Posted by: aboutalbion | February 28, 2013

The mimetic basis of religious risk analysis (3)

The third of Rodney Stark’s propositions is the ‘trusted source proposition’.

A religion’s compensators are perceived as less risky, and hence more valuable, when there is credible evidence that participation in the religion generates tangible benefits that are not readily explained in secular terms.” (p173)

Stark is here pointing to the common phenomenon in the marketplace that products are promoted with a back story and with endorsements from others.

In Stark’s view, the method of choice to promote collective trust in a religious compensator is to have it endorsed by personal testimony from a trusted source.  “Fellow members [of an organized religion] are much more trustworthy than strangers.” ((p174)

This is especially the case when the personal testimony “can enumerate the tangible benefits that a testifier attributes to his or her religious commitment”. (p173)

In particular, this is the case when a personal testimony “can recount experiences of personal regeneration that followed conversion or renewal – victory over alcoholism, drug dependency, or marital infidelity.  In more dramatic fashion some testifiers can claim to have benefited from miracles – supernatural interventions that averted catastrophe or provide inexplicable healing”. (p173)

Stark concludes that “successful religions gravitate towards collective production” (p174) of religious compensators, to which committed members provide credible evidence that the compensators are leading members towards desirable and elusive (but scarce) religious rewards.

In this way, the collective production of religious products is “central to providing safeguards against fraud”. (p173)

By contrast, “[d]oubters lower the value assigned to compensators” (p173), and lower morale in the religious group, and are vulnerable to having their continued membership challenged.

[Stark, Rodney (1997) The Rise of Christianity. New York: HarperOne.]


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