The consumer model of religion and why it is stupid

Due to the recent poll, I was pointed to a diary post at the Daily Kos. In it, a pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage Mormon tries to explain why they won’t leave the church, even though they disagree with the church’s stance in Prop 8. The argument he chooses is that the church is within its rights to regulate behavior within the church; outside is another matter. The diarist alludes to reasons why they won’t leave the church, but isn’t very specific. Finally, the diarist asks the following question to another member of that community:

am I wrong to maintain my membership in my church? I love the Gospel, I think it is beautiful, and I don’t want to be outside it. I know you did what you had to do? Is my choice wrong? I don’t think so.

In the ensuing comments, many people (mostly militant atheists) helpfully suggest that the appropriate response is to stop going to church or to remove one’s name from the roles. This is because they aren’t listening to the diarist (who doesn’t want to leave the church) and because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of religious life. They think it is like shopping.

Many people believe that religion exists solely to make your life better. Many militant atheists, in particular, seem to believe this. Religion, in this thought, is there to soothe pain, to explain the mysterious, and to comfort the weak. “We, noble, brave, and strong, don’t need those consolations, but it is nice for those nincompoops out there to have something to cling to if they won’t be rational. At least, it is nice unless they decide to use religion to kill people…nevermind, let them suffer until they get it.” In this worldview, if a particular religion holds views or makes demands of you that you find potentially offensive or inconvenient, then you just go find a new religion. It is all about finding the religion that justifies the way you already live and causes you to have the most certainty regarding the meaning of your life and your place before God. In other words, choosing a religion and choosing an outfit are essentially the same act.

This is stupid.

It is stupid, primarily, because it denies the critical element that brings most people into religion, which is an experience with the ineffable. Most people who believe believe because they have felt, heard, seen, experienced some event that they feel is best explained by recourse to supernatural forces. Something happens in your life (you say a prayer, you cry out in pain, you wish for your mother’s love) and, a little unexpectedly, you get a response, an overwhelming response that doesn’t seem to come from within you. It tells you things; it opens your eyes and ears; it makes you want to be better; it makes you better. The initial faith experience is, I think, almost always like this. You don’t choose faith initially; it chooses you.

What you do with this, over time, changes according to the individual. Some people cling to it; others let it go. I personally think that, after that initial experience, faith is a choice; “will I continue to believe in the import of that event or will I let it fade?” In any case, this is where the consumer model of religion fails. I would imagine that the majority of the truly religious have joined a particular religion not because of its similarities with their already-held beliefs but rather in spite of the dissimilarities. Religious lifes means that we join groups because, to some degree, we believe God approves of the group. We join churches because we believe God told us that was the way to connect to the divine. We may well prefer another group that was more closely aligned with our personal beliefs, but we are where we are because we believe God told us to go there. Negotiating the difference between our understanding and a church’s is never as simple as “voting with your feet” because God found you in that church and, therefore, it can’t be all bad. To reject that church entirely isn’t to just walk away, it is to rewrite and revise your lived life. A church isn’t a political party, a social club, or a name brand. It isn’t something someone can or should easily discard.

So, o diarist, I agree with you. There is nothing wrong with remaining in the church, even if you disagree with some church policies. Tell your friends with their Dawkins and Hitchens (the Jack Chicks of the atheist movement) that suggesting otherwise fails to grasp what is important about religious life: the counsel of the divine. If they don’t get that or if they reject it, that’s their right; but it isn’t their right to regulate behavior outside of their little militant group.

Comments

  1. John C.,

    It is stupid, primarily, because it denies the critical element that brings most people into religion, which is an experience with the ineffable. Most people who believe believe because they have felt, heard, seen, experienced some event that they feel is best explained by recourse to supernatural forces.

