In that world, where life is particularly capricious and more out of individuals' control than it is in the developed world, animism seems quite reasonable. It makes more sense to say that a spiteful spirit is bringing one misery, or that a benevolent ghost is granting favor, than to say that seamless neutral and predictable laws of nature are unfolding according to some invisible logic. Unless you could demonstrate the real advantages of an impersonal, lawful view of nature (e.g., by having a long-term, well-financed medical facility in the village), you will never have the experiential data to overcome animism. Our first-world claim about neutral, predictable laws will be an inferior causal theory for explaining the chaos of everyday third-world life. In the developing world, animism literally makes more sense. The new atheists, like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett have failed to notice that their mechanistic view of nature is in part a product (as well as a cause) of prosperity and stability.
Religion, even the wacky, superstitious stuff, is an analgesic survival mechanism and sanctuary in the developing world. Religion provides some order, coherence, respite, peace, and traction against the fates. Perhaps most important, it quells the emotional distress of human vulnerability. I'm an agnostic and a citizen of a wealthy nation, but when my own son was in the emergency room with an illness, I prayed spontaneously. I'm not naïve—I don't think it did a damn thing to heal him. But when people have their backs against the wall, when they are truly helpless and hopeless, then groveling and negotiating with anything more powerful than themselves is a very human response. It is a response that will not go away, and that should not go away if it provides some genuine relief for anxiety and agony. As Roger Scruton says, "The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation."
Religion is not really a path to morality, nor can it substitute for a scientific understanding of nature. Its chief virtue is as a "coping mechanism" for our troubles. Powerless people turn to religion and find a sense of relief, which helps them psychologically to stay afloat. Those who wish to abolish religion seek to pull away the life preserver, mistakenly blaming the device for the drowning.
Like Sam Harris, I know a fair share of neuroscience, but that didn't alleviate my anguish and desperation in the emergency room with my son. The old saw "there are no atheists in foxholes" obviously doesn't prove that there is a God. It just proves that highly emotional beings (i.e., humans) are also highly vulnerable beings. Our emotional limbic system seeks homeostasis—it tries to reset to calmer functional defaults when it's been riled up. I suspect there are aspects of religion (and art) that go straight into the limbic system and quell the adrenalin-based metabolic overdrive of stress.