Let’s take fasting as an example. I always thought that fasting was dumb and religious people were idiots. Surely, I thought, God can’t be so puny and trivial as to care about what you eat and when you do it.
Now I know, however – because somebody was kind enough to explain – that the reason people fast is because that’s a way of experiencing something larger than themselves and their own, individual need to consume. Fasting works and dieting doesn’t because dieting is turned inwards, it’s all about the self. Dieters do not form a coherent group because their desire is aimed inwards.
People who fast as part of religious ritual experience closeness to God and to their religious community because of this shared sacrifice of their own consumption whims to an objective that lies outside of themselves.
It is no surprise, then, that religions that abandon a shared system of seemingly pointless limitations on the desires of the faithful lose all meaning and are abandoned by said faithful in droves.