Did you know there’s an entire literature exploring the cognitive role of metaphor? Seems like it may be quite central to human thought. That’s good for my theory: it kind of hinges on the assumption.
I think religious beliefs act as a cognitive filter, biasing us toward ideas and interpretations that fit with them. This is based on the observation that theological change seems to give rise to metaphorically similar cultural changes over time. That kind of influence would require a causal pathway of some sort. If our thinking is largely based on metaphor, that would be the pathway – and it’s a direct one. If so, we can use metaphorical thinking to reason about cultural consequences of religious belief. It sounds odd but the logic holds: If causality runs through metaphor, then it’s necessary to identify and examine the metaphor to understand the causality.
An obvious objection would be that causality could run the other way: other beliefs give rise to appropriate religious metaphors. This would hold to some extent – it is easier to accept metaphysical claims that fit with our worldview. I contend that it goes both ways. For example, atheism is more likely to spread when secular knowledge seems sufficient to explain all of existence – but as it does, its metaphors start manifesting in other ways. “There is no God” has many connotations and not all of them are good.
Predicting the future is always difficult. There are too many variables and degrees of freedom. I don’t expect my theory to be up to that – not yet, at least. It can, however, be used to examine the past. I’ll get on that next: there’s a puzzle I’ve been itching to solve.