Religion and Sports
Posted: 02 June 2006 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve seen a pretty clear link between religion and sports. In particular, it appears to me that evolutionary psychology has highlighted modules used in both. To take one example, we have clear biological modules for distinguishing in-groups from out-groups. This is useful in at least two situations:

(1) In distinguishing helpful individuals from "freeloaders" or "shirkers".

(2) In distinguishing genetically related individuals from non-related ones.

There may be other ways as well. But what is clear is that this tendency to split the world into "ins" and "outs" is a human universal, and one we share with other social animals like ants, bees, termites, wolves, primates, etc.

We see that it is not a strictly [i:ccbaef9741]rational[/i:ccbaef9741] response in that it can be triggered by anything—which is where we come to sports. You can take ten random people, put blue jerseys on five and red jerseys on five, and you immediately distinguish the two in a way that is amenable to an in/out distinction—the "other" guys aren’t "yours". And then you can behave in a way towards them (violent, nasty) that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

This is a result entirely consistent with Phil Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, where he showed that by randomly dressing up some people as "guards" and others as "prisoners" induced the guards to behave in unboundedly violent ways towards the prisoners. All it took was a bit of clothing, and a setup that all knew was fake.

Religion, it seems to me, functions at least partly on that level: usses against thems. The religion gives a sense of belonging to a larger, special, "saved" group that is special in god’s eye. And in that regard, atheists and non-religious people are the ultimate [i:ccbaef9741]thems[/i:ccbaef9741].

On this subject I find it interesting in a front-page article in the NYTimes today that some sports teams in the US are instituting "salvation nights" and "faith nights"...

"It has long been noted that in certain parts of the United States, a fine line separates sports from religion. But at a minor league indoor football game last month in Birmingham, Ala., fans may have witnessed as transparent an attempt to merge football and church as had ever been tried.

<snip>

Third Coast Sports, a company in Nashville that says it specializes in church marketing and event planning for sports teams, has scheduled 70 this year in 44 cities, and many teams produce Faith Nights on their own.

They are about to become even bigger. This summer, the religious promotions will hit Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are planning three Faith Days this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks one. The Florida Marlins have tentatively scheduled a Faith Night for September."

I find this sort of sports/religion merger a relatively clear and obvious one, but disturbing all the same.

Thoughts?

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Posted: 02 June 2006 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Religion and Sports

I’ve seen a pretty clear link between religion and sports. In particular, it appears to me that evolutionary psychology has highlighted modules used in both. To take one example, we have clear biological modules for distinguishing in-groups from out-groups. This is useful in at least two situations:

(1) In distinguishing helpful individuals from “freeloaders” or “shirkers”.

(2) In distinguishing genetically related individuals from non-related ones.

There may be other ways as well. But what is clear is that this tendency to split the world into “ins” and “outs” is a human universal, and one we share with other social animals like ants, bees, termites, wolves, primates, etc.

We see that it is not a strictly rational response in that it can be triggered by anything—which is where we come to sports. You can take ten random people, put blue jerseys on five and red jerseys on five, and you immediately distinguish the two in a way that is amenable to an in/out distinction—the “other” guys aren’t “yours”. And then you can behave in a way towards them (violent, nasty) that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

This is a result entirely consistent with Phil Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment , where he showed that by randomly dressing up some people as “guards” and others as “prisoners” induced the guards to behave in unboundedly violent ways towards the prisoners. All it took was a bit of clothing, and a setup that all knew was fake.

Religion, it seems to me, functions at least partly on that level: usses against thems. The religion gives a sense of belonging to a larger, special, “saved” group that is special in god’s eye. And in that regard, atheists and non-religious people are the ultimate thems.

On this subject I find it interesting in a front-page article in the NYTimes today that some sports teams in the US are instituting “salvation nights” and “faith nights”...

“It has long been noted that in certain parts of the United States, a fine line separates sports from religion. But at a minor league indoor football game last month in Birmingham, Ala., fans may have witnessed as transparent an attempt to merge football and church as had ever been tried.