    How should I interpret this statement, and the rest of your post, in light of data presented by Michael Shermer? According to his polling of 10,000 Americans, your reason above is only the second most common reason for belief, and is the reason for belief given by only 1 in 5 respondents. The questions he asked, and the top 5 answers given:

    Why do you believe in God?:

    1. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
    2. The experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
    3. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (10.3%)
    4. The Bible says so (9.8%)
    5. Just because / faith / the need to believe in something (8.2%)

    Why do you think other people believe in God?:

    1. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (26.3%)
    2. Religious people have been raised to believe in God (22.4%)
    3. The experience of God in everyday life (16.2%)
    4. Just because / faith / the need to believe in something (13.0%)
    5. Fear death and the unknown (9.1%)
    6. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (6.0%)

    So it would seem that not only militant atheists, but believers as well fail to understand the reasons that others believe.

  2. Kari, I think the difference there between why people believe and why they think others believe is fascinating.

  3. Second question,

    I would imagine that the majority of the truly religious have joined a particular religion not because of its similarities with their already-held beliefs but rather in spite of the dissimilarities. Religious lifes means that we join groups because, to some degree, we believe God approves of the group. We join churches because we believe God told us that was the way to connect to the divine. We may well prefer another group that was more closely aligned with our personal beliefs, but we are where we are because we believe God told us to go there.

    Upon what do you base this supposition? I would have supposed just the opposite, based upon my experiences. The vast majority of non-LDS people I know church-shop to find a church/pastor whose teachings align with their beliefs. This happens mostly when they move, but I’ve seen it happen when pastors change, and even when they stop liking what their pastor is preaching.

  4. Even more than choosing a faith because of some “event” that causes you to choose that faith, I actually agree (ironically with Dawkins) that the biggest determinant of one’s particular faith is the faith of one’s parents. “Raise a child up…”

    Areas predominantly LDS tend to continue that. Areas predominantly Muslim or Buddhist or Catholic or whatever tend to stay the same. It is actually very difficult for many people to stray from the faith of their parents / family / society. Anyone who has gone on a mission has seen first-hand investigators who stop looking into the church, not because of disbelief or a lack of “experiences” but because of familial pressures.

    Similarly, there are a great many LDS people who would feel an incredible amount of negative pressure from their families and/or society if they were to leave the LDS faith and join another denomination.

    That being said, I think religion, in general, truly helps make people better.

  5. Peter LLC says:

    You don’t choose faith initially; it chooses you.

    Is that a hint of Calvinism I see creeping into your thought?

  6. Scott B says:

    You don’t choose faith initially; it chooses you.

    Hey, wait a sec…

  7. Scott B says:

    Kari and/or JohnC,
    Do you think the poll data (presented by Kari) represents why people initially come to believe in God, or why they continue to believe in God? If they were answering the former question, then I agree–Kari raises a good point; but I think they were more likely answering the latter.

  8. Scott B,

    Since the question asked was “Why do you believe in God?” I’m not sure we can know. I would imagine that some took this as a question of why they initially came to God, and others took it as a reason for continuing belief. Having said that though, I would expect them, statistically, to be distributed amongst all groups, and not clustered to any specific answer.

  9. Kari,
    John talks about belief coming from “experience with the ineffable,” and I think he’s right. The problem is, the ineffable is hard (if not impossible) to describe, and even harder to use as an explanation, because it is so personal and arational. I would suspect that many believers, while believing because of their experience, explain that they believe for a reason that sounds more, well, rational.

  10. Splitting the question of belief into initial belief and continuing belief, I originally believed in God because my mother taught me to. My belief continued and was strengthened as I have felt his love, guidance, peace, and blessings in my life. I would suspect many people raised in monotheistic religious households would respond the same.

  11. Sam B,

    I disagree. I think that believers who really feel their belief comes from the “experience with the ineffable” have no trouble making a description, even briefly, of such experience.

    The survey given by Shermer and Sulloway was a free text answer, not multiple choice, so respondents had plenty of opportunity to describe their experience and/or feelings. The article I linked actually quotes four respondents as examples of how people answered.

  12. StillConfused says:

    I actually do believe there is something to religion shopping. my one brother attends a rock and roll church. That works best for him because it matches his personality type. My one sister attends a presbyterian church because that matches her personality best. Another brother attends the LDS church because that meets his needs. And I personally would not want to see any of them change because they would be out of place in a different kind of faith. (they all started off Mormon.)

