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The sunk cost fallacy and utility in religion.

Religious people are religious and some are extremely religious, to the point of dangerous fanaticism. They are religious because they have been convinced of the Utility of the religion. The concept of utility is one from economics; a subject that has taken my fancy of late. Religious people gain from religion something that satisfies a desire. In my opinion they desire meaning: the meaning of life, the meaning of death, the meaning of each day or the meaning of suffering. All of these things that humans seek meaning in are valid parts of human existence. The problem I pose is that their is a fine line between personal meaning and dogma. When many people agree on a set of definite meanings for certain ‘articles of faith’ (e.g. A holy book) – thats’s religion!

The Meaning is the thing that has the utility. People derive happiness from having meaning, and will protect their religion and even fight violently for it because they are in possession of something they don’t want to lose. They fight because they are afraid of losing the meaning they derive from the memeplex of whatever religion they ascribe to. The meaning has utility, and the meaning flows from the memeplex of religion. This makes religion an asset with a value measurable in the interest others pay it. The more people pay interest, the more valuable the asset and therefore even more people are drawn to invest in it. 

This brings me to the idea of sunk costs. When a human has invested a significant portion of their lifetime and energy in a religion, they feel that by saying goodbye to it and moving on with a more rational and less meaningladen life, they will effectively lose their investment and never recover from the loss. The fear of loss is a powerful force of stagnation, both in human behaviour and the general economy. It paralyses people who wish to break free of a particular set of circumstances but feel apprehensive of the associated losses. By no means can we say that any such losses would be trivial and petty, there are very significant losses indeed. The problem with fear of loss is that it holds people back from gaining something they want. They probably want the new thing more than the old, because if they didn’t then they wouldn’t want it at all. 

For me the thought of giving up on religion was not such a big deal because I never invested a great deal of resources in it. But that is not the case for everyone. I feel that breaking free from the moralising dogma and contradictory scripture has made me a more effective and ethical person. I attribute this to the rather ironic realisation that the universe does not have me, nor anyone else, at it’s centre. How does that make me better? I think it works because I no longer feel the need to perform for an omniscient and rather petty god. It’s liberated me to do things such as volunteering, where I don’t do it for the appreciation of a religious memeplex but for my own sense of justice and my appreciation of the fundamental humanity of other humans. 

I’ve learned so much about other people simply from letting go of the enormous baggage of religion. I’ve learned that humans are not inherently or fundamentally evil or loaded down with “sin”. We’re simply animals who have big brains trying to figure out how to make ourselves happy. I entitled this piece with regard to utility because I suspect that all religious people really want is something to feel happy about. Religion promises so much, as I have mentioned in another post, but really only hold us prisoner to abstraction and baseless meaning. The sunk costs of religion really are irrecoverable, but that isn’t a reason to stay trapped inside the memeplex. If someone asked me one day how they could be happy and break away from something they spent a good many years doing and investing in, I would say that: One should always abandon unhappiness and pursue happiness, even if it seems that the unhappiness is still full of invested time and energy it will never yield happiness for you again, if it ever did, because you desire something else -the thing that makes you happy. I hope that humans can one day break free from the shackles of religion and see that we humans are so valuable and so quirky and silly at times. Isn’t it enough to be simply free. Free and silly. 


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