, 2018

Excellent explanation, well pitched. Thanks


I've always believed it was a very deliberate means of controlling the masses, and maintaining power for those who insisted on having it.
It may have started off as a way for the ancients to explain what they didn't understand, but once those in power learned they could use it to control the people around them, they knew they could never let it go.

KKGator Level 9 Oct 26, 2018

The concept of “Gods” began as an attempt to explain the unexplainable. As beliefs deepened and became entrenched, kings and other elevated men leverage these “beliefs” to control the gullible


A lot of the responses here aren't giving religion what I think should be sufficient credit.

For starters, what do you mean by "true"? Original? Current? Predominant usage, or any usage? That's as vague as asking what is the purpose of life.

By asking the question, you even assume that religion has a purpose. I think that purpose assumes intent, and intent assumes conscious design. I'm not sure that any of those things are necessarily true. Something can exist without having a purpose.

mdinsmore Level 5 Oct 26, 2018

All good points, thanks.

My title question is admittedly a somewhat "click-baity" hook to hopefully get people to join the discussion about the material in the body of the post... which I apparently wrote in invisible ink! smile001.gif


Religion was an incredibly potent and important societal mechanism within humanity's social evolution. It was the main driver of growing beyond our tribal and communal beginnings, allowing peoples of disaparate cultures to cooperate at levels unheard of at the time. The first cities and kingdoms revolved around this concept. Yet, in this modern world, where the observable both macro and micro, are mostly defined, religion is archaic. I liken it to the idea of the appendix; useful in our past, but a problem for our present. The modern world is so far beyond the need for it, that it creates more social negatives than positives.

You are still brain washed by religion. None of what you said is actually true in real life. Religion exists for one and only one reason. To create a vehicle for power and control over other people All the cultural crap you spoke about was eyewash to enable the consolidation of power and control. Given where we are at right now, perhaps it would have been better for the world and humans if they had remained small groups of hunters and gatherers.

If you haven't yet read Sapiens, []

I think you'd find that the first 1/3 of the book really explores this, with supporting evidence.

@creative51 I'm a non theist, so I don't know what you are talking about. The history of humanity clearly shows how important organized religion was to early history. It was the main driver of cooperation of humans beyond the tribal scale. You clearly have hatred for modern religion, which I do not disagree with, but attacking me and not my points shows me you are uneducated about the evolution of human society. I can recommend some literature, written by athiests, that clearly state the same ideas. Next time, read the whole post before flipping out over your misconceptions. Yeah, brainwashed, HA!

@rabidazzle Yep, Karen Armstrong talks about this (briefly) in A Short History of Myth, IIRC. (Great book; can't recommend it enough!) @creative51 It's nothing to do with being "brainwashed"--and everything to do with reading books and respecting scholarship.

@mdinsmore I own it. Its a good read, and one of the pieces of literature I would reference for this idea, should I be asked.

@stinkeye_a &@rabidazzle. I disagree with you both. First I am very well read in the history of religion and in the history of humankind. I did not start reading books on this last week. I have been reading a large number of various sources on these topics since the mid 1960's. And there has been and are a fair number of theories and ideas on human development and the history and origins of religion. Activities which we would refer to as religions begin very early in history to the point that exact time and cause in shrouded in time. But at the time humans began living in settlements its existence was established. With settlements came some sort of power structure, which basic at that time eventually became what we call government. Religion became at that early time,a counterpoint or counterbalance to the power structure of leadership. At times they would operate as one, at times they would oppose each other and at times they would engage in some back and forth power struggle each wanting to dominate the other. The masses of people they competed for were kept in constant state of need, so that those in power could appeal to filling that need, but doing, without question, the bidding of that group which was in power. Yes people did cooperate to build great temples and cities. But they were not persuaded to do so by some wonderful and benevolent religious leader or religion. They in a combination, brainwashed and/or coerced in to creating these temples and cities. When others were encountered, they were conquered, coerced into submission or killed. All religion ever did was offer sanction to such behavior. So I will not give religion any kudos at all. The mess of the world we live in today was shepherded though out all of time by religion.

@creative51 Source?

