Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Evolution of Religion and Why Being Religious is (Usually) Hard

Brad Plumer wonders how strict religions survive.

To understand religions, we must understand the evolution of a religion. Every religion begins as an attempt to rearrange the social order, and thus must involve some quasi-anti-materialist quality since the materially plentiful rarely need to upset the social order. However, most successful religions have origins that can be interpreted as a liberalization of the existing religious practices for broader audiences and/or convenience.

After a religion has become relatively established, gradually more and more strict interpretation of the set of norms and mores is driven by attempt to maximize individuals’ own access to the resources of the society defined by the religion through display of piety. Since pleasurable displays of faith are easier to replicate, more difficult displays of faith are necessary in the tournament competition to be considered pious. In other words: Since not everybody can be “pious” (and thus entitled to the various societal rewards of that designation), but everybody can feast in celebration, it will take more then stuffing your face to be designated as pious. So the religion escalates in a war of masochistic piety over the resources of the religion, possibly fracturing, until the people get fed up and have a new reform movement.

I was going to write a long post about how this paradigm applies to Judaism, the split of Rabbinic off of the Tzedukim (Sadducee) tradition; Saul’s Christianity, the eventual calcification of the Roman branch and reform; Confucianism, Buddhism, and Marxianity, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.


Blogger Neil Sinhababu said...

Every religion begins as an attempt to rearrange the social order.
Certainly this isn't a necessary characteristic of religions. The powerful might start a religion with the intention of entrenching and consolidating their power.

3:56 PM  
Blogger TheJew said...

Generally it is easier to buy an existing religious structure, or just steal its appearence and legitimacy, treating piety as a commodity that can be purchased. Like Henry VIII or Charles V did.

3:08 AM  

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