Monday, 27 January 2014

Leftists typically deny that Religion is a powerful motivator of human behaviour


The Left (which is intrinsically secular) always explains-away religious commitment and even martyrdom as being due to either social/ economic factors or mental illness.


So - for example - highly devout behaviour (e.g. people voluntarily giving large chunks of their time, effort and money to church projects) is explained in terms of them 'buying' various social support and benefits, and enjoying solidarity.

Or else it is explained in terms of brain-washing (from childhood). Or maybe in terms of religions terrorizing people by anything from fear of violence and murder; to fear of adverse gossip, shunning, expulsion.

In the event of religious aggression or war, the cause is not ascribed to the religion - but to something else such as oppression, exploitation, inequality, poverty, nationalism, economic self-interest, class conflicts, appropriation of resources... anything-but religion or religious difference.

Likewise martyrdom (voluntary self sacrifice for the faith) is explained in terms of the martyr either gaining tangible benefits such as status, power or money for relatives or the community (or penalties on these people for failing to martyr oneself); or more often in terms of mental deficiency such as being too dumb to recognize their own manipulation, or a frenzied and unrealistic enthusiasm or delirium (like a berserker rage or a violent drunk) or delusional 'fanaticism' where a psychiatrically sick person is operating on the basis of a pathological state such as delusions or hallucinations.


Some such non-religious reason is always ascribed for highly-motivated behaviour in the name of religion; because secular people simply cannot believe that actual religion is a real, powerful motivation - simply because they themselves do not share it.

For modern secular people, religions are merely a mixture of wishful-thinking fantasy, social solidarities and manipulations, and rationalized hatred; hence religion is just not the kind of thing which could motivate extreme commitment - and any evidence of apparent commitment therefore must really be due to... something else


Yet religion is, in fact - and very obviously, potentially the most powerful of all human motivations.

And insofar as a society lacks religion - to that extent the society is demotivated.



Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex T asks: "...It doesn't explain why Hitchens, Dawkins, and others spend so much time and effort lambasting Christianity. Is that a hole in your theory or am i missing something?"

Bruce Charlton answers - I was supposing that they fell into the category of attributing religious motivation to mental illness and social manipulation and an excuse for hatred etc.

asdf said...

This is exactly the opinion I got out of Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind". He actually speaks fondly of religion as useful, but only as a utilitarian tool that people on the left under appreciate.

On the whole I think such an attitude misses the point/is potentially dangerous. Not because the left backing off religion would be so terrible, but because they might get involved without believing or wanting to believe since religion is just a tool for the manipulation of the masses. I'm just a laymen, but a lot of what Jesus preached seemed to focus on this particular problem.

Myself, I came around to the faith specifically because of a moment of sacrifice I could not explain with materialism or utilitarianism and had to ascribe to God. Without the believe that religion is actually true you get a lot of play actors that turn hypocrite when it really matters. This is probably more damaging to the faith then a outsiders making fun of it.

I guess the big question Haidt raises in his book is the fact that genetics seems to play a big role in religiosity. As you read you get the feeling he knows there is something important missing, but because its missing he just can't do anything about it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - I don't exactly dislike Haidt but I cannot be bothered to read him - at least not for longer than an essay-length - since he is such a mundane and pedestrian thinker compared with the best in the field - nothing surprising, exciting, incisive...

"I think such an attitude misses the point/is potentially dangerous."

I don't think it is dangerous because it is so utterly ineffectual and uninspiring. The secular elite will need to be born again and really believe that God is real if they would be induced to give-up the excitements and distractions of the sexual revolution. For instance those who have multiple serial marriages and multiple intense affairs would have to become monogamous; and those who currently average scores of casual sexual partners a year, would have to become celibate. It would seem, for them, too high price a to pay for something as vague and woolly as 'a better society' from which they would benefit only partly and after many years.

I think the (real) danger of hypocritical pseudo-religion and manipulation is in an already religious society - the opposite kind to ours.

After failing to destroy it, Stalin used the Orthodox church to manipulate the population - but Russia was (until 1917) probably the most deeply and intensely Christian society in the world (except for the intellectuals).

Adam G. said...

Understanding religion as a tool undermines its usefulness as a tool. Religion is only useful if its accepted for something other than its use.

Though even an interest in its utlity may be the crack that God uses to pry open a heart to Him.

asdf said...

With a lot of these authors whether you like their conclusions or not they often have or reference great data in their work. For instance I really liked the discussion of the study of people who had the emotional centers of their brains damaged and what affect it had.

You just need to know what to throw away. For instance his "harmless" stories all involved instances of obvious harm, and while he kind of gets it might be there he just can't see it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - I used to be very interested by this area -

Bookslinger said...

Under the heading of "Gratuitous assertions may be just as gratuitously denied" one might say that atheists are the ones being brainwashed to ignore their internal spiritual receptors. And if one were to accept their claim of having no internal spiritual receptors, then their absense could be described as a handicap.

George said...

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - A tipping point.

One significant disagreement is when Putin said: "This is the path to degradation.”

It is not the path - the West has already arrived at degradation - it really has; the measure of which is that we are so degraded as barely to be aware of our degradation.