Saturday, January 19, 2008

Why people choose conservative religious paths

I have thought about this for much of my life, certainly ever since I became a serious Unitarian Universalist back in the 1970s. For a long time, I assumed it was a lack of information or education that kept people loyal to very conservative theological paths. But as I've spent time in ministry, become acquainted with good people on a wide variety of religious paths, and examined my own reasons for leaving conservative religion, I've had to change my thinking.

Quite a few people whom I respect and love are devout members of conservative religious communities with theologies far different in many respects from my brand of liberal UU mostly-Christian thought. Many of them are well-educated and committed to serving others. Except for theology, they're not that different from me, though we diverge on some social issues.

As I sat in a local restaurant this morning, finishing my breakfast coffee, I started a list of the reasons I think people choose (or remain in) conservative religious paths. Here it is, in order of how they came to mind.

1. They were born into it and see no reason to leave.
2. They make a bargain with God during some crisis.
3. They marry into it and are devout to satisfy their mate.
4. They are willing to believe religious authority figures (pastor, priest, etc.) about doctrinal matters.
5. They stay because of family unity.
6. They are not very self-reflective or critical of doctrine.
7. They lack information or they reject the information they do get.
8. They want to belong to a popular religious path.
9. They reject liberal social values.
10. They are rebelling against parents.
11. They work at jobs that give them little or no time to reflect on religious doctrines.
12. They have distaste for the Other whom their religion considers sinful.
13. The foundational story of their religion is gripping and the consequences of diverging from its tenets are frightening.
14. They fear that the story is true and this keeps them from abandoning it.
15. Their religion allows them to act in ways that they enjoy while forbidding them to act in ways they fear.

This is not an exhaustive list and there are overlapping reasons. If you think of more or if you quibble with any of them, please comment. I also jotted down lists of "why people reject conservative religious paths", "why people come to liberal religions" and "why people come to Unitarian Universalism". I will blog on those lists another time.


Comrade Kevin said...

All of the reasons you cite are factors to a very complex picture.

In my opinion, many people lean towards conservative faiths because of their own problems with control. By this I mean drug addiction, emotional problems, relationship matters, problems with children, et al. Having prefabricated answers to a modicum of problems is a deeply comforting proposition for many people.

Thinking in shades of grey is often not particularly comforting, even for those of us who hold fast and trumpet that view of reality. It forces a person to see things for how they really are and also contemplate the complexities and paradoxes of life.

ms. kitty said...

Good point, Kevin. Thanks.

Lizard Eater said...

I have to add a very powerful reason that I have observed within my own family:

Because of a warm, attentive community.

My mother-in-law, if it were strictly about theology, would be a UU. But she found a church that embraced her soon after her divorce. And it was genuine -- I'm not talking cult-like behavior. She made friends of warm, caring people.

Does she believe what the preacher says? Not at all. But that's not particularly important to her. What is important is not the words she hears, but the actions she sees.

LinguistFriend said...

You are creating on your own a line of thinking which is the subject of a lot of institutional research and publication, such as that of the Alban Institute. I knew half-way knew of the existence of this literature, and
last summer at GA I picked up some
of it from the bookstore. It is absorbing reading, and very worthwhile. Many people do not like to get into it, perhaps thinking that it is a crass approach to a holy subject. But for someone who is building an institution, it would be very worthwhile, I should think.

ms. kitty said...

I'd be interested in knowing what that literature is, LF. Titles? It sounds intriguing.

LinguistFriend said...

The material from GA 2007 is in a box in my office. I will dig out the relevant books that I picked up at GA, which were only a start and of course lead to others.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, LF, I will look forward to the references. Send them via email, if you wish.

Joel said...

Is there no room for "Because they actually believe, for good rational reasons, that a given set of propositions is true?" It looks like all your reasons are predicated on the believer being either ignorant or neurotic.

joeodd2 said...

So people who think Conservatively about religion or anything else are stupid, fearful, and ignorant? Maybe they have their own view of the world. Maybe your view is wrong and theirs is right. Being a liberal who believes the world has "shades of gray" you can't believe that your point of view is absolute. You MUST keep an "open mind" and acknowledge the possibility of anything.

ms. kitty said...

You must have missed paragraph 2, Joeodd2. I explicitly said differently than you are assuming.

joeodd2 said...

Let me ask you this question. What does it say about you that you would even post this list? I mean if I posted a list, under the title of "why women are more indecisive then men" or "why black people don't use proper English". I would be tipping my hand as to how I feel about that group would I not? You clearly state that you believe their way of thinking is wrong and then attempt to rationalize your opinion creating a list. The list in my opinion represents the reasons why you think their way of thinking is wrong, not why they choose to believe in a conservative religion. Your post was an intellectually dishonest attempt to place your belief system above another.

ms. kitty said...

Gosh, Joe, I don't think any of the reasons I listed in my brainstorming are bad, simply that they are possible reasons why people choose a faith stance that is different from mine. I'm sure a religious conservative could make his/her own list.

What I do think underlies this list is my firm conviction that religion has to have a foundation of reason. That's my opinion. It is fine if it is not yours.

joeodd2 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
joeodd2 said...

I'm curious as to why you think your belief system has a stronger "foundation of reason" than a religious conservative's belief system? You are a Christian right? So you believe some carpenter from thousands of years ago was the son of God and rose from the dead, don't you? Maybe you have some video of this taking place?

ms. kitty said...

No, Joe, I don't believe that Jesus was divine, though I do believe that he was the son of God, just as you and I are children of God. He just did a better job of it. And I don't believe he literally rose from the dead. I may not be a Christian by your definition, if that's it, but I am a Christian by Jesus' teachings of "love God and love your neighbor as yourself".

ms. kitty said...

Joe, I wrote a post yesterday on Ms. Kitty's that might give you more insight into my journey, if you're interested.

joeodd2 said...

Here's a refreshing concept. Honesty.
I for one don't like the idea of a "Judgment Day" or the idea that the Old Testimate God will be the judge of our sins when we die. I have no problem believing that Jesus was divine, according to the bible either he was divine or a madman. Jesus taught much more than just "love thy neighbor" he also defended the Old Testimate that so many Liberal "Christians" despise. I admit to not being a conservative Christian. Mainly because I like doing whatever I want when I want. I'm selfish and not good with "discipline". But I make no attempt to rationalize why I don't follow all of the bible's teachings. I just find it kind of funny how people like to make Jesus into some kind of wimpy feel good hippy guru. You ignore the things in the bible that are inconvenient for you and attempt to rationalize why you do so. Why not just come clean and say I don't believe in the Holy Bibles version of God or Jesus. It's like your making up your own religion and calling it Christian Light. And I have another question, have you ever considered that they could be right. That you will face judgment day and that your modified Christianity won't cut it in the eyes of the Old Testimate God? You must admit, that if your wrong, you're probably going to hell. I've admitted that to myself a long time ago. Psalm 139.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your honesty, Joe. Actually and honestly, I don't believe that hell exists. I don't believe that a loving God would condemn his children to torture and death, no matter how awful we were.

I'm going to quit responding to your comments on this post, but if you would like to join a conversation on a current post, please do.