The Worldly Appeal of Religious Observance

Writing in Slate, Judith Shulevitz visits a 1994 article by economist Lawrence Iannaccone, “Why Strict Churches Are Strong,” to consider whether there are some very good reasons for people to submit to the moral strictures of a church. Shulevitz observes,

“. . . 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.

“What does the pious person get in return for all of his or her time and effort? A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another’s lives and more willing than most to come to one another’s aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams. Religion is a ‘”commodity” that people produce collectively,’ says Iannaccone. ‘My religious satisfaction thus depends both on my “inputs” and those of others.’ If a rich and textured spiritual experience is what you seek, then a storefront Holy Roller church or an Orthodox shtiebl is a better fit than a suburban church made up of distracted, ambitious people who can barely manage to find a morning free for Sunday services, let alone several evenings a week for text study and volunteer work.”

Shulevitz points out that a church that becomes too restrictive creates a situation in which the costs to an individual outweigh the rewards, and she astutely notes that “America, one of the few countries with no state religion and a truly open market in religion, should be home to so many varieties of fundamentalism and orthodoxy. The explosive growth of conservative Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and the slow decline of more genteel denominations such as Episcopalianism may well represent not the triumph of reactionary forces, but the natural outcome of religious competition.”

In describing churches as liberal or conservative, it is important to note, Shulevitz is talking about the level of commitment they expect from their members, not a political position.

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10 thoughts on “The Worldly Appeal of Religious Observance

  1. Viewed from a larger persepctive it becomes clear that there is a sizable chunk of the population that prefers a constricting environement. They become accoustomed even addicted to have the restraints and conformity placed upon them.

    In other words the reason that strict churches are popular are exactly the same as why people often love a vicious autocrat and why ex-inmates often long to go back to the regimented prison life. Some people are just afraid to be free.

  2. Deleting posts again? Do you realize how petty this makes you appear? Is it so threatening to hear a different perspective that you have to rush to silence it?

  3. Wow. I just noticed that some of the comments I read last night are missing.

    Deleting comments (none of which were rude or off-topic) completely undercuts any arguments you will make, ever, Mr. Karnick. It’s the blogger equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la!” at the top of your lungs. It is, quite simply, dishonest, and a violation of trust in public discourse.

    If you don’t want to potentially see argument or negative comments, disable comments on your blog. You can be better than this.

    Sincerely,

    Jim

  4. Wow. I just noticed that some of the comments I read last night are missing.

    Deleting comments (none of which were rude or off-topic) completely undercuts any arguments you will make, ever, Mr. Karnick. It’s the blogger equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la!” at the top of your lungs. It is, quite simply, dishonest, and a violation of trust in public discourse.

    If you don’t want to potentially see argument or negative comments, disable comments on your blog. You can be better than this.

    Sincerely,

    Jim

  5. Rather than disable comments entirely, I have deleted those that have personal items injected in them. How one wishes to evaluate that policy is entirely up to that individual.—STK

  6. Or so you claim. Without the deleted comments to back you up, we really don’t know what you removed.

    If the paucity of substance in the posts you removed is as you claim, then they should collapse under their own weight (or lack thereof). You give readers no way to judge this on their own.

  7. Just to be clear, I have not said that the posts were entirely without substance, just that they included personal comments I do not choose to have on the site. Any statements that do not question the motives, intelligence, character, etc. of other individuals commenting on the site have always been allowed and will continue to be so privileged.

    The other contributors to this site likewise have the authority to decide how to handle such situations for themselves, and I have not done anything to comments directed toward them.

    It is my intent that this site should be a reasonable discussion of issues and not a forum for personal attacks. Heated argument is one thing, and it is common in the comments area of the site, but everyone knows how to argue without questioning others’ motives, character, etc. If a commenter is in doubt as to whether a statement is acceptable, he or she should simply strike it out; surely the world will not end if a person refrains from possibly offending a neighbor.

    To any individuals who may be tempted at this point to hurl imprecations of censorship, cowardice, and the like, as has been done already, I should like to point out that this is our club and we shall have the rules that suit us best. When we visit your homes, we will show equally good manners by following the rules you set or not imposing our presence on you at all.

    As to whether I am telling the truth about the deleted comments, a look at the dozens of critical comments on the site should provide sufficient evidence to refute any such suspicions. For those who would choose to remain skeptical in the face of that copious evidence, that is surely their prerogative, and I can only bid them a fond adieu.—STK

  8. “Heated argument is one thing, and it is common in the comments area of the site, but everyone knows how to argue without questioning others’ motives, character, etc.”

    Except that you are posting about a subject matter that is at the core of both your motives and your character so my post explaining aspects of it you took as a personal attack. It’s a nice circle you’ve constructed since it allows you to delete any post you dislike and claim (accurately) that it was in regards to your character.

  9. Personal comments are not welcome in this discussion, regardless of the commenter’s beliefs about whether they are justified. As noted earlier, those who wish to engage in such activities have many other places in which to do so.—STK

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