Investment: an obstacle to insight

Religion is a huge package — it is not just ‘beliefs’, in fact, as I have written in other posts, most believers aren’t ‘belief’ centered. Lots of good stuff can come with a religion, but if you are trying to get a believer to see through their erroneous beliefs, one of the greatest obstacles is the believer’s investments that their confessions.

Often, before engaging in a huge debate over beliefs, it pays to find out what it would cost a person to change their beliefs.  Here are some of the common investments:

  • Family & Friends
    • extended family: coming from a highly religious family — parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles,with all the holidays, get-togethers and such. If they leave that may be highly damaged.
    • spouse: if your spouse is a fervent believer, changing beliefs can rock your whole life
    • children: if raised you kids religious and you change, you’d have to explain to them that what you programmed them with was mistaken.
    • church friends: belonging to a church for years with your deepest longest friendships in the church would mean loss of a network of support, love and meaning.
  • Career
    • work for a religious organization or are a minister and have no other strong job training except in your religion.
  • Identity
    • everybody differs on how they build their identity — their anchors into meaning in life.  Family and career are big ones, but for many folks even a label can be use to build some sort of security.  For me, this is hard to imagine, but over the years, I have found that I am unusual in this regard.  Most people clamor for identity.

For me, if I became Christian again, I would benefit: No cost, all gain! I would have a great testimony to tell. My community is largely evangelical Christian so I would greatly expand my circle of friends. My family, like me, is religiously tolerant so I would lose my families love or support, though they may chuckle a bit, we’d remain very close with no conflict.

So compare the Christian with the investments above, and my self discussing the claims of Christianity (or imagine a Muslim or Jew or Hindu with the same situation). How objective can that conversation be? If you think it could be objective, you don’t understand how the human mind works — how your own mind works.

Obvious Caveat: Investment obstacles do not just apply to religion. I have seen it in both medicine (doubting the efficacy of ‘community practice’ in modern medicine) and culture (bicultural marriages), just to name two.  But people are invested differently — explore that.





Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Investment: an obstacle to insight

  1. I agree with you about investment.

    When I dropped out of religion, I had almost no investment. And I still wonder if that is part of why I found it very easy to drop out.

    I’m inclined to say that this is what liberal Christianity is all about. It’s a way of maintaining the investment, while downplaying the dogma.

  2. @ Neil,

    Some folks have such huge cognitive dissonance (usually through some experiences: “God is all loving and cares for me” vs “My child was just raped” ) that they are willing to chance to loss of investment. (My travels did this to me).

    Some folks have to slowly extricate themselves from the investments (leave the church, divorce, move to another town, quit their job a a pastor) until they are comfortable dropping the beliefs so that the pain in not as severe. Step by step reconversion. (I did a bit of this one. I moved towns. I was invested).

    So I had a mix of both. I largely agree with you about Liberal Christianity. They are, in my experience, particularly blind to the investments. Some of those are social standing, “respectability”, larger audience, voice and much more. Liberal Christianity thrives in Christian privileged countries. Ironically, they feed of the privilege they claim to be fighting.

  3. Ian

    I moved, too, to defang my investment. But I’d mentally left before I ‘came out’ and suffered the drop in my social equity.

    I think investment is important, and I think evangelism often works the other way, as a con-game. Where, for a small commitment, you are promised a disproportionate gain, in love, respect, place in the community. And only after you’ve done that are you ratcheted for everything else you have. Until ‘investment’ is ‘sunk cost’: the desire not to feel stupid about yourself.

  4. Good points, but surely truth must override everything. I know it doesn’t with the highly religious, but it should.

    I had a theist a few months ago blow my mind. he admitted it was all nonsense. He understood fully there certainly was no god of the Bible and probably no gods at all. He, however, remained a theist because, as he said, “It comforts me.”

  5. @ Ian,
    Great example of the Sunk Cost con game. Very true.

    @ John,
    I’ve written many posts trying to illustrate how religion is far, far more than truth propositions. So, to believers, one of the ‘truths’ is the value of shared family tradition, community and such. Doctrine plays a very little role for most believers. Much like anachronist movie mistakes are missed by most viewers — they are their for the ride — the ride is the greater truth, not the details. This is something “All-religions-is-stupid” atheists get wrong all the time.

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