Payoff: The Socio-Eco Factor

24Feb09

In the last few posts I have been presenting my own thoughts about religion and what keeps people involved, despite problems they may truly see with that religion.  I have been unpacking the concept of the payoff.

The payoff is that web of family, economic, social and mental pressures that keeps the believer bound to a religion or a religious organization despite contradictions, disappointment or outrage.

In this post, I want to touch on a couple of observations on how socioeconomic forces may influence and even intimidate people to remain in their faith.

Social Pressure in Religion Can be Intimidating
Social Pressure in Religion Can be Intimidating

 

Social

Being part of a group that the “believer” perceives as meaningful is a powerful motivator.  I suppose it is good, as far as it goes, for a person who solidly believes  in what they are doing to have social needs met through a religious organization.  But sometimes social incentives can tilt the teetering believer back into the fold, even if the reasons for staying the course are not purely doctrinal or theological.

This quote (underlined portion is mine) from Ken Daniels in his account of his journey from Moody Bible translator to agnostic illustrates this phenomenon:

During spring break, however, after I had reached the book of Jeremiah (over half-way through the Bible), I met an attractive young lady at a Bible college I was visiting. We struck up a long-distance relationship, which, looking back now, helped take my mind off my doubts and likely provided a good incentive to dismiss them. Whatever the explanation, I was able to regain what I considered to be a full-fledged, robust biblical faith, at least for a time.

While the common shared interest of pursuing religious and spiritual growth contributes to the payoff of believing in a faith, so also can  attraction to a potential mate be a powerful social factor in drawing a person into a religious organization.  Attraction to another person has nothing to do with issues of truth, but does serve to reinforce a willing suspension of disbelief needed to stop chasing nagging questions that arise about a religion.

Social pressure can be exerted from a negative standpoint as well.   In some cultures, it is illegal to leave the faith.   One’s  life and health can be in danger from reprisals and persecution.  In less deadly circumstances, negative pressure can be unpleasant as well.  For example, in Mormon culture people who leave the fold can experience ostracization, criticism, and loss of access to weddings and other life events (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex-Mormon#Social ).

Economic

Some evidence out there suggests that people may experience pressure to continue with a religious faith for the prospect of long-term financial gain.

It is not that all the reasons that might contribute to economic gain through church and other religious involvement are inherently bad.   Some of the contributing factors to personal advancement through religious involvement seem to be incidental to the initial and ongoing motivations for identification with a faith.  It is not that there are millions of cynical church-goers out there trolling the pews handing out business cards and promising a 15% discount for presenting a Sunday bulletin at their place of business.

Although such practices do occur, the point is that there is a forward moving economic advantage to agreeing to be involved in a group that mutually supports its participants and provides and conveys an air of morality, honesty and stability upon its members.   How many readers have ever gotten a job interview based upon their association with a fellow church/religious organization member?

The payoff for remaining in a religion just may cause a person to gloss over cognitive dissonance or accept as “good enough” ideas and evidences in favor of their faith.   In the same light, such social and economic prospects can cause a person to dismiss out of hand with little consideration evidences that may be brought to bear on an atheistic or agnostic world view.

The power of payoff is not in and of itself a bad thing.  People join and remain in many types of organizations based on the same web of family, societal, economic and personal forces.   Back to an earlier fish club example, if an enthusiast decides to leave the fish club, few families are divided.  Nobody grabs the children and rushes them indoors if the ex-fish club member walks by on the sidewalk.  The payoff for being a hobbyist is milder in some ways than the payoff for being in a religion.

What makes religion different is that a fish club is not laden with “Truth with a capital ‘T'” issues.  The array of issues covered in religion are of the ultimate variety.   For families, government leaders, bankers and bakers alike, the power to be wielded is more enormous and advantageous.  So, when  practitioners of a faith begin to ask questions like “is this true?”  or “is this just?” the anticipated loss of control over status, tithes and attendance causes the forces of shame and exclusion to be pressed in upon the honest seeker.

Religion has always been about power.

What the honest seeker soon finds out is that religion is not about truth.  Despite some of the ultimate answers religions claim to provide its participants, it is about power.  It has always been about power and will ever be so.

 

2serious
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2 Responses to “Payoff: The Socio-Eco Factor”

  1. That was only a very brief introduction to an introduction. Kindly give us at least 500 words of material when we visit your blog.

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD (Physics)
    India

    • 2 2serious

      Actually,the word count is 875. I moved the link up above the picture to make it more obvious to the reader.

      Thank you.


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