I believe religion is robbed of almost all of its utility by a single mistake made by its proponents: Their assertion that it's true. Without that mistake it is an invitation to contemplate a genuinely fair and just world. A challenge for our species, the starting point in understanding the evolution of our values—the basis of our concepts of justice, fairness, freedom, and responsibility. And a single thread linking the very spirt of our species from distant past to uncertain future.
This single mistake prevents religion from becoming a wonderful and useful tool to induce cooperation, kindness, and thoughtfulness throughout mankind. Even worse, it turns religion into it's own opposite, and history is littered with the horrible consequences that prove this. Searching for the god that we know doesn't exist is a pretty good description of what the most basic sciences are trying to do. That statement is almost flatly nonsensical, but I get the feeling from my study of science that almost all scientists are atheists, yet also can't help but have some notion of an underlying order and deep intelligence because the sheer beauty and outrageous elegance of our universe just seems to imply it. They look for beautiful and elegant theories rather than simply trying to fit the data for this reason. They aren't satisfied with today's standard model partly because it isn't as beautiful as they'd expected it to be.
Correct that single mistake and religion becomes a true and beautiful part of science. The study of human values, passions, and the search for that which is sacred by its nature (which I would argue is actually law, and only law. But that's off the point.) We need a god like we need the square root of negative one. But there is no number, either positive, zero, or negative, that when multiplied by itself gives negative one. Nonetheless, just by claiming there is such a beast, and using it, we can correctly solve a vast panoply of hard problems that could not be understood without that screwy figment of our imagination. That is real magic. The magic of imagination can have a power which is very real and tangible, and not the least bit impaired by our knowledge that it's only a metaphysical device, not a physical reality. Just because something is admittedly imaginary doesn't seem to limit it's utility—quite the contrary. Maybe you have to be imaginary to accomplish supernatural feats. Obviously nothing real could. Why can't imaginary things be useful, powerful, and worthy of knowing well? It isn't really possible to know something powerful very well without worshipping it in the most sincere sense.
Without the single mistaken claim, the shift moves from trying to know god, to trying to discover godliness. That's a crucial difference. We know what the former approach leads to. But consider how useful the search for godliness is, for it puts us in the position of having to think about creating a just and fair society. It lures us to see the consequences of our actions, evaluate the impact we have on each other, our children's future, etc. It leads us to forms of cooperation, measurement, and fairness. It forces religion into the very role it had originally intended to achieve: the most competent and genuine technology for discovering a very meaningful, fulfilling, and enjoyable lifestyle. And it gets there honestly—by making a legitimate science out of measuring a myriad of the most important things that are presently poorly or haphazardly measured, like human happiness, the quality of relationships, the environment created for children, etc.
By searching for godliness, instead of trying to better know the god of our ancestors, we're more apt to become better ourselves at noticing mutualistic solutions to problems rather than self-centered ones. Instead of teaching people that god wants them to love their neighbors, it asks us how we might engineer our society so that there is no need to ask. So that the very geometry of our economy and social structures make our utility to each other readily apparent—filled our lives with opportunities to cooperate rather than compete as it does now.
Converting religions into different approaches to a search for the mostly godly ways we can imagine would probably offend some of its adherents, but I think most would be deeply intrigued. If the utility really does come from faith, then it doesn't really matter whether god is real or not. Placebos are better than drugs if they work. A god that we know is imaginary, actually can be all of the things we assume God is. A faith that there is a means to empower every human born with the capacity to achieve a oneness of heart and spirit with the rest of humanity is worth working towards. Why not take it more seriously? Why not approach the challenge as we do everything else we're serious about accomplishing, using every tool and technique we've discovered in carefully measured and directed searching?
It really is impossible not to sin—not to have any negative impact on those around you, for example. What matters in that case is whether we'll take the steps to deal with it. If religion was a search for the economy that best redressed the intrinsic consequences of our choices, both positive and negative, then how could it lead us anywhere but towards the deepest mutualism, most symbiotic products, lifestyles, and perspectives. How could it leave us with anything but love and respect for each other, as well as for the imaginary god we realize is worth serving, and finally know why.