When I say “religion is a conspiracy theory”, I do not mean this in the Dan Brown sense with cabals of black frocked priests and secret societies hiding some deep “truth” from the rest of the world. No, I mean that religion, all of it, is a conspiracy theory.
In the classic conspiracy theory the underlying assumption is that there is an agent or agents clandestinely manipulating events that on the face of it have otherwise perfectly logical and rational explanations. Hence when Princess Diana has a fatal car accident in a French tunnel, (a predictable outcome of being driven too fast by a drunk driver while not wearing a seat belt) it becomes a murder plot involving MI5, senior members of the royal family, the British government, the French police, several coroners and the British and French judiciary. Or, when a lone gunman with a history of assassination attempts on US senators kills President Kennedy, a decades long confabulation of CIA, Russian or Zionist plots are implied as the “real” reason.
The typical signature of conspiracy theories is that they fail the test of Occam’s razor in that the “official” explanation of events is usually much more parsimonious than the conspiracy theory. Assumption is piled on assumption, collaborator upon collaborator until an edifice of daunting complexity is built, all to point to the original premise that “something fishy” is going on.
Our natural tendency to assume intelligent agency behind the simplest of phenomena is one explanation for the appeal and tenaciousness of conspiracy theories. This may be an evolved survival mechanism, if a bush moves in the savannah it is better to assume the presence of a predator and be wrong than assume the opposite and be eaten. Similarly, if enough people shout “tiger!” just because you can’t see it is probably not a good idea to ignore the warning.
Religion got started this way; If it rained or failed to rain, if you survived an illness or not, if the volcano blew, if the lightening struck. All these things required an explanation for the evolving human brain and in the absence of scientific explanations, intentionality was assumed and the conspiracy of the gods was born.
Once the conspiracy was established the familiar tropes emerged. Assumptions piled on assumptions, collaborators upon collaborators, fables upon fables all forming a self serving self supporting edifice that in the absence of cold hard facts to the contrary just grew and grew. Enough people have been yelling “GOD!” for long enough that it takes a strong will to resist buying into the conspiracy. You might not get eaten, but you could wind up in hell.
However, we have now had the police investigation, the results of the judicial enquiry are in and the official records have been made public. Yes, hundreds of years of scientific enquiry and examination of the facts have now proved conclusively that the conspiracy of the gods is just another confabulation. There is no Machiavellian mind behind the volcano, the rainfall or the lightening and no reason to believe there is one hiding behind any of the natural phenomena we observe, no matter how the universe shakes and rustles.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"