    I don’t think any religion is perfect. That may go against other people’s views. The Mormon Church has lots of skeletons. But that doesn’t mean someone has to leave. They can elect to stay and just ignore or excuse the parts that give them grief. Or they may later find that there is a different faith that strengthens their relationship with their maker. it is a personal decision and based on which of the options works best for them.

  13. Scott B says:

    Kari,

    The question also relates to “belief” alone; John C’s statement–and whole post, for that matter–are in the context of bringing a person into a particular religion. “Believing” and “Religious” are clearly not synonymous.

    Do disagree that answers would vary considerably from those listed above if the question had been “Why are you/Why have you remained in the particular religion you’re in?”

  14. Kari,
    It’s fine that you disagree, but I stand by my assertion. When I’m put on the spot, I have trouble articulating why I believe. Which doesn’t mean I don’t believe, but I don’t have a strong logical reason. And, while I’m an anecdote and not a statistic, I doubt I’m a huge outlier, either.

    Moreover, like Scott says, belief and religion, while closely related, certainly aren’t coterminus.

    Moreover, I’m not sure how useful the survey’s conclusions are–from my brief look over the article you linked to, people could give open-ended answers and then the surveyors determined how to classify them.

    But in any event, I certainly agree with what John’s saying. The other week, This American Life ran a segment with Dan Savage; in it he explained that disagreement with Catholic doctrine pushed him out of the church. His mom’s disagreement, on the other hand, kept her in it stronger, asserting (paraphrased) that it was her church just as much as it was the Pope’s. The LDS church, I believe, is both true and good and, even when I disagree with policy, the church is still true and good and it’s still mine. And I won’t let it be taken from me just because I don’t like a political stand here or there.

  15. John, well thought and well expressed. I’m not sure why the initial responses have been negative.

    I think your consumer analogy is closer to Kari’s polling data than it would appear at first glance. When asked people give many rational reasons for why they choose to buy things. And those reasons are real, but we all know that much consumer spending in affluent societies is not based in actual, rational need but in ineffable wants.

    I’ve always thought the best analogy for faith is not rational choice but falling in love. We all will give rational reasons for why we chose the person we did but those reasons don’t really explain why we fell in love.

  16. Mark B. says:

    It may be the politically correct, non-sexist thing to avoid using “he” as the common pronoun to refer to an unknown person, but using the plural “they” to refer to a singular antecedent is like banging on a gong–every time I run into it, I conjure up The Gong Show, and am inclined to tell you your time on stage has ended.

    If “he” is unacceptable, why not go to “it”?

  17. John C, as a convert, I can tell you that this post EXACTLY captures what religion is about with me (ie, an experience with the ineffable), and this is something that atheists simply do not understand. I have known a lot of atheists during my life, and the interesting thing is that the majority of them are fascinated and obsessed with religion. They love to talk about why religious people are stupid, not as educated, not as sophisticated, etc, etc (see Dawkins, Hitchens, etc). This is precisely because they have not had the experience you are describing.

    The interesting thing about having that experience is that God turns out to be something completely different than what you expect Him to be once you open and let Him in. He is Pure Love. And that is an experience our atheists friends could definitely use.

  18. I agree with John in a way. I think he is expressing more what I feel should be the reasons for being in a church. Now what should be and what is are often different.

  19. John C, I love your argument. This is exactly my experience with religion, and exactly why the gulf between my mother and I will not likely be bridged in the foreseeable future. She just doesn’t understand that I CAN’T leave…

  20. Sorry I can’t continue the discussion. I’ve got to work. I’ll try to pick back up this evening.

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t like the word “ineffable.” ~

  22. All Cultures and Ages have a God(s). Most of the thinking within this post and it’s comments, relates only to Western, or American, or just Mormon thoughts.
    We live in a time and place ( and Culture), that let’s us pick from many (Gods) offered. Most people who have lived on this earth, have not picked their God(s). Their God(s) were given to them by their Culture.

  23. I love this post so much!! I was doing a little of the conversating on that thread. Thank you for so perfectly summarizing what was so, so stupid about what everyone was saying on that thread. It was disheartening that the diaryist was unwilling to challenge them and seemed so easily swayed by them.

