Let me elaborate on some concepts first.
We have religion and we also have religions.
Regardless of whether religion comes from the Latin ‘religare’ or not it is obvious for the concerned observer that inside what is commonly known as ‘culture’ there is a tightly knit set of traditions which constitutes the common ground where all members of the community that share those convictions come to meet and ‘find the time of the day’.
Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology, has written a whole book on this subject – The Elementary Forms of Religious Life – and John Faithful Hamer, one of his disciples, has summed up brilliantly the whole idea: “Religion is largely a function of sociology, not theology.”
Only each community has evolved in its own distinct environment. Hence, even if for each community ‘religion’ plays the same role, there are no two religions that are similar. Simply because each of them consists, as I’ve said before, of a certain set of traditions whose main goal is to help the community make the most of the environment into which it has to make do. And since each environment is different from the next one…
And now we have arrived at the second role played by religion. To offer a certain degree of solace and certitude to the individual believer. Just as nobody can make it out by himself – regardless of whatever the anarchist libertarians might think/preach – all of us need some assurance about the world having some kind of congruence. Some of us find it in science, some others in stories which involve a God or a team of Gods and yet others in a godless narrative about how to behave in order to find, eventually, a way out of this Earthly ‘Valley of Tears’.
In order to offer that solace each individual religion has developed a certain ritual. Just as rigorous performance of calisthenics provides a certain physical well being by performing a religious ritual individuals forge a strong connection with the same minded people belonging to the same flock. That’s why some people believe that ‘religion’ comes from ‘religare’ – the Latin word for ‘binding’.
Let me now put two and two together.
We have religion as a set of guiding traditions and we also have religion as a ritual which is performed in order to bind people together so that they no longer feel alone and helpless.
Putting things this way it’s easy to observe that there are some people who are firm believers in those guiding traditions but who, for various reasons, do not feel the need to constantly reenact the ritual; others who are more or less skeptic about the traditions but who are convinced that their world would come apart if the ritual would no longer be performed and still others who are both firm believers in ‘their’ traditions and staunch performers of the ritual attached to those traditions.
From a more practical point of view the non ritualistic ‘firm believers’ will live and let live even if they are convinced the others will rot in hell while those who attach great importance to the proper performance of the ritual will try to impose it as widely as they (even im)possibly can.
So, if we need to reduce their militancy it would be easier to reduce their perceived insecurity/helplessness than to try to change their ‘religious’ convictions. Maslow taught us that it’s relatively easy to lift an individual from the base of his famous pyramid to a more comfortable level while history has taught us that it takes a lot of time to change a time-honored tradition.
Also, by helping them to overcome their perceived helplessness we’ll also help them notice the fact that each religion offers a great degree of autonomy to its followers.
BTW, that’s why many would be dictators insist on religious-like values (nationalism is also a religion), on the corresponding rituals being faithfully respected AND simultaneously do their worst in order to reduce their followers – the ordinary members of the community they intend to dominate – to a state of abject dependency. The most poignant example being Pol Pot’s Cambodia but this has happened, to various degrees, in all communist states. But not exclusively.