I begin to wonder whether I am mad or have hit on an idea which is much bigger than I am.Gregory Bateson
As someone who grew up in a religion and then let go of it in my mid-twenties, it’s easy to say, religion is a useless fiction that persists because a powerful group finds it useful.
Bateson (an atheist in a family of atheists) has a bigger idea. He believes that religions exist to hold the “everything else” of whether and why we should do a thing. To hold all the systemic and invisible-to-consciousness reasons for an action. They are the foil to strait-line purpose.
“Supernatural entities of religion are, in some sort, cybernetic models built into the larger cybernetic system [our culture] in order to correct for noncybernetic computation in a part of that system [our conscious, purposive minds].” (this from a letter; thanks to @gdinwiddie for leading me to it.)
As people in our (capitalist) culture, we aim to meet goals. Those goals accomplish something, and have some side effects that are very hard to notice or measure. Bateson proposes that religion is designed to account for all of the rest of those effects.
Can we come up with a way to notice the effects of our actions, wider than the progress toward our goals, that is not based on the fiction of existing religions?