General Question

jlm11f's avatar

What's the recipe for a perfect religion with strict and passionate devotees?

Asked by jlm11f (12340 points ) December 6th, 2008

Most Muslims I know are all very devout and passionate about their religion. I really haven’t seen any other religion have such a large percentage of people willing to do anything to uphold their religious views. And something about Islam is attractive enough that it drives others to convert to it too. I have also seen this to a lesser degree with Judaism. My question is: what are the attributes of these religions that make people follow them so rigidly? For example: even the more laid back (or pretending to be laid back) Muslims refuse to bend on the core principles. I didn’t add Christianity to this list because I know many who are “Christian” but never go to Church, pray etc. So what gives religions like Islam and Judaism that holding/controlling power over it’s devotees?

Some things to remember: NO BASHING any religion at all. At all. I would like you to objectively analyze whatever religion the Q instead of answers like “that’s because Islam is the perfect religion and people who follow it go to heaven” etc.

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56 Answers

girlofscience's avatar

Speaking from personal experience, I’m a passionate devotee of Science because of its appeal to logic and truth.

augustlan's avatar

Interesting question, PnL. Maybe the appeal of Islam and Judaism is the highly structured nature of the ‘rules’. There is very little gray area. While I personally don’t do well with organized religion of any kind, some people really crave that structure. I don’t know if that makes either a perfect religion for everyone, but it probably makes them perfect for some.

PnLism would probably be the perfect religion for Flutherites!

BoyWonder's avatar

It could be that the Quran is the only holy book in history that has not been altered over time, so there is little discrepancy as to what should and should not be upheld. The only discrepancy would be from those who take the words out of context to support their own agenda (ie: fundamentalists,etc.)

colin's avatar

Hey, as a Jew, there are lots and lots of Jews who “never go to [synagogue], pray etc.”. More than you can shake a stick at! I know many Jews for whom the most relevant aspect of Judaism does not have to do with any sort of structure or rules but rather the legacy of commitment to social justice/the history of intellectual inquiry/the [fill in blank here]. I also know Jews for whom the structure that Judaism provides is absolutely central.

So I’m not sure that the divisions assumed by the question are necessarily “correct.” There are strict Jews and non-strict Jews. There are non-strict Christians and (billions of) strict Christians. I am to my regret extremely unfamiliar on a personal level with Islam but I would imagine that the same is true.

</gets off pulpit>

jholler's avatar

In strict fundamentalist Islam, the penalty for apostasy is death. That’s good incentive to stay devout.

jlm11f's avatar

@colin – i knew someone would bring this up. sigh. Let me try to rephrase what I said about Christians. I meant I know a lot of Christians who are just Christians for the name or term. But they don’t believe in any of the really Christian ideals nor do they follow the religion in any sense. I hope that clears things up a bit. And no, I don’t think to be religious, one needs to visit the place of worship regularly. Sorry if it came out like that.

@jholler – That’s not what I am talking about. and I think you know that too And I don’t think people would convert to Islam if their initial studies of the religion revealed that.

Harp's avatar

I would think that key ingredients would be lack of ambiguity in the message (little room for personal interpretation), consistency within the texts, a sense of exclusivity to reinforce a feeling of belonging and privilege, promises of reward spelled out, and straightforward requirements for adherence.

laureth's avatar

Not all Muslims are like that. My husband was stationed in Turkey for a while in the army, and says that the average Turk was about as devoted to Islam as your average New Yorker is to Christianity. (As in, yeah, they say they are, but they don’t really do a lot about it.)

jlm11f's avatar

@laureth – that’s interesting. Maybe it’s just the Muslims living in America then. or at least the ones I have met

laureth's avatar

@PnL – Perhaps it has something to do with being outside of the mainstream culture. When someone is different and feeling besieged, they may tend to stick to the fundamentals of belief more strongly than if they were in a place where everyone was like them, and no pressure to be otherwise.

jlm11f's avatar

laureth – agreed. i was thinking along the same lines

BoyWonder's avatar

@ laureth: What does your husband know of the average Turk? Please refrain from overgeneralization thanks a lot ‘preciate it.

@ jholler: how do you account for the non-fundamentalist Muslims who do stay devout?

Harp's avatar

I would add that there needs to be an adversary involved, preferably some kind of shadowy nemesis that can always be redefined as needed.

colin's avatar

@PnL: I’m not trying to be a stick in the mud. I’m just not sure that these general characterizations make all that much sense to me. There are people who identify as Jews for whom Judaism means pretty little as well.

In general, I suspect that it is community more than religion that has an effect on “holding/controlling power.” I am thinking of communities with two properties: (1) the community sets itself apart from the larger society in which it resides in some central way, and (2) strict adherence to a particular set of religious beliefs is a requirement to remain in the community. In communities with these two properties, people are either “in” or “out”, and for people to move “out”, they have to largely sacrifice their relationship with the community. I think that these properties are largely what result in the kind of strictness that you mention, and that you can find examples of communities with these properties in all religions.

shadling21's avatar

@Harp- Very true. Nothing unites people more than a common enemy.

laureth's avatar

@BoyWonder: What does anyone know about anything?