  24. (Other) Jeremy says:

    “the Jack Chicks of the atheist movement”

    Worth the price of admission right there. Bravo.

    I read the thread on Kos too, and was quite dismayed — but also a little amused — to see some of the regulars there getting as dogmatic about the boundaries of their tent as Republicans.

  25. Kari,
    I suppose that I believe that the heart of any lasting testimony is some personal experience with God. I don’t have a problem with saying that can come in a context of a given religion. I met a woman on my mission who believed deeply in the church and for whom baptism was a powerful experience. But the gift of the holy ghost was, for her, an unnecessary afterthought, because she knew, in her heart, that she had already had it. At the time, I thought that she didn’t know what she was talking about; now, I am not so sure. In any case, while many people believe or attend church do to some form of societal pressure, I don’t believe it effectual (or real even) until one starts doing it for one’s own self. I don’t believe this is possible without divine intervention, but I could be wrong.

    Regarding your second question, I imagine that we would all prefer to sleep in Sunday mornings and watch football. Church can be just another unnecessary thing. But some people feel compelled to do it, even if they might prefer other activities.

    Peter,
    I’m no Calvinist; I think God/faith chooses everybody at some point.

    Scott B,
    I agree with Kari that the poll represents both initial and continuing faith choices, but I agree that it probably mostly reflects continuing faith choices. Sam B sums it up well, I think.

    Mark B.,
    I took out several theys. One must of slipped through the cracks. Sorry about that tic, it irritates me even as I write it.

    TP,
    To be frank, I don’t know the dictionary definition. I use it to mean “mysterious, hard to explain” Please correct me if my usage is incorrect; also, if it is correct, what do you object to.

    Bob,
    I am trying to discuss faith, not particular religions. In my experience, all religious traditions or movements have some sense of the spiritual, which is what I am trying to get at. I am curious about what you found lacking in the description I gave.

    Everyone else,
    Thanks for the comments. I was particularly proud of the Jack Chick comparison as I wrote it.

  26. #25: “It is stupid, primarily, because it denies the critical element that brings most people into religion, which is an experience with the ineffable.
    I am saying most people who have lived on this earth, came to Religion out of their fear of God(s), not a love for them, or “an experience with the ineffable”.

  27. Mark Brown says:

    John C.:

    Your feeble attempt to hide your cafeteria Mormonism under the cloak of anti-atheism might fool others, but it doesn’t fool me. The Committee has its eye on you.

    (Seriously good post John. Thanks.)

  28. Bubba the Hutt says:

    “if a particular religion holds views or makes demands of you that you find potentially offensive or inconvenient, then you just go find a new religion. It is all about finding the religion that justifies the way you already live and causes you to have the most certainty regarding the meaning of your life and your place before God. In other words, choosing a religion and choosing an outfit are essentially the same act.

    This is stupid.”

    Choosing a religion that justifies the way you live or being a member of a religion that you pick and choose principles that you do and do not want to believe.

    What’s the difference?

  29. Mike M. says:

    John C.,

    I enjoyed your post and agree with some of its sentiment but not with its stated intention.

    First, a model is not wrong or right in and of itself as your title suggests. Some models are just better than others. A model is an abstraction that tries to capture the most important features of the phenomenon in question and thereby understand or predict it.

    With this in mind, I think your position should more clearly be stated as “the consumer model is not a good one because it misses fundamental aspects of affiliation choice.” But this is debatable. I agree that the spiritual experiences that trigger or foster faith may be impossible to predict perfectly, but in fact it is true that studies can identify under what conditions individuals are more likely to switch faiths. That is, people are more susceptible to have such experiences under certain conditions, and those conditions can be identified and systematically studied. In this way, the models actually do quite a good job of predicting qualitative patterns in a statistical sense.

    Second, although I agree that religious benefits are different in many ways than secular counterparts, the differences in the goods and the manners in which choices are made are not necessarily as big as people often think. People can have “experiences” that trigger product switches. People also have brand loyalties that seem to defy logic. And consumption often occurs in the context of a social network that affects the experience of the consumption. All of these are true for secular goods and religious groups.