<snip>

Third Coast Sports, a company in Nashville that says it specializes in church marketing and event planning for sports teams, has scheduled 70 this year in 44 cities, and many teams produce Faith Nights on their own.

They are about to become even bigger. This summer, the religious promotions will hit Major League Baseball. The Atlanta Braves are planning three Faith Days this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks one. The Florida Marlins have tentatively scheduled a Faith Night for September.”

I find this sort of sports/religion merger a relatively clear and obvious one, but disturbing all the same.

Thoughts?

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Doug

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Posted: 03 June 2006 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Sport and Religion.

Hello Fayzal and thanks for your response.

[quote author=“mfmahamed”]The sports team and any other team in your comparison uses rational means to beat the other team, even to the extent of using violence.

Yet “team religion” uses the most irrational means of overpowering its opponent and often wins by this means. What I mean is that the use of religion to sometimes overpower or convince opponents is the most irrational means available.

Yes, I certainly agree that the religion itself is irrational. Yet often the means of “converting” people is rational—give food, give shelter; often missionaries are very kind to people (which can be a good thing) in order to convert them more easily.

There is a well-known psychological law in marketing: the law of reciprocation ... basically, if you want someone to do something big for you, you start by giving something small. So, the Hare Krishnas would start a conversation by giving you a flower. Many gypsies in Spain will start a sales pitch by giving you a sprig of rosemary. Professor of psychology Robert Cialdini explains this technique very well in his book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion. He says: “The rule [of reciprocation] says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. ... sociologists such as Alvin Goldner can report that there is no human society that does not subscribe to this rule.” (pp. 17-18 ).

So, missionaries invoke the rule of reciprocation: they do nice things for people (building houses, giving food, etc.) knowing, very rationally I would claim, that this will set up a psychological pressure for the recipients to reciprocate by converting.

So the methods that religions use to “win” are often rational methods. But in the final analysis, of course, there are no rules to the religion game, in the same way that there are rules to how to play and win at football ...

I would only add that sports are equally irrational at the deepest levels. There is no point in getting a white ball into a net except to “win the game”.

[quote author=“mfmahamed”]Secondly in normal team experience loyalty to the team is measured in rational terms i.e by being in a winning team, by receiving payment or incentives or even by being with a group of freinds. These are rational reasons.

In religion however, rationalism seems to go overboard. You get the believer often joining “TEAM RELIGION” on very irrational terms and yet often sticks to a losing team for no RATIONAL reason.

Well, it is a universal that fans will stick with losing teams forever ... there are even many fans that explicitly LOVE losing teams: they want to root for the underdog. But this is part of what it is to feel you are in a special “in group” ... indeed, feeling embattled and outnumbered often increases this feeling of solidarity. As Benjamin Franklin said during the American revolution, “We must all hang together or we will most assuredly all hang separately.”

:wink:

But yes, I certainly agree that being on the “winning” team helps morale; it also helps if your teammates are your friends.

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Posted: 03 June 2006 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The importance of being kind

dorgsmith wrote
Yes, I certainly agree that the religion itself is irrational. Yet often the means of “converting” people is rational—give food, give shelter; often missionaries are very kind to people (which can be a good thing) in order to convert them more easily.

There is a well-known psychological law in marketing the law of reciprocation ... basically, if you want someone to do something big for you, you start by giving something small. So, the Hare Krishnas would start a conversation by giving you a flower. Many gypsies in Spain will start a sales pitch by giving you a sprig of rosemary. Professor of psychology Robert Cialdini explains this technique very well in his book Influence the Psychology of Persuasion. He says “The rule [of reciprocation] says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. ... sociologists such as Alvin Goldner can report that there is no human society that does not subscribe to this rule.” (pp. 17-18 ).

So, missionaries invoke the rule of reciprocation they do nice things for people (building houses, giving food, etc.) knowing, very rationally I would claim, that this will set up a psychological pressure for the recipients to reciprocate by converting.”

I agree that being kind is a good thing. We should always be as kind to others as we possibly can be. i believe that if we are to convert people to Secular Humanism we must be better than Christians, Jews, Muslims and the others—kinder, more considerate, more compassionate and more loving.
Bob

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