While the analysis of the shortcomings of other explanations of religious impulse is sound, the "cognitive muffling" theory has equal problems. The core problem with the theory appears to be the fact that rituals, while transiently efficacious at suppressing troublesome conscious thought, are intermittent at best. Most of the day, the human animal has to interact with its environment instead of seeking temporary refuge in ritualistic behaviors. This does, however, provide some important insight: if we recognize that even today, with all the post-agrarian elaborations of formal dogma, religionists still behave in ways that strongly resemble OCD then we can see that "mini-ritualistic behavior" such as fondling some object, muttering some prayer or incantation, repeating some action, can be carried into everyday life and act as a minor self-induced psychic dampening mechanism that is reinforced during group-scale rituals. This in turn leads us to wonder about OCD and similar mental disturbances: what if religionism is simply a mild version of OCD? We already know that some forms of schizophrenia resemble religious rapture, with voices in the head, a sense of suddenly understanding the "higher" patterns in everyday objects, etc. So perhaps, far from being adaptive, religionism is essentially a mild form of mental illness that we carry along - a burden, but insufficiently harmful compared to the benefits derived from our other cognitive abilities that cause us to see false positives all around us. Dawkins was incorrect about nature being a miserly accountant; nature simply plays the odds and often those odds are actually all about a series of tradeoffs. In an ideal world the male peacock would be able to attract a mate without having the burden of an absurdly large tail, but evolution isn't about creating ideals. It's just about moment-to-moment adaptations with no teleological destination in mind. The peacock continues to exist because its trade-offs are just sufficiently good enough to permit continuation of the species, for now. Perhaps our trade-offs are likewise just about good enough for now, but we're always on the edge and many tumble over. When they do, we call it mental illness. When they're just on the edge we call it religionism.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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