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Hypothesis: Feigned Belief and Lying for the Cause (Christianity as example)


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We intuitively assume that conviction and authenticity of belief are at the center of religious behaviors. However, lying for the cause arguably be anti-correlated with authenticity. Many followers posit a societal function of the religion that hinges on ingroup superiority. While ingroup superiority is occasionally a religious teaching itself that would tend to wane along with general general belief, this point is only an argument against the preponderance, not he existence, of "fake believers", which will refer to followers who remain subordinate primarily because of ideas about ingroup superiority rather than veracity of the religious teachings. Below are three Pro/ANti arguments for religious lying by fake believers. Interestingly, the only one that does not hinge on divine approval is Pro.



Given that we live in a coherent world where all truths are interconnected, progress toward any truth should tend to contribute to progress toward religious and ideological truths too. Thus the less likely the religion is to be accurate, the more likely it is that lies would protect it.



Given that information has fundamental value to ethical decision-making and decision-making in general, which I think most people would agree on, it follows that an all-knowing being would also be aware of this moral truth. Therefore anyone who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient being might be less inclined to lie.



Someone who believes that salvation depends on religious belief may feel that conversion is an even more urgent matter, not being willing to wait for the truth to gradually emerge as more souls are condemned.



Interestingly, lying about the moral character of another person may be an given that this lie specifically relates to beliefs of ingroup superiority. Although the fake believer presumably has an especially strong bias against outgroup members, lying about an outgroup member should raise questions about the basis of their own beliefs of ingroup superiority. However it's still possible that some genuine believers they create would themselves be willing to lie about an outgroup member's character, creating a vicious cycle. Indeed, the presence of such beliefs that would facilitate this process could indicate its contagious nature rather than its basis in the holy texts.


The Quest scale of religiosity was introduced by Dan Batson to supplement Allport's Intrinsic and Extrinsic religiosity scales. It measures the value a follower places on questioning and doubt, and so it demonstrates that variation in this trait among religious followers. In the sociology of religion and prejudice, it is the only scale that is consistently unambiguously anti-correlated with prejudice. Research in this field has also produced terror management theory (TMT), the support for TMT coming from experiments that link priming with death related thoughts to more extreme evaluations of ingroup and outgroup members, or, if you will, more extreme prejudices. TMT could help to explain how ideas about ingroup superiority arise in various religions and ideologies. However, I have never seen it investigated how a mortality salience primed subject evaluates ideas. There is research showing that priming with the word DEATH or PAIN induced more extreme evaluations of... musical chords if I recall correctly. I cannot seem to relocate this free-to-read paper.


Lastly but most interestingly, this idea is highly testable. Indeed, some TMT research about "atheists" in "foxholes" used arguments for or against religious claims to induce these effects. A similar design could be used to test whether arguments against the religion's veracity would actually make the followers more willing to lie. I suppose anyone could do it over Amazon's mechanical turk, but I don't have the money at the moment. Historical or contemporary examples would be interesting too. Please share!

Edited by MonDie
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  • 1 month later...

While trying to to categorize proselytizers, I realized that there is a key dimension upon which this phenomenon would rest. Everyone who wants to convert you believes that your conversion will benefit somebody: the converter, the converted, or society at large. This belief may or may not be contingent upon whether the religion is actually true. Given the natural tendency of religions to spread, the contingent beliefs will usually involve that everybody is benefited to some degree when you convert to the religion. Non-contingent motivations may be selfish (this religion favors me and my ingroup), altruistic (I want to share this beautiful thing with you) or moralistic (society needs religion to function). Non-contingent motivations should have a stronger relationship to a tendency to become defensive upon questioning.

Alas, even contingent motivations can probably persist after questioning through "what if" reasoning.

Edited by MonDie
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