Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Starting a religion? Hire a martyr!

Let's take a break from the normal voodoo and get religious. According to a new study, the success of a religion is influenced by martyrs. Want to be a success? Somebody has to take one for the team!

An article in New Scientist summarizes a study that has made the sacrificial link between successful religion and its martyrs. Scientist Joseph Henrich, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of British Columbia (Canada, eh?) found that the bigger the danger and the higher the risk that a believer takes, the bigger the payoff for the religion.  

Take the simple one, running into the enemy's sword at full speed with death the only option (crusades). That would be a martyr.  Dying of torture or the death penalty for not converting your religion (inquisition), that too is a martyr. A high risk, low probability, but under the flag of the religion, yep that's a martyr. Even giving all your money to your church is being a martyr. Even dedicating your life to be a priest or nun rather than a Joe Public worshiper can be considered a martyr for the cause.

We are talking about death by choice, poverty by choice, miracles (often preceded by death by choice) and generally falling on your sword. If coming out the other side alive requires either blind luck or a miracle, the supplicant is more committed to his or her mission and thus seen as a poster child for getting on board and believing that fellow's religion. 

The true measure is sincerity. If you are willing to risk death and dismemberment to save a small child from a rabbit rabbit, no big deal. If the rabbit is ten feet tall, spewing carrot and brimstone fire, and generally evil (i.e. red glowing eyes) and certain death to challenge, well that's sincerity! 

Of course it helps to credit your beliefs, guardian angels, and god(s) involved. Simple bravery is a bit pointless. Gotta have mysticism linked to the religion to ring the marter bell. It's in the rule book.

You could look at it this way; It could be the level of bravery and a poor grasp of statistics with maybe a need to prove something, plus that mystic link. Not knocking Jesus, but anyone else that wants to start a religion or get canonized as a saint, they just need some nails. I think it helps to yell something about remembering the Alamo too.

I don't know why, but there is a lot of comparison in the article between Jesus and Superman. Nobody worships Superman. Poor Superman. I think he needs to make more sacrifices to be the martyr. Say becoming human or braving kryptonite to save the girl. Maybe forgo rewards or super hero salary and work for a living as a reporter as a sacrifice to truth and justice. Seems like sacrifice? Not the stuff of religion. Superman is just brave. He does not do this for his god. Sorry kids, Superman is an atheist. 

Is it a mortal sin to bring a Superman comic to Sunday school?

The article has some other good points to consider. Some of these can certainly apply to pseudoscience. 

Sacrifice begets sacrifice. Maybe because people believe the luck of the first guy, it must be safe if you believe hard enough. Given that we would look like a woos, we have to believe that we believe and then prove it through similar acts. Lemmings....  We see that with stupid people tricks, but it goes for religion too. One guy thinks, wow if I do that I'll get a lot of uTube hits. Second guy sees the hits and figures, why not give it a go, that guy survived, right? 

It's like lemmings (or at least the Disney version wherein a bulldozer provided the motivation). If one jumps off the cliff, the others follow. If one guy gives all his money to the cult, others will see the sincerity and do the same. Not bad if you are a cult leader. Get one rube to give away his money to your cult's bank account and then get followers to do the same. No need to drink the cool-aid when you have willing followers that are thirsty. 

The guy in charge also does not need to make the sacrifices. That's right, the cult leader does not need to be the martyr! All you need are the lemmings. Making lemming-aid from lemmings, sort to speak. Just seed one sacrifice by one rube or even a story about a rube and that is enough. It is that one guy that will be an example. Following your instructions to sacrifice only needs to be done by one volunteer, the rest will follow. Why should you sacrifice when it is all about the believers anyway?

Sacrifice of the martyr doesn't even need to be real. Just tell a damn good story about sacrifice. If the story is believable, it must be real. Given the fact we are pre-wired to believe in miracles, it isn't hard to for a good yarn that yields result. 

There is a lot of history for success in religion and martyrs. It is said that the reason Christianity got so popular in the first and second centuries is because the Romans hatted the Christians. Simply they treated them like dirt. They put them into the Coliseum and had them fight lions. These Christians would go to their deaths willingly and with a prayer. These early Christian martyrs had such conviction in their resurrection, that people believed their beliefs. Because they believed so convincingly and with such low odds and little evidence, they were great martyrs. Some, against the odds would survive and credit God. Perhaps proof or perhaps the others that failed did not pray enough, but in ether case, damn good public relations. Combined we get a lot of martyrs. 

Not knocking your religion. Hey, could be true, but you can see by the psychology that martyrs and belief go hand in hand. 

The idea that being a martyr is good is also a key idea. Sacrifice, like I said, begets sacrifice.  Martyrisim is encouraged and promoted as a ticket to heaven in many religions (you know who you are).  I once met a guy that was willing to be burned alive rather that denounce his beliefs. Even if he could tell a white lie and have the chance to convert thousands of others to his religion in secret and have a dozen babies to teach his religion. Martyrism trumps all in his mind. It is the ultimate sacrifice for belief.

We see a bit of this today. Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh. They were both martyrs feeding the beliefs of ATF/FBI/establishment haters. Their acts, if not leading to copycats, lead to deeper belief in their causes. But that's sort of ugly. You can do the same for acupuncture or crystals if the sacrifice is great enough. 

How do you think I should end this blog? What would make you believe in what I have just written? How can I convince you that martyrs are what make people believe in such crazy ideas? Throw yourself on this blog and save the lives around you! Campus Crusade for Martyrs? Sacrifice a lamb, or at least wear a wool sweater in the name of this blog. Of course I am always willing for you to donate all your worldly possessions in my name - or just make our the check to 'cash'.