@stinkeye_a There is no single source for my comments. I have read thousands of articles and books over the years. What I wrote above is MY opinion based on a synthesis of all which I have read. It is every bit as valid as any footnoted scholarly tome. So to be technical, I am the source. If that is not good enough for you, then too bad, that is all you get.

@creative51 Let's recap:
Stinkeye_a : A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong--and no puffery
mdinsmore : The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade; Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari; seconded by rabidazzle --and no puffery, from either
Orange juice : Frithjof Schuon--and no puffery
Skado : The Illusion of God's Presence, John Wathey--and no puffery.
creative51 : puffery--and no sources

No, that's not good enough.

But please do come back when you have some source(s) to cite, as I for one am keen to explore all sides of an issue, for fairness' sake and for my own edification. Indeed, I think it is a marker of intellectual honesty (not to mention scientific rigor) to explore all credible sources of information, without regard to how they do or not align with one's personal agenda. smile001.gif

@stinkeye_a Why do you assume they are any more credible then I am. I am well educated, I have a masters degree. I have read and researched greatly on such issues. But ONLY because they wrote some book which happens to have made some points you agree with, you think they are more credible then me. That is intellectual elitism which is also what religious hierarchy's specialize in. I am a human, I walk this planet in equality with everyone else on it. My previous stated opinions have every bit as much validity as those found in any of the books you have quoted. I do not claim I have an original thesis to present. I only present my synthesis of a wide range of ideas and thoughts. That is my freedom of equality in thought. If you can not accept that, then you oppose independent thinking and analysis. That is something you should not be proud of.

@mdinsmore as napoleon said: we need religion to keep the poor from killing the rich.


To delude, divide, confuse, and control.


true purpose is as varied as creators and users. I think what you describe is a possibility or a potential function of religion. religion could be there simply as a means for people to belong to their community. and it can really be a pacifier, a balm, even a way to explain things without the burden of science. science is not easy, and it offers no hugs.

hankster Level 9 Oct 26, 2018

So true! smile001.gif

Thanks very much for this comment. I like the way you said it better than the way I said it.

@skado i doubt that, i just needed to belong i reckon. ?

No, seriously... I think your statement was closer to the truth. I was narrowly focused on my pet idea, and carelessly made light of other, perfectly legitimate aspects of religion. With your comment I realized I don't really see it as I expressed it. If someone else had said what I said, I would have argued with them! smile001.gif Of course comfort and connection are essential components of authentic religion.

@skado i have come to believe religion is sometimes like a Mothers kiss on the skint knee. glad to help with clarity. When installing Rafters on a house I would inevitably bonk my head on one. the old carpenter i worked with would tell me i need to look up once in a while. ?



Just about any organization attracts people who, for some reason, want to be in charge. It’s a big ego-boost I suppose, and it can be irritating. Yet those controlling people are useful. They exist for reasons. Some of them learn to moderate their egos and develop into true leaders.

It’s not just churches. The same phenomenon occurs in businesses, in government, and in social organizations. Maybe those controlling folks are eldest siblings. WAIT! That’s not very tactful. Disregard that.

I Am not in accord with the tenets of Christianity as presented by traditional churches, but I do believe that Christian Churches serve a valuable purpose to those who belong. As skado says, religion provides a means whereby people can learn to live fully and joyfully.

Much church dogma is pure rot IMO, and I have thrown it out. Like skado, I threw out the bath water but kept the baby. For me the baby is awareness, awe, appreciation, courage, and joy.

People can only live fully and joyfully by rejecting most of what religion demands of us and keeping what humanity already possesses (awareness, awe etc) ... so not much of an advertisement for religion then. ?

@SimonCyrene There are different kinds of religions though. Some of them demand little. If a person chooses to belong to a religious group we can only assume that they have decided that whatever is demanded is outweighed by benefits. It’s the same with any group, religious or otherwise.



joeymf86 Level 7 Oct 26, 2018

Control and a FREE RIDE for those who purvey it.


I think the truest purpose - was convincing men to die willingly in warfare. The promise of a glorious afterlife was an effective incentive.


I would think it was originally just a way to explain nature. Then people saw how they can control others through it.

