Thursday, January 1, 2009

I lack self-discipline. According to studies I should go to church

Happy New Year. How many resolutions have you already broken, just short of 10 hours into the new year? I don't make such resolutions, so I am good.

While procrastinating on this lit review I need to write (made a bit of progress yesterday...sort of), I found this article regarding a psychologist's comprehensive review of literature. I've learned that the science press oftens distorts findings to make a "better" read. The article's title, I think, is probably misleading. Religion May Have Evolved Because Of Its Ability To Help People Exercise Self-control

Buried in the article is the author's point, and the really important one, is that religion is a "social force." An excerpt:

McCullough's review of the research on religion and self-control contributes to
a better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of
charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their
waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses," he explained. "By
thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for
controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some
cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just
about anything."

While the psychologist reviewed studies of religion from several disciplines, I'd argue that examining any organization with a strong, definite ideology, too, will show very similar results. How about political revolutionaries? Of course those who wish to claim a "magical" element to regligion could argue that the revolutionaries are also "religious." Yup, like Lenin or Mao and their followers?

"Self" has to do with "identity" and identity has to do with one's social status in groups.

One group that I think would be interesting to compare would be academics, especially "scientists" who tend to be less religious than other disciplines and see how they compare to regular religious folk in terms of self control, goal achieving, health, etc. You see, the academy is a lot like a medieval church.

UPDATE: lacking in self-discipline (or not having procrastinated enough) I missed the NYT article on this same study. Proving why the NYT is a leading newspaper, that article is much better than the one cited above. The NYT article hits on the same themes I suggested above as a counter view to the first article. Here is the article.

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