Social Conformity - Disabling Religious Replicators
By Steve Gillman
Note: This is a continuation from Disabling
the Religious Replicators - Holy Books.
Religious replicators are covered here: Natural
Selection in the Viral Spread of Religion.
Replication Strategy: Social Conformity
Social conformity keeps many people in the religion they're
born into. Ask anyone who has ever considered leaving the faith
of their family and friends. Going against the group is not easy.
This tendency to conform to the group also often encourages
people to participate in evil plans or tolerate them. For example,
Pope John Paul's personal crusade against condom use in Africa
resulted in the deaths of millions from AIDs (the exact numbers
are disputed, but is that important?). Probably most Catholics
do not agree with this idea that condoms are evil, but they say
nothing. The power of social conformity comes into play. Nobody
else in the faith was speaking out against the pope, so why should
Think for a moment what it is like for a man or woman to be
in a religion, and have almost everyone else he or she knows
in that same religion. To speak against the faith is very difficult.
It may mean losing friends and family. It may feel wrong, like
one is attacking the others in their social group by attacking
their beliefs. It is difficult to contemplate being alone for
speaking the truth one sees.
How do we overcome this powerful force of social conformity
that ties people to their religions? here are a few suggestions.
Create New Social Groups
The most obvious way to overcome the specific effects of social
conformity in religion is to use this tool in reverse. In other
words, get religious people to be a part of a group of non-religious
people, so they'll tend to conform to the beliefs of these people.
It's a simple solution, but only partly effective, and conformity
itself may be damaging to the independent rational thinking we
hope to encourage.
On the other hand, we can recognize the real need people have
for association with others, and make this a part of the plan.
A desire to leave his religion may be encouraged by letting a
man know of others who have left it. This would make it easier
for him to take the step, because he is reminded that he's not
the only one.
Exposing The Religious To New Ideas
An important part of some religions is isolation form "outsiders,"
even when members live among them. In these cases, we may accomplish
some good by exposing those who are in isolated religious groups
to new ideas. Often intelligent people are in a faith only by
circumstance and because of limited exposure to the alternatives.
Simply having access to literature and people who have different
ideas may be all some need to start the process of getting rid
of their religion. They may come to identify more strongly with
these other people and ideas they read about than those they
see around them, and so they may overcome the fear of leaving
Be Welcoming and Tolerant
Probably the worst thing we can do is to personally attack
people of religious faith. It is one thing to attack the religion
itself, and perhaps a good idea to point out the hypocrisy of
its leaders. But personal verbal attacks against individual members
of a religion will mostly backfire. It demonstrates a lack of
compassion, but this is only part of the reason for its ineffectiveness.
When a person is attacked, even with nothing more than a comment,
she feels the need to defend herself. When attacked for her beliefs,
she'll also defend her faith. She will attempt to convince you,
others and (most importantly) herself of the rightness of the
faith. Obviously, this does not encourage an open mind which
is receptive to change.
If we want to truly help religious people change their beliefs,
rather than just argue with them, we have to be more welcoming
and tolerant. What a shame to chase a man away if you're the
only reasonable non-religious person he has ever been exposed
to. Despite their religions, most people share a basic sense
of morality in any case, and don't take their religious tenets
seriously enough to hurt others purposely.
In other words, it is only ignorance and fear that keeps most
people faithful to the nonsense of religion. They are not evil
people. This important point requires some exploration.
Let's consider for a moment how our grandfathers and grandmothers
were silent or approving as U.S. citizens were put in concentration
camps for the crime of being Japanese. They were silent as more
than 100,000 innocent people were burned alive by pouring gasoline
on them in Dresden Germany (we call this terrorism now). We could
go further back to a time when many of our family owned slaves.
The point? We are talking about ordinary people anticipating
in or tolerating horrible crimes out of ignorance, not evil intent.
Consider the incredibly racist attitudes of 1940s, and how many
of these same people were still alive - and with new opinions
- after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. People do change,
and they often are only approving of or participating in evil
because of true ignorance.
Now to get back to the matter of religion and social conformity.
The religious people of the world are mostly decent people. They
truly do not understand the danger and immorality of their religious
ideas. They are afraid of outsiders, of non-believers, and if
we push them away or attack them, we confirm their fears and
contribute to their reactive reaffirming of faith, and to their
conformity to their group, which to them feels comfortable and
safe, after all.
Thus, though it is difficult to stomach the nonsense and truly
immoral ideas that spew from the mind and mouth of a religious
person, it is not useful to cast blame on him or her. We have
all been ignorant and all still are in many ways. Let he who
is without sin cast the first stone, or better yet, let's just
all stop casting stones at each other.
An acceptance of people as they are does not imply that we
approve of their beliefs. If asked, we should express our own
beliefs - even those which will shock and offend a person. However,
if our opinion is not asked, we should not try to shove our ideas
down anyone's throat. Be who you are and let others be who they
are, and in this tolerance it is possible that the heart of the
religious person will be opened to see the truth.