The idea of utopia
Robert Bellah has a new book on religion in human evolution (called, aptly, just that). He talks to the Atlantic.
You mention play as a way of getting out of normal working consciousness, and religion emerging from the play instinct, a mammalian characteristic common to sparring puppies and humans experiencing art.
That’s the one way I can see religion as something interesting about human beings as opposed to something depressing or tiresome or unhelpful about them. (I mean honestly – going without water from dawn to dusk in a hot climate?) It’s something gratuitous and extra, ornamental and elaborate; it’s good that humans can do that. (Though only from a human point of view. Humpback whales don’t think it’s good that humans can do that, and neither does any other species.)
The idea of utopia is always a kind of play, because we know it’s not real – it’s just what we can imagine. But it has the serious possibility of saying, “Look, the world the way it is didn’t have to be that way. It could be different.”
And so does the idea of god – it could be a way of thinking about a better way to be a person. It doesn’t seem to work out that way very much though.