The psychology of religion, Part II

Faith spreads itself by many mechanisms, and none of them are ethical

Religion and culture are inextricably intertwined. This fact ensures that the prominent religions contain very diverse practices, rituals, and values. For example, you can find gun-toting Christians who believe that white people shall inherit the earth because they are superior to everyone else. These fine, upstanding members of a tribe specially chosen by god might be living in the same American state as peace-loving conscientious objectors who reject all modern conveniences because they are things of the devil. This other flock of god's chosen people do not actively engage in or believe racist dogma. Yet both groups claim that they derive their authority, relevance, and meaning from the same holy text.

Christianity, a lousy copy of Judaism with some significant updates to the dogma, has three primary sects: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Islam, an unimaginative copy of Christianity with some important updates to the dogma, has Sunni, Shi'a, Ahmadiyya, and Sufi sects. There are hundreds more splinter tribes off of these branches for both religions. All these different groups arise from one of the core facets of the psychology of human beings. We all need to feel important, and one primary way we have done this for much of our history is by inventing gods and then acting as their representatives here on planet earth.

Because of our nature, we end up with many groups squabbling over the disposition of gods and what rules they want us to follow. It is currently routine for Sunni and Shi'a Muslims to murder each other over disagreements that go back more than one thousand years in some parts of the world. When the person who first imagined Allah and its book of rules died in 632CE, those who inherited the power and wealth "Prophet" Muhammad left behind began fighting over that power and wealth, leading to a schism that goes back to the psychology of humans: we fight over resources and power. The resulting conflicts were fierce, and they are still happening today. Sunni and Shi'a frequently send suicide bombers to each other's worship services as presents. Handy link at the bottom of this essay.

Religions evolve as humans do. They often have to struggle to keep pace with reality. According to many believers, the Christian Bible is the inerrant word of a deity and the perfect manual for living life. Still, it does not mention modern inventions or discoveries even once. No DNA, cell phones, Facebook, cars or trucks, HVAC systems, and modern weapons are ever discussed. Instead, the book forbids the wearing of cotton polyester blend clothing, among other oddities. The many errors and fantasies in the Christian book naturally cause Christians a great deal of cognitive dissonance. That has led to the branch of Christian proselytizing known as apologetics. Apologetics is a full-time job for many Christians because they have decided a book of tribal wisdom written between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago is relevant as an instruction manual for life. This manual contains contradicting and often highly irrational advice.

Apologists spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to justify why they think the rest of us should believe old texts which are not backed up by evidence or data. These people come up with all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and make their untenable positions seem more palatable. As an example, they call people who believe in science and data-driven decision-making scientists. They claim scientism is itself a religion while conveniently avoiding that science does not claim supernatural authority. Science is simply the requirement that knowledge claims be based on evidence. Apologists make claims not based on any evidence while trying to convince others to join in. Scientists test the evidence and then invite others to examine it and benefit from whatever knowledge it reveals.

Here is an example website full of apologists:

Purportedly this website is about exploring the intersectionality of science and faith. The reality is that there is no intersectionality because these two domains are fundamentally incompatible. If you look into the funding for "Science Religion Dialogue," you discover the John Templeton Foundation, an apologist organization. This foundation spends its resources and energy paying scientists to make dubious claims about the compatibility of faith and science.

"A devout Presbyterian born and raised in Tennessee, John M. Templeton launched the extremely successful Templeton mutual funds in the 1950s and became a billionaire. He started spending serious money to promote his religious values in 1972, when he established the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities. The prize, which Templeton stipulated should exceed the Nobel Prize in monetary value, now totals almost $1.5-million and is awarded in Buckingham Palace. Previous winners include Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Charles W. Colson, the born-again Watergate convict. Over the past 20 years, most of the winners have been scientists who see inklings of the divine in nature, including Paul Davies, Freeman J. Dyson, John C. Polkinghorne, and Charles Hard Townes." - John Horgan.

Wealthy individuals invested in a particular worldview can do a lot of damage by spreading it (when the worldview is toxic). That is what has and is happening because of Templeton's Christianity. His foundation is trying to present fantasy and fact as compatible. They are not when it comes to making authoritative claims about how the universe around us functions.

Psychologically once someone invests in the dogma of a religion, they enter the territory of something called the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy makes it harder and harder to look at the world critically or see logical and rational flaws in your beliefs and the teachings of any groups you belong to. The primary topic of our next installment is how religious groups and individuals waste time and energy because of the sunk cost fallacy.

Thanks for reading.

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The Birth of Islam

What is the Shi'a-Sunni divide?

Timeline of modern Sunni-Shi'a tensions

The Templeton Foundation: A Skeptic's Take