Posted by: aboutalbion | March 28, 2013

Free riders (3)

In the last two posts, I have reviewed Stark’s description of the corrosive effect of free riders associating with religious organizations.  To address this negative impact, Stark argues that the solution of choice for religious organizations is to demand lifestyle changes from its members.

At face value, the monetary cost of lifestyle changes appears to be free.  However, Stark goes on to set out the social cost of these changes, which he categorizes as (i) stigmas and (ii) sacrifices.

“Religious stigmas consist of all aspects of social deviance that attach to membership in the group.” (p176)  Here Stark is thinking of demands that relate to, for example, the consumption of alcohol, or to the code for dressing and clothing, or to issues around human sexuality, or to the manner of bringing up children.  Meeting demands under heads such as these would set members apart from neighbours in society.

Sacrifices consist of investments (material and human) and forgone opportunities required of those who would gain and retain membership in the group.” (p176)  The idea here is that each member of a religious organization must commit to a duty to sacrifice money and time, etc., in order to evidence the renouncing of the free rider’s creed of ‘something for nothing’.

“Clearly, stigma and sacrifice often go hand in hand, as when the stigma of highly unusual dress prevents normal career development.” (p176)

In this part of his work, Stark has explained how the problem of free riders has been addressed by the phenomena of stigmas and sacrifices which indicate the ‘tension’ between the members of a religious organization and the society around them.

And in the next post, Stark will ask what effect a religion’s costly demands has on a religion’s attractiveness.

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


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