religion startups 101

the import mind.reason guy has a long post up about how to create your own religion (and profit from it). Though he warns you not to create silly religions, his post is itself obviously tongue-in-cheek – though he does give decent enough advice. The piece is patently un-serious not because the author is giving obviously bad advice (he seems to be describing the founding of many of our current crop of religions) but because he has the wrong idea of what a religion should be. To be precise, he thinks you can create a new religion today by concocting a catchy new dogma/ethics and being charismatic about it. That is indeed what scientology and mormonism seem to have done. However, this does not constitute the core of their success, nor is it what religion is actually about (anymore).

Religion is not a foolish set of ideas to which people adhere for irrational or emotional reasons. The dogma religions preach is but a means to the end of creating community and helping people get through life and the world. The famed Credo quia absurdum est (i believe because it is absurd) is not an admission of stupidity, but an indicator that the content of the credo is not in-and-of-itself important, but serves a specific function: people will believe anything, but only if it helps them to create community and gives them hope. One could well imagine that the implausibility or absurdity of the diverse religious dogmas is precisely the glue that binds their communities together.

The aforementioned theoretician of religiogenesis is right that you might need some set of wild ideas to get the whole thing started, but it will only work if you have a plan for why the religion will be useful. Religion is no exception to the exacting rules of nature: only that which works and is useful survives in the long run. If you are going to create a new religion, you must first figure out what problems you want to solve (they are usually the problems of your current religion) and how to solve them. If any dogma is required, it will only the means to that solution and must be tailored to fit.

Of course, we are probably (and hopefully) fast approaching a time when religions will entirely divest themselves of implausible dogmas and find other means to their ends. But it will always remain a fact that successful religions invariably serve a specific and very useful purpose, however obsolete their tools might prove to be.

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One Comment to “religion startups 101”

  1. I’m convinced that religion served and continues to serve a purpose in society. I just happen to think that it’s obsolete. Religion is not the only tool you can use to achieve the effects you get from religion, and I don’t think it’s the best tool either. That’s why I think it’s stupid to long for “a religion of science and reason” – what’s the point in replacing one dogma with the other? Science and critical thinking do not lend themselves easily to the spoon-feeding of opinions that religion has come to represent.

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