One increasingly popular hypothesis contends that:
- commitment to the same morally concerned gods fosters cooperation between individuals of the same faith (referred to as co-religionists)
- where supervision may otherwise be absent.
- That is, people may be more likely to cooperate within large groups if
- they believe that omniscient gods monitor behavior and punish moral transgressors.
- Moralistic gods may act as societal glue,
- promoting impartiality between distant strangers
- who share a common conception of god.
- The competitive advantage depends upon the intuitive fact that:
--- groups composed of cooperative individuals outcompete groups composed of uncooperative individuals.
Research by Azim F. Shariff and Ara Norenzayan suggests that
- social circles, and thus societies, expanded
- as the perceived ability of gods to monitor and punish behavior increased.
Belief in supernatural moral arbiters produced the same kinds of concerns, though often amplified,
- that individuals might feel today when being monitored by members of their community.
- They fear punishment, condemnation and a damaged reputation.
- These ever-present punitive deities, therefore, allow for a larger number of stable interactions between people
- who may otherwise not be motivated to cooperate,
- thus pushing the outward the bounds of society.
In this way, societies have grown complex under the watchful eyes of increasingly powerful deities
- Owing in part to their ability to monitor and punish behavior,
- certain gods were culturally maintained and spread over large geographic areas.
- These gods conferred powerful group-level benefits during intergroup competition and
- eventually came to reign over the major world religions of today.