Renadt Level 4 Nov 16, 2018



Religion exists for one and only one reason. To create a vehicle for power and control over other people. Everything else around it is there only to assist in the brainwashing and control of others. If you want morality, ethics or even some spirituality, you can just do it. You do not need religion to do so. If you want to meditate or think deeply about life and its meaning, just do it. You do not need religion to do so.

As always, it just depends on your definition of religion. I would argue that meditating and thinking deeply about meaning are religious activities, with or without any formal organization. If that were not true, the phrase "organized religion" would be redundant. Evidence of religious behavior has been observed in hominids long before anything remotely resembling organized religion ever materialized. Or at least, that's the way scientists talk about it.

@skado Teh behavior your referring to has existed in the humans and likely some of their predecessor species since, who knows, a very very very long time. it is just I will no longer call that religion or religious. I am willing to call it meditating, thinking deeply or other similar words. It just servers no purpose to muddy up what people who are doing these things are doing, by calling it religious.


In a word, CONTROL

Moravian Level 7 Dec 21, 2018

From a cultural studies point of view, religion contributes to cultural cohesion. When there are two rival cultures, the most cohesive culture will prevail through a process known as cultural selection which is akin to evolution. So the purpose of religion is to foster cohesion through encouraging altruism and morality. It also contributes to bonding between individuals through ritual and ceremony.




laughmakr Level 1 Nov 16, 2018

Religion was invented when the first conman met the first fool.
Market Twain


To allow people to be stupid. If you cannot think or read well or if you are just incredibly insecure, not believing yourself, then religion fills the hole. God makes you great and the devil is why you fail. No where do you come into play with rational thought.
Yes that is it. Religion removes rational thought and yes allows a government to control us via their religion and the stupid sheep.

EMC2 Level 7 Oct 29, 2018

Religion has many functions, and the inability of anti-theistic approaches to offer a full complement of alternatives is one of the reasons religions still persist despite the Enlightenment. One of these functions is the deferment of the hope of Justice.

We live in a very unfair and unjust world. Society requires that the majority of its citizens conform to preset standards. Religion offers the hope (a false hope in my opinion) that the balance of injustice will be offset at a future time. That the rich do not in fact have an unfair advantage over the poor and oppressed. A judgment awaits all.

We know these ideas are crap, but what do we offer in their place? The non-theistic community should be at the forefront of establishing justice in the here and now. We all have a responsibility to be true humanists.

rcandlish Level 7 Oct 29, 2018

I would guess; to maximize the effects of imagination. When life is harsh, which it often is, or just isn't giving us what we think we deserve; imagination is a refuge.
Like any players of D&D will tell you, it's more fun the more people who plays along with the fantasy. It feels more real the more people keep insisting it is. Some people can speak confidently and are payed - sometimes exorbitant sums - to strengthen the shared, oh so comforting, delusion where you are the hero(ine), beloved by mystical forces and all wishes will come true.

Seems obvious to me. No one who ever argued in favor of religion has failed to fall back on "wouldn't it be nice if it was true"; as if that was the whole point. As if belief is the act of picking whatever fantasy you want to be true and not what the evidence proves.

MLinoge Level 7 Oct 28, 2018

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Just for the record, I argue in favor of religion, and do not “fall back on "wouldn't it be nice if it was true". My argument is that “it” is true, when understood metaphorically.

@skado. Not true.... An invisible god....


Well my opinion religion does two thing attempts to answer question we don't have answer for and secondly to control the population.

Rdurham Level 5 Oct 27, 2018

The purpose of religion is pretty much the same as the purpose for Santa Claus. Parents tell their children about Santa Claus in order to induce them to be good, so as to get on Santa's "Nice" list, and avoid the "Naughty" list.

Religion is meant to scare people -- telling them they'll go to Hell unless they do what the church leader tells them. A good church leader (okay, that may be a contradiction in terms) will focus on ethics. However, many church leaders tell their followers to give them money -- making a scam out of the Jesus myth.

The Scared part is the controlling forcing them to believe or obey there holy book....
It does attempt to answer question we don't know it conclusion is usually wrong but it still an answer.




I like what one famous athiest said that the purpose of all religions is to tell you that you don't really have to die. (I don't remener who said it)

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