Why we crave stability from our religious institutions.

People tend to associate religion and its institutions with tradition, lofty ideals, solemnity, and resistance to change. These characteristics might not sound immediately appealing, but they arise, in fact, from qualities that are highly desirable and serve to attract believers, rather than repel them.

Here are some functions of religion: Let us examine these functions in more detail:
To offer serious instruction about life, and deliver crucial information about God.
Religion guides our conduct and belief systems. It offers insights about God, the human soul, and the spiritual world. Religion is able, or claims to be able, to describe the nature of God, the origin and evolution of humankind, and the state of the universe.

We place so much faith in religious teachings that they determine the moral codes by which we live. We believe that the fate of our souls depends on the degree to which we are able to meet these standards. These are weighty topics, to say the least.

If you believe that religious doctrines are universally applicable, then you tend to expect a high level of continuity and consistency in the way these standards are formed and applied.

Intuitively, we imagine that while the specific ways in which rules are applied might differ somewhat from person to person (depending on their unique situation), at a broad, all-encompassing level, there exists some perfectly organised system that brings the standards logically and coherently together. Anything less seems rather messy and imprecise.

We expect our religious doctrines to be enduring, true, broadly applicable and accurate down to the last detail, simultaneously- these are high expectations! Furthermore, these doctrines must address a wide spectrum of topics, from the trivial to the profound.

Little wonder that the dictates of religion are often so solemn and inflexible- things that change rapidly and easily tend to be perceived as unstable and fickle, and we'd probably be less than impressed with doctrines that can be too easily adapted to suit our fancies.

If the tenets of religion were concerned primarily with breezy topics, and neglected life-and-death issues, it'd be hard to take them seriously and abide by their mandates.
To stress the importance of leading a God-fearing life.
The fact that religious institutions reiterate their doctrines and belabour their points serves as an indicator of how vital these teachings are to believers. Our perception of how important a message is tend to be correlated with how often we hear it and how convincingly it’s delivered.

In general, messages that are unimportant, irrelevant, inaccurate, and dull, do not bear repeating, whereas those that are consequential and relevant become widely propagated and accepted. When believers receive consistent, unvarying messages, they perceive their religion as stable, dependable, and reliable, and are willing to place their faith in its teachings.

Keep in mind, however, that if we come across a statement numerous times, that does not mean it is true. In advertising and the media, for instance, the frequency with which a message is heard, and the assurance with which it is made, depend more on how successfully a company executed its marketing campaign, and how much was spent on the campaign, than on the actual merit of the products being sold.
To provide opportunities for individuals who are lost in sin to gain redemption.
This applies to religions that encourage proselytising. According to these religions, it’s crucial to preach the tenets of one’s faith- it gives non-believers a decent chance to hear, convert, and save themselves.

Since souls are at stake, religious exponents are often highly motivated to promote their beliefs tirelessly. It's hardly surprising that believers may sometimes come across as moralizing and self-righteous. If you firmly believe that others will benefit from hearing your message, and you genuinely care about their wellbeing, then sounding preachy is an unfortunate but bearable side effect of following your strong desire to do good.
To perform these tasks in an assured, convincing manner.
Dealing with uncertainty can be exhausting, frustrating, and, at the very least, time- and energy-consuming. This is especially so when it comes to issues that affect us deeply, such as ‘Who am I?’ ‘Does God exist?’ ‘What happens after death?’ ‘What is my purpose in life?’

We take great comfort in the fact that religion makes strong assertions. We want a God who knows the answer to all our questions. This is similar to the way in which we want our human leaders and experts to not only possess extensive, accurate knowledge of their field, but also to deliver their opinions and advice in an authoritative manner.

In the context of medicine, for example, this is known as the ‘bedside manner’- the professional air that doctors adopt when interacting with patients, in order to inspire confidence and provide emotional reassurance. During discussions, unnecessary ambiguity is left out or deemphasised, and divulgence of information depends on the patient’s willingness and capacity for hearing details about their situation.

Medical personnel make decisions on behalf of their patients, and have to deliver their opinions with conviction and a prudent level of optimism. Otherwise, they risk causing anxiety and losing the psychological benefits that often accompany a positive attitude.
comments courtesy of Disqus

background image