In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explores the institutions and psychology that allow human beings to exist in peaceful society. He says that humans are 10% bee and 90% ape, meaning that 90% of the time, we are motivated by self interest and 10% of the time, we are motivated to protect the group. In his chapter “Religion Is a Team Sport” Haidt discusses how religion taps into the bee part of human instincts.
[R]eligions are sets of cultural innovations that spread to the extent that they make groups more cohesive and cooperative.
In a previous chapter, Haidt discussed collective movements (like marching together or ecstatic dancing around a fire) activate a biotechnology that binds individuals to the group and helps them transcend self-interest to lose oneself in the group. The traditional standing/sitting/kneeling and hymn-singing and chanting in church reminds me of this biotechnology. The ritual of attending church weekly taps into our social instincts. In conclusion:
Whether you believe in hell, whether you pray daily, whether you are a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Mormon . . . none of these things correlated with generosity. The only thing that was reliably and powerfully associated with the moral benefits of religion was how enmeshed people were in relationships with their co-religionists.
In other words, the thing about religion that someone a better person is the ritual of attending– not faith in God.