Thoughts of religion prompt acts of punishment

Andy Coghlan

Many religions offers plenty of positive incentives to their followers – the promise of life after death, for instance. But why have religions that involve self-sacrifice and punishment survived? The link between support for a religion and a willingness to inflict punishment may point to the answer…

McKay points out that being religious can be costly in various ways: donating money, suffering painful rites and avoiding pleasures, for example. So the team wondered how religion survived, despite these apparent costs. "The answer may be that these sacrifices enable the group to secure more cooperation. The punishing may be unpleasant but it’s in the service of the greater good for that particular group or religion, enabling them to thrive and spread the word," he says.

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