    Finally, to be clear, I agree that there can be some element or spark that makes conversion difficult to fully capture in a model; at this level, I totally agree with you. But saying that the models are wrong incorrectly specifies what a model actually is, and saying that the models are not useful ignores the many ways the model illuminate our understanding.

  30. Bob,
    I don’t think that is accurate. Certainly religion is a way to deal with uncertainty in life, but I don’t think that people believe in a particular deity entirely out of fear. But I may be wrong.

    Bubba,
    The difference is that in any given religion there are things that you must believe/do in order to be an adherent. Even if you think it isn’t the greatest, you feel you must do them because you feel like it is necessary for your relationship with God. Picking and choosing what to believe in a given religion is what all adherents do.

  31. Natalie B. says:

    I think that belief in God is ultimately a matter of faith, but when it comes to picking a church, I also think that there is something to the shopping paradigm.

    If I think about what our church does best, I would say that it is organizing and supporting communities. Given that the church directs far more resources to this activity than, say, to seeking “truth” or developing doctrine, as a believing LDS, I conclude that the major point of of our church existing (and I see the need for existence of a church as unique from the need for existence of a god) is to promote the welfare of communities (both now and eternally). Given this observation, it makes sense for people to seek out churches that they feel do that well. By their fruits ye shall know them…

  32. Mike,
    I don’t have a problem with saying some models are stupid because I believe that they fail to adequately understand or account for actual human behavior (I’m all post-processual like that).

    As to consumer choice, I assume that models therein operate under assumptions of value maximization or some such. Since value is a subjective measure and since it is often unconsciously chosen, I don’t think such models do an adequate job of conveying lived existence. They may do a better job of predicting behavior, but that is another thing entirely. Part of the problem is the atheistic tendency (or human tendency) to substitute predictive for explanatory power.

    Determining value preference in a religious context is a chicken and egg game in any case. We react to how we were raised (well and ill) and we adjust our expectations in accordance. If you could demonstrate an objective place into which we could project ourselves in order to make decisions regarding what appeals to us and why, then I would have more faith in the explanatory power of models. In the interim, blithely suggesting that adherents chuck adherence in the face of political disputes indicates that the suggesters don’t know what the heck they are talking about.

  33. Natalie,
    I’ve never yet heard of someone converted to the church out of admiration for our humanitarian efforts, but I don’t hear much. I’m skeptical, though, because there are a lot of humanitarian organizations out there and most don’t request 10% of your income.

  34. Natalie B. says:

    Additional thought: I’m interested in how many Mormons actually do “shop” for their wards within the Mormon community. My experience with the church has been very different in across geographical areas, and, given the choice, I do like to shop for a ward that practices a brand of Mormonism that I feel at home with.

  35. Mike M. says:

    John,

    (Technically speaking, rational choice models don’t assume value maximization; they assume choice consistency. If choices are consistent, then it is AS IF an individual has a value function being maximized. Maximization terminology is then used because it facilitates mathematical analysis. This is a common misunderstanding.)

    If your goal is to capture lived experience via a model, then I agree that the models currently used by sociologists and economists to examine religious choices will always be lacking. But then your argument is that these models are just not up to a task that they were not designed to achieve. And that is not a strong claim.

    The chicken and egg problem you mentioned is a real one, but there are models that try to capture it. There is something called “religious capital” that accounts for one’s experience with a religious group and that affects the value that an individual attaches to that group. This is extremely useful for both predicting and understanding affiliation patterns, such as why people born into one faith tend to stay in the faith, and why people who stop going to church are more likely to switch groups later.

    I don’t quite understand your point about an objective place into which we could project ourselves. The models try to capture contextual conditions in which actual choices are made. I’m not sure what could be gained by considering an objective place.

    Most importantly, I completely agree with your claim that blithely suggesting adherents chuck affiliation in the midst of political disputes totally misses the boat. But I would say that it is not the models that are wrong; it’s that the suggestion you are critiquing misses relevant facts. Actually, I think the models can be used to support your claim. But I confess that I teach and research the economics of religion, so I have a bias in favor of these models.

