…So I think that just factually, descriptively, in terms of what religion is and how it works, they just got the story wrong. They focus on belief in gods. Now, belief in gods is important—it wouldn’t be religion if there wasn’t some supernatural entity. But the view that I took… There’s another line of scholarship that goes back to Emile Durkheim, the sociologist. And this was especially developed in a very important book by David Sloan Wilson called Darwin’s Cathedral. And we all take very seriously the idea—which Darwin actually had—that groups that could bind themselves together tightly could outperform other groups, and that religion is an adaptation for doing that. That’s basically what Durkheim said. If you put Durkheim and Darwin together, that’s what you get.
So I think that’s factually correct. It doesn’t mean that there’s a god—I’m an atheist myself. It doesn’t mean that religions are good for society. Now, religion in America—according to the political scientist Robert Putnam—generates a huge amount of social capital. In America, religions are pretty benign. But if they evolved to bind groups together to compete, then they could be pretty nasty for outsiders. I’m not saying that religion is uniformly good. What I am saying is that it’s an adaptation, we evolved to be religious, and this explains why we’re happier when we’re religious. The happiest people in America are Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians. The least happy group in America is secular liberals.
“If I’m worshipping with other people and doing rituals with other people, I can trust them.” And that is the greatest challenge we humans have ever faced. Because any other species on the planet, if it cooperates at all, it’s just with first-degree relatives, with children or siblings. We’re the only creature that can cooperate immensely with people who aren’t even related to us. I mean, look—I’ve never met you, but yet here you and I are able to talk, we’re able to do something together, we’re able to make something. And humans are just always doing this. We’re just really good at cooperating. So that’s my view of religion.
Liberals are wise to many things that conservatives miss. Many institutions ossify, they are no longer relevant, they create unnecessary victims. Marriage is a good example. I think the institution of marriage is the best way ever found to get men to actually care for children. It’s easy to get women to care for children, that’s automatic. But it’s really hard to get men to invest in children. And if you bind them into families and you sacralize marriage and you make it sound like it’s a big deal, you get more care. You get more structure, you get more moral order.
Alright, I’m sorry, I’m going back to the conservative defense.
The point where liberals are right is that sometimes these institutions have victims where there’s no good reason to hurt these people. Like gay people. There’s just no reason to not let gay people marry. Now, the left has been afraid to praise marriage in part because gay people couldn’t marry, and because some ethnic communities have low rates of marriage, so the left has been afraid to say that marriage is good. But it is really good. But the left can see that it excludes people.
This guy was one of my profs. Always thought he was a pretty interesting dude.