2008-11-12

The economics of religion

I think a great issue to pursue, for a person of the kind that might have written Freakonomics, would be the economics of religion.

We know that many religious leaders do not actually believe what they preach, but they preach what’s going to be well received by their audience. In this sense, religions are a bit like mainstream media. We don’t hear about “Oprah’s Mystery Man” because Murdoch thinks that everyone should know, we hear about it because they think it drives ratings.

In a similar parallel, it would be interesting to investigate how much religious policies are ratings-driven. How well would a Pope be received if he told everyone “I reconsidered, it is okay to use condoms”? Or if he said that “a regulated market in human organs would be okay”?

Already, the Catholic Church is more tolerant and more science-friendly in its views than many Christians in the U.S. If the purpose of a religion is to maximize its number of followers, what happens if a religious leader endorses views with which its followers do not agree? Is the purpose of religion really leadership, or is it more so to make people feel good about their existing views?

In other words - is it the dog (the Pope) that wags the tail (the believers); or is it the tail that wags the dog?

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