A life without religion, or it's study, is certainly something that has it's merit. One almost needs to be a recluse in the backwoods to completely avoid the daily interactions that has religion at it's roots. Such is the fate of we southern U.S. unbelievers.
Once you stop thinking you 'know everything', school is always in session!
Religion is an interesting phenomenon, when you step outside of it and study how it affects people.
I've personally found some critical study of the bible to be interesting.
As far as value of studying other religions. Is the point to see if, maybe, one of them is true? Certainly you can glean a wise saying or two from them, but that's an awfully high noise-to-signal ratio there! But if it's possible to conclude that one god is bogus on the grounds that he is purported to be supernatural, then any god that is purported to be supernatural must be bogus. To make an analogy to illustrate what I just said, if I know, before opening the book, that it will be based entirely on the claim that 2+2=367, then if I am seeking "truth" I can save myself the effort. On the other hand, if I am looking for sheer entertainment or trying to understand the mindset of people who think 2+2=367, reading the thing might be just what I want.
I'm interested in the cultural processes that lead people to believe in dogmas and authority, and I'm most interested in why people consciously choose specific dogmas and authorities over others. The success of L. Ron Hubbard's brainwashing techniques in Scientology on intelligent people is what got me most fascinated in human gullibility and the human "need" for feeling of belonging and purpose. Hopefully I'll learn more about gangs this term in school. It's all related, imo! We are all social beings, amped up on artificial explanations for our existence.
Pope Beanie - have you seen this article? Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation - Michael Tomas.... I found it excellent, and it gives an account of the evolution of cultural norms. Basically it's for the purpose of coordinating group actions once the group reaches a certain size. It's also for the purposes of group identification. Spoiler alert.
That looks like a pretty good article, thank you. It starts out with the paragraph, below.
Modern theories of the evolution of human cooperation focus mainly on altruism. In contrast, we propose that humans’ species-unique forms of cooperation—as well as their species-unique forms of cognition, communication, and social life—all derive from mutualistic collaboration (with social selection against cheaters). In a first step, humans became obligate collaborative foragers such that individuals were interdependent with one another and so had a direct interest in the well-being of their partners. In this context, they evolved new skills and motivations for collaboration not possessed by other great apes (joint intentionality), and they helped their potential partners (and avoided cheaters). In a second step, these new collaborative skills and motivations were scaled up to group life in general, as modern humans faced competition from other groups. As part of this new group-mindedness, they created cultural conventions, norms, and institutions (all characterized by collective intentionality), with knowledge of a specific set of these marking individuals as members of a particular cultural group. Human cognition and sociality thus became ever more collaborative and altruistic as human individuals became ever more interdependent.
Perhaps altruism is a realistic goal that can be encultured, even if it's not genetically instantiated... as long as it doesn't get too Borgy!
The thing with altruism is, it works ("with social selection against cheaters") at least on a small scale. "We do right for love of self" to paraphrase a Buddhist. But on a large scale, this individual effect can disappear? ????