  36. #29: ” under what conditions are individuals more likely to switch faiths.”
    When there is more than one Faith.
    #30: “… I don’t think that people believe in a particular deity entirely out of fear”. I didn’t say entirely, but see OT. See Epypt, Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, etc. on displeasing your God(s).
    A lot of what you say about our modern way of believing may be correct. But it is modern.

  37. Visorstuff says:

    You don’t choose faith initially; it chooses you.

    Totally agree. Faith is a gift of the spirit.

    1 Cor. 12:9; D&C 46:11-14; Moroni 10:17-20, etc.

    What you do when the gift is presented is how you best utilize and grow that gift…or let it die off…

  38. Thomas Parkin says:

    John,

    I don’t really object to the use of ‘ineffable’ in your context.

    The reason I dislike the word, in general, is that it suggests the the experience of God is mystical. I know that there are ‘groanings that cannot be uttered’, and that every experience with God (we would say the Spirit, as we do not experience the Father or Son directly, most of us) does not communicate something clear. But personal revelation does often, even usually, bring words and clarity. It isn’t ineffable but clearly speakable – even if the exact experience may be difficult to describe. ~

  39. John C,

    Part of the problem is the atheistic tendency (or human tendency) to substitute predictive for explanatory power.

    That is because rational beings have respect for the scientific method.

    There is no scientifically valid method of distinguishing two explanations until they give different predictions for the same input data. Occam’s Razor suggests that until some such input data can be found to choose among them, the “simpler” explanation is more likely to be true.

    Since historically very many things once explained only by supernatural means have later been found to be completely explained by a natural model, supernaturality is no longer considered a “simpler” explanation.

    It does not require atheism to accept science, but it is the “simplest” explanation I have found.

  40. Katie M. says:

    “if a particular religion holds views or makes demands of you that you find potentially offensive or inconvenient, then you just go find a new religion. It is all about finding the religion that justifies the way you already live and causes you to have the most certainty regarding the meaning of your life and your place before God.”

    I’ve heard this argument before and as a convert it used to make me feel a little smug. I had chosen the hard, true religion, while other people had shopped for a church that flattered their preexisting lifestyles and choices.

    But then I realized that I had essentially done the very same thing. We all applaud when a convert like myself talks about how other churches never made sense to them, and how they had always believed X, and when they found this church that teaches X, they knew it was true. I always thought that God wouldn’t send good people to Hell and that people could receive personal revelations and that the Bible wasn’t perfect. And I was always a brown noser and an upright person that believed in working hard and being self-disciplined. And so I guess I “shopped” for churches until I found one that aligned with what I already believed.

    Obviously that wasn’t enough to make me join, it was my experience with the ineffable that really did it. But I fail to see how my experience is any different than someone who always believed that you should have a intensely personal relationship with Jesus, and that Jesus doesn’t care how you dress for church, and that modern music is a great way to worship God. Just because our church is harder than others doesn’t mean that there aren’t people shopping for a church that’s going to make the gospel hard.

  41. Mike,
    My point is that any model operates (wittingly or no) from a supposed objective space wherein all variables are controlled. Of course, the best models only seek to control the most important variables, but importance is subjective. Part of my problem is a skeptical attitude toward rationalism as a whole (more on that as I address Dan Weston). That said, if we agree that prediction doesn’t equate to explanation then I am happy enough with your points to agree with them. It may be that model was a ill-chosen term, when I meant that the notion of church shopping regarding belief is ridiculous.

    Bob,
    If you believe that the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Israelites operated in relation to their gods only out of fear, I am afraid that your opinion is too reductionist. There are always benefits to membership in a religious movement.

    Dan Weston,
    I don’t much care for Occam’s Razor as a predictor or an inherent explanation for most things. It is too subjective. Setting that aside, science is good at hows, lousy at whys. Rationality only gets you so far in explaining human behavior; we are, at heart, crazy little beasties. An expectation of logical behavior or motivation will only get you so far.

    Katie,
    I suppose I am more concerned with the choice to believe at all than with the choice of a particular religion. I think that we have ties to the movements wherein we found God that are hard to break (for good reason). Atheists who encourage us to start shopping at a new religious wholesaler simply don’t understand the stakes involved.

