Is religion adaptive or maladaptive?

This is an interesting question IMHO. Does religion confer net benefits or net penalties on a society/people?

I personally reject religion in all its forms, but I acknowledge that it can have benefits. When your child dies of smallpox at age two, it is probably greatly comforting to think that she is going to heaven. This would reduce the stress on the individuals that loved her and would probably play a role in prolonging their lives. Likewise, the sense of community from gathering in a building and praying and/or singing releases beneficial brain chemicals, such as endorphins, and contributes to personal health and well-being, as well as the overall health of the community (lessened tension and conflicts, etc.).

On the flip side (riffing on a point another OP made which quickly got drowned in noise), beliefs impact scientific discovery, usually negatively; generations of peasants spent all their free time building cathedrals (rather than houses, schools, etc.), religious schools spend a good percentage of their time in religious indoctrination (the effect of the school I went to was that we were all behind by one year when we entered a secular high school), and most troubling of all, countless people have been made to feel shame or guilt when there was no reason to–and let’s not forget all the people who have been killed for “blasphemy,” the rivers of blood from religious wars (still going on today), and other casualties of faith.

(I don’t think we’ll hear anybody seriously floating the contention that praying to one’s particular deity results in better life outcomes; that is a logical non-starter, simply if you look at results: believers and unbelievers die at equal rates.)

The question hasn’t been empirically tested yet because so far, there haven’t been any non-religious societies (of any significance) in human history. The first examples may be coming to light, in Western Europe where a majority of people, in polls, deny having any religious beliefs at all. So we can’t really say either that “religion has helped mankind thrive” or “religion has held mankind back and contributed to human misery” with any degree of certainty. Therefore, I’m asking for your opinions, NOT on whether various and sundry deities exist, etc. etc. but on whether religion benefits or harms human society.

Opinions are going to differ, but I agree with Hitchens that it poisons everything. So, it’s maladaptive.

It could have been adaptive for some kind of tribal bonding reason, or keeping people in line, or something like that, early in our history when individual survival didn’t pan out nearly as well as it does now.

Or, it could be an unfortunate consequence of some other evolutionary thing that, overall, was adaptive. It’s been proposed that little children are so lacking in understanding and knowledge that they get sort of fast-tracked by learning from their elders with complete and total gullibility. This sounds plausible. The unfortunate consequence is that we have a window of vulnerability when we’ll believe the magic of religion. But, the religion per se wasn’t the thing that was adaptive, it’s a maladaptive component of something that overall was adaptive.

In a horrid way, yeah, it can confer benefits. Look at the meteoric rise of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. That was hugely beneficial for believers in Islam.

Religious systems have certain inherent advantages over systems that embody dissent as an organic method of criticism. Religion tends to favor one-party structure. (It isn’t definitional, just common.)

If you have any philosophical admiration for minority rights and the role of dissent, then religion will probably not be your favored method of societal governance.

A theory I have is that religion was adaptive but once writing was invented that adaptability was lost.

IMHO changes were made very gradually and in pace of developments in society, and there was little of a chance for the changes to be contradicted later as the early enforcers of the rules that are no longer applicable do die. It also helped that there were less people and clerics.

Writing for a time did help codify the law and it helped with the control of the early city states, but as soon as more changes came the problem of not having a good way to integrate the changes of society makes for more divisions and/or the arrival of new religions to replace the old or to see less religion.

Are we talking about organized religion, or someone’s personal religion?

Because the former, despite funding very nice hospitals, has a most horrible record: slavery, genocide, warfare, inquisitions & other types of torture, manipulation of politics at the highest level, and many other Great Sins have been created by and continued to be created by organized religion alone.

Personal religion varies from individual to individual. Many are misguided, stuck in their ways, and refuse to acknowledge the blatant lies they’ve been force-fed since childhood. Others become “Born Again” which can be even worse, because the “Born Again” process is often akin to a psychotic break with reality; and unlike drugs or women, it’s a habit that uplifts instead of destroys. (e.g. Kurt Cameron.) Then there are those who don’t think much of religion at all, or make it part of their own personal philosophy – only those in the latter group have any capability of free, rational thought & adaptive change.

American slavery is one of those instances where the same religion (Christianity) was used by both oppressor and oppressed. It was used to justify and perpetuate the system, but it was also used to resist and endure it. But an economic system, not a religion, ultimately drove the practice. And as helpful as Christianity was for the enslaved, perhaps if folks had been less concerned about being “good” in the eyes of the old Massa in the sky, slavery wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.

Christianity was also helpful in the civil rights movement. It rallied people, helped them to see themselves as soldiers in a war between righteous and evil, and emboldened them. Yet, the thing that brought MLK and the Movement global attention wasn’t religion; it was political philosophy (civil disobedience/resistance) and media savviness. Christianity was the pep talk before the big game, but the game was won with human intelligence and ingenuity.

As far as your average individual American or family goes, I don’t know if it’s possible to quantify religious harm or benefit. Answering the question requires knowledge of the unknown. Perhaps an unhappy couple wouldn’t have even married if it hadn’t been for their stupid faith. But maybe the reason why their children aren’t all depressed drug addicts is because they were raised to tremble in fear of the Lord.