BoyWonder's avatar

@ laureth: Exactly my point why u should not overgeneralize something about a group of people which you obviously know nothing about. Your statement was ethnocentric and offensive.

laureth's avatar

@BoyWonder: He lived in Turkey, amongst Turks, for four years. In that time he met Turks of many stripes, and listened to what they had to say, and saw how (in general) many of them conducted life. He picked up some Turkish language, watched Turkish programming, shopped at the bazaar, had dinner with the neighbors, and lived life there. He came to an opinion of Turks through knowing many of them for as long as the average undergraduate goes to college.

While it may be that he met an unrepresentative group of people who also talked about other unrepresentative people, I think it may be fair to say that he came to a general understanding of life in the city of Izmir for the time he was there. It’s like going to live in New York or London for four years. You can come to a sort of understanding of a place, and when you talk about it, you have some basis for what you say being true. Of course, he didn’t speak to every Turk in every corner of Turkey, just like your average New Yorker doesn’t talk to every citizen of every apartment building in every borough, but their general understanding of New York may be pretty correct anyway.

And just like some New Yorkers are devout Christians and may go to Mass several times a week, would you say that New York, as a whole, is devoutly Christian? I would not. And his experiences in Turkey showed him that the vast majority of people that he met, talked to, saw, or heard about had a similar reaction to Islam – some might have been very devout indeed, but that the society as a whole was pretty darn secular. (Did you know that the Constitution of that country requires it to be fairly secular, and that the Army has stepped in and staged coups when it appeared to be heading in an overly religious direction? While he lived there, the Turkish President had achieved his office not by a general vote, but by being the head general during the last coup.)

I am sorry you found my statements to be ethnocentric and offensive, but I have no reason to believe they’re generally untrue. If one had to be a Ph.D. in a subject before being able to generalize about it, no one would be talking about anything very much. (How well do you know me, in fact, to come to the conclusion that I “obviously know nothing about?” You’ve never met me, spent a day with me, or studied my background.) People get by in their lives by making judgements based on their experiences, and unless they’re utter dimwits (or actively trying to be jerks), it’s oftentimes pretty accurate. In other words, after living in a place for several years, you can kinda get a feel for the place. It’s that feel and general knowledge that I was passing on, not the spoutings of an ethnocentric beast who was trying maliciously to spread lies – just the observances of someone who’d been there.

Thanks for listening.

tinyfaery's avatar

I just knew this wouldn’t stay on topic.

Like most of his posts regarding religion, I agree with harp. I also agree with community being a huge part of it.

laureth's avatar

@tinyfaery – I’m sorry for the topic drift, and I would have preferred it stay there too.

BoyWonder's avatar

The observances of someone who’d been there? Sounds like heresay to me, which I can’t rely on as an accurate source, I’m sorry. You’re using terms like “kinda” and “I think it may be fair to say…” which indicates to me that you aren’t fully sure of yourself. Perhaps you feel it’s an accurate assessment because your husband told you so, and I guess it’s natural to feel so. But it still does not excuse you. And with all due respect, your husband supposedly was there, not you, so how could I rely on your account as being accurate? I can’t.

BoyWonder's avatar

Anyway, I’ve already answered the question. I have nothing more to address regarding the above. Let us continue.

jlm11f's avatar

colin – i agree there are some generalizations in this Q. but I do believe that certain religions demand a lot more time/attention/passion to follow rather than others. I also believe that those religions are the ones that will stay around for the longest period of time. Please also note that in my Q description, I noted Judaism “to a lesser degree” fits into these paradigms.

And I agree with you completely on the community issue. I appreciate you clarifying your viewpoint, and concede that there are a lot of factors that play into religion and it’s popularity apart from the beliefs of the religion itself. I guess I am just trying to hone into one of the factors because discussing them all in one thread would be a lot harder.

laureth's avatar

At any rate, I think that having a closed system (by design or by chance) is one good way to perpetuate religious passion. The more people learn, the more viewpoints they come into contact with, the more they might see how other views may be just as accurate or worthy of respect as their own. When one lives a sheltered life, no matter what the religion, one can have a sense that their way is the One True Way, and all others, unworthy of study, are bunk. This is, of course, a generalization, and I’m sure that somewhere, some very devout people are also very openminded and may appreciate that other religions may be valid or reasonable, but I don’t find (in my own personal experience) that many devout people behave in this manner.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I would have to say, find a mountaintop, take a vow of silence.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I don’t know very much about any organized religion. I have a limited knowledge of Christianity because I have a number of devoutly Christian friends who answer any and all questions I have and encourage me to spend time with them when doing Christian activities, such as attending Christian youth group and church. While I disagree with a number of beliefs Christians hold, from these limited observations, it seems that there are two big unifiers.

First, what I have noticed is the emphasis on love. The Christians I have spent time with emphasize that God and Jesus love every single person on this planet, even the ones who violate the most sacred codes and rules of Christianity, and everyone can get into Heaven as long as they truly accept Christ into their heart and show honest penance for their sins.