  42. I’m loving this article, and I really want to comment on a bunch of different things about it, but I think I’ve come a little late in the process (although I’ve only read to about the 20th comment, so I can’t really jump in like that).

    As an atheist, I’ll sidestep some of the critical words and try to go things from a slightly different way.

    Firstly, I ultimately agree that faith is something that picks a person, rather than a person picking that faith (and to the commenter who raised questions about the calvinistic undertones of that, I kinda agree — that’s why I named my blog the way I did.) So, I think a problem with some believers is that they feel you can just force some spiritual experience…when I don’t think this is so.

    However, from there, I diverge a bit. I don’t think faith ever becomes chosen. Rather, I think that someone who has the inclination towards spiritual experiences has that…that is “faith” and that is unchosen. If one chooses to ignore/rationalize it away, that does not mean he lacks faith, but rather he is going against his own inclination to faith.

    So, I guess I have to put a spin on this “consumer model of religion” and make my case for it. I believe that everyone has their own inclinations, to certain faiths or not. So, they cannot fit into just *any* belief system without running into brick walls, pain and misery. People *should* leave belief systems they do not mesh with and they need to stay with belief systems that do mesh with.

    HOWEVER, I will qualify this by saying that you don’t determine mesh based on a nut or bolt. It is based on your inclination. So, I disagree with the commenters who believed the diarist should have dropped the church because of unorthodoxy. I would only think someone should drop the church when they realize they do not have faith and do not believe in it. So, I reject the idea that the consumer model of religion is just, “Justify the way you currently live and don’t grow at all.” Rather, you have to discover your true inclination and then grow within that. There is infinite opportunity for growth…we shouldn’t all be trying to do it in the same way, is all I think.

    sorry for the long and scatterbrained comment; I’ll probably have to dedicate a post to this on my blog in the next few days.

  43. the logical fallacy here is that you HAVE to have religion to counsel with the divine. You don’t need to maintain membership in an organization that offends or bores you to maintain a relationship with God. Silly Mormon.

  44. Andrew,
    I welcome your comment. Scatterbrained is what I do best. Also, I think I agree with 95% of what you said. I’m trying to work out what the 5% is; I’ll get back to you.

    BEMG,
    I apologize if I gave you the impression that I believe you have to be a member of an organized religion to experience the divine (or learn its counsel). I do not believe that. I think that it is possible to do in and out of organized religion. I also think that our religious status when we experience the divine is important, as regards our spiritual journey, and that it should not be casually disregarded.

  45. John, I think you hit the Dawkins gang’s perception on the head. They see it as a bad rational choice, based on facts. Insufficient facts in their view. But for me, my Faith was not so much an analysis of the facts as the development of a very real relationship. I think God wants to be known and this occurs as all relationships do: in subjectivity.

    Thanks for this.

  46. LaurenceB says:

    Most people “choose” their religion by being born into it. That’s just the simple truth.

  47. @34

    ’m interested in how many Mormons actually do “shop” for their wards within the Mormon community.

    It happens all the time, but indirectly. Here’s my experience with this in North Texas (where there are dozens of stakes that one could live in and work almost anywhere in the area).

    1. People focus first on where they work. They define an acceptable commute radius. This is a driving state; there are some mass transit options if you work in Dallas, but where you can live is restricted to a degree.

    2. People then focus on the schools within that radius. Given the typical commute radius to either downtown Dallas or downtown FW, people here can pretty live in any school district in the area, so it’s easy to pick out 8-10 acceptable school districts.

    3. People focus on the housing prices and local taxes and general stability of the city.

    4. People focus on the wards. Once you’ve gone through 1-3, you can still find a bunch of wards that cover where you want to buy a house.

    Example: bbell and I live in the same school district. There are, I believe, 9 wards in two stakes covering our school district. Depending on your ward preference and financial flexibility, you have *quite* a variety to choose from, from the very wealthy to the less wealthy, from the orthodox to the pragmatic.

    This scenario repeats itself for virtually every school district in North Texas.

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