Religion may help an individual here and there, because it’s basically a drug. People take heroin to feel good and cloud their worries. That’s what religion does.

The problem is, that religion, like heroin, isn’t a real answer. Even if it makes you happy, it’s still a lie.

Two examples spring to mind:
I have a friend who is 40 and never had a serious relationship. Or even more than a couple of dates. He’s not ugly, and in good shape. He even has a good personality. He’s just shy.

He just posted on his FB, how his other friend keeps trying to set him up with a foreign bride or get him to go on Christian Mingle. But how he isn’t interested, because God has a plan for him, and he will meet the love of his life when God thinks my friend is ready.

That’s just insanity. His life is actively worse because he thinks that there is an intelligent, loving agency behind the clouds that wants him to be happy.
Story number 2:
I know an older couple who hate each other and refuse to divorce because of Catholicism. They live in bitter anger for fear of breaking a vow to an imaginary God. They’re just old enough to have one more shot at finding a good, and enriching relationship before the end, but the drug is more important.

I imagine that these and similar stories are repeated over and over again across the world. Couple that with the impacts on social policy, and I’d feel pretty confident that religion is a net drag on humanity.

How very presumptuous of you. Maybe his life is actively better the way it is now. How the hell do you know?

I’m willing to accept that loneliness is inferior than companionship.

So, I’m going to assume that horseshit religion is, in this case, inferior to reality.

I believe that’s Michael Shermer’s thesis, that religion is an artifact/side effect of something that is adaptive, i.e., the programming in small children that makes them accept everything that their parents say as true without question. Useful in a dangerous world.

My probably wrong hypothesis is that religion was most useful in the era before nationalism or the idea of universal human rights, when tribes were joining together to form proto city states. You don’t know these strangers but at least you all go to the same temples.

But I think it became maladaptive when rulers had to be more lasseiz-faire and empires had multiple different belief systems pulling it apart. Or the rulers would try to politicize their religion and make everyone believe the same thing in the name of unity. That didn’t always work out so well.

Also doesn’t help that once a religion gets big enough it starts to speciate into different warring sects.

Is he lonely? Has he ever told you that he wants ya’ll to play matchmaker for him?

There are plenty of people who don’t want a SO and are perfectly fine flying solo. And there are also plenty of people who have a SO (maybe even because of religion) and they are fucking miserable.

So with all due respect, I don’t think this is a good example of religion harming someone. To me, it sounds like your friend is using religion to shield his ego and to get ya’ll off his back about dating. But it’s not the cause of why he’s alone.

I believe his point was that that person’s religious beliefs are causing him to avoid pursuing actions that would in all likelihood (given the description of the person given) benefit him and solve one of his major life problems.

Maladaptive, for the reasons already mentioned and more. It encourages irrational thinking and rejection of reality; habits of thought that tend to spread beyond the religion they support. It creates divisions where they would not exist, and is pretty much the most effective ideology there is for suppressing morality, compassion and self-preservation. It preserves and promotes bigotry of all kinds.

Perhaps in the distant past it may have served a useful purpose, although I doubt it. But it the present world it is overwhelmingly a force for destruction and suffering. There is nothing good it can do that can’t be done better without religion.

No, but he won’t take actions himself, because he believes that God cares about him.

He does want a SO.

Religion is the Omni-Answer. Can’t find a girl? God’s plan. Can’t get a job? God’s plan. It leads to inaction because you wrongly think that the cavalry is coming.

Yeah that.

In Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us, Avi Tuschman corroborates monstro’s view. He argues that religious and political identities are largely reflections of our personalities, and our personalities are the result of forces beyond our control (nature/nurture).

I’ll give a different example of that, that’s less ambiguous.

I worked in a children’s home in Brazil. One time I went with the social worker to visit a father to see how we could help him get his kids back. We visited him in a shack that had a single grubby mattress, and it turned out to be his brother’s shack anyway. We asked him what he was doing to get a job and get his life together so his three beautiful children could live with him again. His only answer to everything was “se Deus quiser” - God willing.

Perhaps the idea that God will get him a job is helping him get through the hardship, but that doesn’t make up for the effects. As Lobohan says:

This idea of “se Deus quiser” was like some kind of disease. I saw it in so many parents who were absolutely paralysed in their dismal states. Perhaps they wouldn’t be any better or more capable if they didn’t think that jobs only happen when god hands you one, but the way things were could hardly be any worse. They really did think that getting their children back was dependent on god doing something, rather than them doing something. This fantasy was doing some very real harm, not least to the children.

Thank fuck it was the job of the social workers to try to set them straight, and not mine.

Religion forms a common set of values for a society, it is a basis for civilization. It provides rules, order, and a way to punish or ostracize. A common cause to rally around and a common cause to exclude others.

So same thing as civil authority structures in that respect, and the same questing should also be asked there.

I’m cyncial enough about humans that I tend to think that the bad things that were done in the name of religion probably would have been done for some other reason if religion didn’t exists. Largely a “we want what they have, what can we use to justify taking it” with religion being the excuse de jour.