“Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers,” he says. “It’s a sort of crime against childhood.”
It’s rather like my cousin telling me that he got so annoyed with the questions of his young boys that he started telling them that “Joe” invented everything. You know … why is the sky blue … because Joe made it that way. After a while his son caught on and stopped asking.
… Observers of cult phenomena … agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt.
Mitch Horowitz adds three more:
… Financial control and extreme leadership.
Financial control translates into levying ruinous dues or fees, or effectively hiring members and placing them on stipends … a friend of mine—today a respected officer with a nonprofit organization—who recalls how his departure from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church was complicated by the problem of a massive hole in his résumé
Problems with extremist leadership can be more difficult to spot.
Yet every coercive religious group harbors one telltale trait: untoward secrecy. As opposed to a cult, a religious culture ought to be as simple to enter or exit, for members or observers, as any free nation. Members should experience no impediment to relationships, ideas or travel, and the group's finances should be reasonably transparent. Its doctrine need not be conventional—but it should be knowable to outsiders
So, here’s 7 questions. I have no guidance for how you’re supposed to weight these, or judge where the borderline between religion and cult is:
Does someone monitor and/or judge what you do?
Are you discouraged from reading criticism of your group?
A subject who attended worship services at least weekly was roughly 20% less likely to select an "expressive" brand than one who did not; there was no difference in the functional category.
“Expressive” indicates a brand with some cache:
The researchers classified the products as either "expressive" (Ralph Lauren sunglasses vs. WalMart's) or "functional" (Motrin vs. CVS ibuprofen).
So, I live in Utah, where non-Mormons are wary of expressing their faith†. Does this mean that there’d be better expressive brand identification by non-Mormons in Utah?
† This goes back to the first religious non-Mormons in the then territory - the Presbyterians - who were strongly discouraged from proselytizing to Mormons in any way. To this day, it is common to find Mormons who don’t know that the reason some others don’t proselytize in the state is because they’re trying to get along.
A statistician’s wife gives birth to twins. Excitedly, he calls everyone to share the good news. When he tells the church they say, ‘That’s terrific! Bring them down to church this Sunday, and we’ll baptize them!’
’Uh, let’s just baptize one of them,’ says the statistician. ‘We can keep the other one as a control".
If missionaries have to work as a pair, do they have to be in the same physical room or just the same virtual room?
Often missionaries are paired with one native language speaker, and one non-native speaker. Does this mean this pair has one computer geek and one newbie?
Where are the missionaries located who will be doing this as a general proposition? The line in the sand between doing this from a place like the MTC and doing this from your bedroom in your skivvies is not thick.
Typically parents pay a monthly “fee” to support their kid’s mission work, that is fixed no matter the cost-of-living on the ground. Will that change if some parents start to feel they’re being ripped off?
Do you have to physically wear a white shirt, tie, suit, and nameplate if you’re working virtually?
Is the target audience for this work online at the time that the missionaries are working, or do they work non-standard missionary hours?
The LDS church is aware of quality control problems with missionaries – some kids lie about whom they talk to. How much of this online mission is a response to that?
It seems to me that over the past two hundred years or so, the role of religion has been taken over by the nation-state. That is, four hundred years ago, if you wondered whether you and a stranger would share the same norms, you would want to know the stranger's religion. One hundred years ago, it would have been more important to know the stranger's nationality.
I wonder if nationality is in the process of giving way to something else. Social networks?
He quotes from Mike Gibson discussing Elinor Ostrom’s work:
The same ingredients that come easily in small human groups are more difficult to achieve in larger groups. Large cooperative groups are only possible thanks to the cultural evolution of mechanisms that interface with our genetically evolved psychology of guarded egalitarianism. When religions are viewed from this perspective, they can be seen as highly adapted to promote cooperation by providing the ingredients that would otherwise be lacking at a large scale. Belief in an all-seeing moralistic god tends to be restricted to large-scale societies, for example, suggesting that it is functioning as a monitoring device...
My gosh … this explains a lot about what students don’t like about group projects. Many professors are not very good at policing free-riding, and yet students think this is a major problem with doing group projects. In some ways, they expect professors to be both omnipotent and vengeful.
I think this has some implications for how economists should think about how people feel about recessions.
Back to religion for a moment.
… Some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking.
First, we are able to split our worldview along these lines:
… Our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things - things with minds, or at least volition - and inanimate objects.
... Objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.
… Calls this innate assumption that mind and matter are distinct "common-sense dualism". The body is for physical processes, like eating and moving, while the mind carries our consciousness in a separate - and separable - package. …
There is plenty of evidence that thinking about disembodied minds comes naturally. People readily form relationships with non-existent others: roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters and fantasy partners. As Barrett points out, this is an evolutionarily useful skill. Without it we would be unable to maintain large social hierarchies and alliances or anticipate what an unseen enemy might be planning. "Requiring a body around to think about its mind would be a great liability," he says.
Second, we see patterns where they don’t exist:
The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none.
…Experiments on young children reveal this default state of the mind.
These features lead to something broader than religion:
… Even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking. Bering has seen this too. When one of his students carried out interviews with atheists, it became clear that they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen.
We also suffer for our brainpower:
The problem is something he calls "the tragedy of cognition". Humans can anticipate future events, remember the past and conceive of how things could go wrong …
Now catch this result:
[Whitson and Galinsky] asked people what patterns they could see in arrangements of dots or stock market information. Before asking [they] made half their participants feel a lack of control …
… The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none. … "We were surprised that the phenomenon is as widespread as it is," Whitson says. What's going on, she suggests, is that when we feel a lack of control we fall back on superstitious ways of thinking.
Objects are predictable, thinkers are not.
We see more patterns than are really there.
We’re biased towards seeing more patterns when we feel like we have less control.
Now let’s apply this to the macroeconomy.
What’s predictable about the macroeconomy is growth. What isn’t predictable are deviations from growth that we call recessions (there is a large literature in macroeconomics that recessions are very difficult to predict).
There are correlation patterns for recessions, but macroeconomists know that these are considerably less striking than the public believes. A good catch phrase to identify the macroeconomist in the wild is “this recession isn’t like the last one”.
Consider our current recession, where arguably people feel less in control than for at least a generation: it’s watercooler sport to try and figure out what went wrong, but 2 years ago no one was trying to figure out was going right. The psychologists are telling us this is normal.
Tie all this together, and I see a “spiritual belief” in the cause of recessions. Many people seem to believe that some other, acting with volition, did this to them.
I’m not envisioning a religious explanation, but an argument that runs parallel to religious belief. For many people, there is no more reality to belief in God than there is to investment bankers, real estate developers, Republican lobbyists, big oil, world government conspirators, deficit spenders, insurance companies, the CIA, Arabs, speculators, the Chinese, and so on.
It’s an insult to believers in God to lump all these together.
But, having said that, is the level and depth of belief of people who think someone else caused the recession on purpose any less?
I don’t think so.
Is it any wonder then, that if when religion was stronger we used to burn heretics, that today we have the collective urge to punish just about everyone who might be macroeconomically guilty?
Perhaps we ought to ask people who used to work for Arthur Anderson how they feel about the direction we’re going.
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