Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Pedantic Protestant Solves Yet Another Pressing Problem

Why Strict Churches Are Strong is an article that asks why people join "strict churches."

Here is some of the wisdom disseminated in the article:

You wouldn't expect an economist to do a better job than the religious at explaining religion. But one has, using the amoral language of rational choice theory, which reduces people to "rational agents" who "maximize utility," that is, act out of self-interest. (Economists assume that people are rational for methodological reasons, not because they believe it.) In his 1994 essay "Why Strict Churches Are Strong," which has become quite influential in the sociology of religion, economist Laurence Iannaccone makes the counterintuitive case that people choose to be strictly religious because of the quantifiable benefits their piety affords them, not just in the afterlife but in the here and now.

Iannaccone starts by asking why people join strict churches, given that doing so exacts such a high price. Eccentric customs invite ridicule and persecution; membership in a marginal church may limit chances for social and economic advancement; rules of observance bar access to apparently innocent pleasures; the entire undertaking squanders time that could have been spent amusing or improving oneself.

According to Iannaccone, the devout person pays the high social price because it buys a better religious product. The rules discourage free riders, the people who undermine group efforts by taking more than they give back. The strict church is one in which members with weak commitments have been weeded out. Raising fees for membership doesn't work nearly as well as raising the opportunity cost of joining, because fees drive away the poor, who have the least to lose when they volunteer their time, and who also have the most incentive to pray. Fees also encourage the rich to substitute money for piety.

The Pedantic Protestant wishes to offer a radical and daring hypothesis that is sure to make him the darling of the sociology of religion community. Perhaps people join what the author calls a strict church because .....

[make sure you're firmly seated....]

[can you handle the upcoming profundity?]

[brace yourself!]

They think that what the church teaches is OBJECTIVELY TRUE.

I expect the honorary doctorates from the big-name universities to begin rolling in now that I've solved this pressing problem. [The PP will now work on a cure for cancer --- get back to him in a week.]

We live in an age where just about anything goes, provided that one doesn't attempt to justify one's position by appealing to objective and timeless truth. To do so is to invite ridicule and the negative branding by such descriptions as logocentrist, slave to the Enlightenment [or modernism], intolerant, judgmental, not in keeping with our enlightened modern times, sectarian, and so on. Popular discussions of religion frequently are held at the level of an Oprah show, and the quest for tolerance, multiculturalism, etc, has made the categories true and false , supported by good evidence and not supported by good evidence embarrassing anachronisms that should stay in their obscure darkened spot in the corner of the basement. As a result, the idea that somebody believes something because it has warrant, or strong evidence, or is simply true, is rarely broached, and only in the same hushed and gunshy tones that are on par with those of the blushing parents who are teaching Junior the birds and the bees.

In a similar vein, Screwtape tells young Wormwood:

...But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons, we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous --- that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.

Screwtape Letter #1 by CS Lewis.


Anonymous 1689 said...

But try telling the Liberals that. Bishop Spong (the awful degenerate offspring of the 19th Century Liberals, who would be horrified to see him) and the United Reformed Church (the sewer into which English Liberalism flows), are convinced that they are the future. They are, of course, utterly mistaken. They are the PAST.

Monday, May 23, 2005 11:41:00 AM  

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