Why some believers are fiercely devout, while others are indifferent.

  1. Varying levels of devotion

  2. Challenges help to boost the perceived value of faith

  3. We're attracted to strong, confident believers

  4. Humans rally around strong leaders

  5. What happens when the faith of a religious leader wanes?
Varying levels of devotion
All believers lie along a spectrum, in terms of their commitment to faith and the strength of their beliefs.

On one end are those individuals who firmly believe that God exists, and that they should uphold the doctrines of their religion.

On the other end are those who do not believe in God, and who do not heed the principles espoused by their religion.

You might argue that the latter group of people are not believers at all; however, given that it's impossible to discern the true beliefs of another individual, and that many people who claim to have faith actually do not, non-believers can also be thought of as occupants of this spectrum, albeit at the extreme end.

Each individual possesses varying amounts of confidence at different points in time. Sometimes you feel very confident that God exists, and your life experiences reinforce this sense of certainty. At other times, you're less sure.

Our brains get into certain habits of thinking- if we allow ourselves to dwell on our doubts, we tend grow increasingly doubtful. If we tell ourselves that our faith is steadfast, this helps to boost our levels of certainty, to a degree.

The more we persuade ourselves that we're convinced, the more we surround ourselves with people who are convinced, and the more often we make public demonstrations of faith (by singing, dancing, speaking in tongues, and proselytising), the better we're able to convince ourselves.

Ambiguity exists in every situation, but we usually try to minimise the amount of ambiguity, in order to maximise our comfort levels. Leaders often extol the benefits of being ‘convicted,’ or having high levels of confidence in one’s faith.

There's no way to absolutely ascertain the strength of someone else’s faith- all we can do is gauge whether a person appears confident.

To a degree, we can also gauge the amount of confidence we have in our assessment of someone else’s levels of faith, e.g. ‘I am confident that my leader is confident,’ or ‘I am somewhat confident that my leader is confident.’
Challenges help to boost the perceived value of faith
If we've to jump through hoops and put ourselves through ordeals in order to proclaim our faith (at the recommendation of our religious institution), then we find it harder to retract our statements and abandon previously-held beliefs.

When children are dressed in religious clothing, taught the ins and outs of intricate rituals, when teenagers are encouraged to knock on strangers’ doors to share their faith or sing songs of worship, when one performs any acts in the name of faith, one’s mind and behaviour are being moulded.
We're attracted to strong, confident believers
In certain religious circles, believers frequently make statements such as, “Are you convicted? Where is your conviction? I want to hear the conviction in your voice!”

Those of us who strive to strengthen our faith like to associate with believers who are devout and confident about their beliefs.

For any given point in time, there're always individuals whose levels of confidence appear high. These are the ones to whom we turn when the going gets tough.

When we establish connections with our religious institutions, and with individuals who are truly devout, such as our leaders, we feel as if we have an additional, indirect connection to God. This confers an extra level of security upon the steadfastness of our faith. Furthermore, the stronger one’s leader’s bond with God, the more secure one’s ‘backup’ connection. Followers may only be subconsciously aware that they feel this way.

When people (religious leaders included) have doubts about their faith, and cannot resolve their questions on their own, they turn to individuals who claim to have the answers and, furthermore, are confident about their faith.
Humans rally around strong leaders
Believers draw strength from fellow-believers whose faith seems unshakeable, particularly prominent individuals such as pastors, ministers and priests.

Religious leaders are distinguished from ordinary believers by the need to maintain high confidence levels throughout their career. Their congregation demands and expects this- if you're not convinced, then you shouldn't get the job.

This is partly because followers are less committed- financially, emotionally, and spiritually- to their religious institution than their leaders are. Followers can afford to posses a degree of uncertainty in their beliefs, that leaders cannot. Our leaders have been ordained by God. Thus, we tend to think of them as having an especially close connection with God.

This predisposes us to idealise our leaders. We like to think of them as godly, upright, and almost flawless, because this makes us seem like better believers, through passive diffusion.
What happens when the faith of a religious leader wanes?
What happens when a leader's confidence in God is sapped? What happens when a believer realises that his or her beliefs (no matter how useful and intuitive) are simply products of physical processes in the brain, and do not emerge supernaturally, through the interventions of some deity?

It’s difficult for leaders when faith declines. Much energy is spent battling doubt and agonising over the fact that the strength of their personal relationship with God affects their followers directly.

Members of the congregation look to their leaders for guidance. We much prefer to be led by someone who has God’s fire running through their blood, than by someone who's in the grips of uncertainty.

This makes it difficult for leaders to voice or confront their doubts. Acknowledgement of their existence may cause followers to feel dissatisfied, discouraged, and angry. Leaders are required to project an aura of confidence, whether they genuinely feel it or not.

When concerns cannot be openly discussed, they fester and spread throughout the population of believers. Issues are left unspoken and certain topics become taboo. These are examples of the negative consequences that result, when leaders are appointed based on factors (such as strength of faith) that cannot be measured impartially by external observers.
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