Does Religion Serve a Purpose?

This lecture by professor Paul Bloom of Yale starts with the observation that religion serves no obvious adaptive purpose. I find that a little surprising since it is well documented that people who have a make generally accurate appraisals of themselves and their environment are depressed (notice it is not clear which way causality runs). Since optimism is considered to be adaptive, and most religions have a point of view as to what death is all about and what if anything happens afterwards, I would think that giving people coping strategies about the inevitability of death would be adaptive. As I wrote last year:

In the Indian epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira goes looking for his missing brothers, who went searching for water. He finds them all dead next to a pond. In despair, but still parched, he is about to drink, but a crane tells him he must answer some questions first. The last and most difficult: “What is the greatest wonder of the world?” Yudhisthira answers, “Day after day, hour after hour, countless people die, yet the living believe they will live forever.”

And as Americans have become more and more work focused, and as job tenures become shorter and people often have to move in search of gainful employment, the idea of community as a place seems quaint. As this video suggests, houses of worship may be the only place most people find community these days. I doubt that is a healthy development.

And this DOES relate to the Super Bowl! The Center for Public Religion has found that 1/3 of Americans think God decides the outcome of sporting events. He does not do so directly, by having favorite teams (too tacky!) but by favoring teams with more God-fearing athletes.