Second, the emphasis on helping others. Sometimes, this means feeding and clothing the homeless, sometimes it means supplying that dollar the person at the grocery store needs to finish paying for groceries. More often than not, it seems that the best way a devout Christian can help others is to show that God loves them. These people do not want others to convert necessarily because they think those others are doing something wrong, but rather because they want non-Christians to know this wonderful, bountiful love that they as Christians experience.

If anyone would like to add, subtract, pr pick at my argument, by all means, do. I admit that I am nothing close to an expert on the subject.

jholler's avatar

You know, anytime someone uses the words “you obviously know nothing about” the self important judgemental attitude I see in that statement makes me classify that person immediately as a troll. The good thing is, after I point that out, I feel free to ignore whatever else they say.

madcapper's avatar

I think that David Koresh guy had the right idea…

AstroChuck's avatar

I know two Muslims, one of which is devout. The other Muslim I work with, and he’s the complete opposite. I’ve known him to even drink on rare occasions. I think that the media contributes to the confusion about Islam and its followers. I’ve known a few fanatical Christians in my day but it’s assumed that they are all fairly grounded.
People are people and that’s all. In my opinion all organized faiths have agendas and want to dictate how to live your life. Furthermore, they all seem to be inept when it comes to handling money as they are always begging us for it.
I just wish we could live in a world where you are free to worship as you please without others judging you and where everybody keeps their beliefs to themselves.

LostInParadise's avatar

One interesting aspect of Judaism is that the emphasis is on our current lives rather than the afterlife. In the past, Jews were kept busy saying prayers and carrying on rituals described in the Bible and Talmud. These days, only orthodox Jews bother with most of these rules.

Designer's avatar

You should read the Quraan to understand this devotion, you must listen to one reading the Quraan and believe me you’ll feel very reliefed with this tingly joy in your heart, There are certain facts that only the Quraan can explain, the bible has been changed and played with by the passed years and they have several books that each says different stories or things, and they say that God says that, it doesnt make any sense? if God realy said those things then why do we have many versions of these books?? why not ONE book? like Quraan? i know that this is the right religion, you should try praying with muslims and see how it feels or listen to Quraan :) just try, you wont loose anything :)

AstroChuck's avatar

@Designer- I believe that there’s only one version of the Bhagavad Gita, but that doesn’t mean that its contents are true. The Qur’an is no different than any other religious text. If you believe it, that’s fine, but it’s rather arrogant to say that your religion is the one true religion.
I’d also like to point out there are different beliefs incompassed within Islam. So who are the “true” Muslims?

steelmarket's avatar

Any religion, sect, whatever that teaches that have to earn your way into heaven based upon your own works. People are suckers for that. It gives them either pride, because they can count their good deeds, or guilt, because they can say that their bad works outweigh their good works.

jholler's avatar

I’ve read the koran. It did not give me warm fuzzies.

laureth's avatar

The Koran, like the Bible, was an oral tradition until the clergy decided to write down and preserve the Prophet’s words some years after his death, relying on the memories of those who did the reporting. It would seem that this method, like that used when writing down oral traditions the world over, favors the agenda of those doing the writing and editing.

AstroChuck's avatar

@jholler- You gotta admit, though, the rope trick part was really cool!

fireside's avatar

This is a big question. I started to list in my mind who i agreed with but I came in a bit late and there are a lot of good opinions above. All I can do is offer my own.

I believe that all religions have a mix of both passionate and complacent believers. You may not hear a lot about the less passionate ones because they simply don’t care to raise their voice. All religions have very active members working to uphold their beliefs.

As for the attributes of Judaism and Islam that might lead people to follow them so rigidly; I believe that rituals and community are the biggest factors. Both have a very rigid code of living and both have very tight-knit communities who seem to be less tolerant of diversion from the main path. sort of like Mormonism

Both also do have a large number of prayers which are normally sung in their original language. This would make it easier for some people to tune out the rest of their thoughts and focus more on the rhythm of the prayers, which would naturally lead to a more intense spiritual experience. This was also the reason for the elaborate Christian masses during the dark ages. The chants and incense were there to help tune out the horrors of daily life.

I could go into more in a lot of different areas, but I think I’ll just stick to the question.

cdwccrn's avatar

It occurs to me that charismatic leaders develop devoted, if not misguided followers.

Zuma's avatar

Off hand I would say there are three reasons why Muslims are more strict and passionate than Jews and Christians. One is that they believe that the Koran was dictated to Muhammad by Allah, so the Koran is the literal Word of God. And they have the original, or good copies of it. So, the religion is set up as what we would consider literalist fundamentalism from the outset.

The second is that Islam never went through the Enlightenment that way the Western world did, so Islam was never tempered by a humanist reinterpretation, a sense of inherent rights of the individual, and so it never developed or secular institutions, such as secular government, science or academic disciplines. As a consequence, they tend to have an absolutist God-centered worldview, where one’s highest aspiration is to be a slave of Allah, and where the rights of the individual count for little. Except for our fundamentalists, we tend to be human-centered, and to value human and civil rights. In Islam, religious and secular law tend to be blended together. Blasphemy, heresy and apostasy are all capital offenses—and in the more remote corners of Islam, away from Western influences, Sharia law is strictly enforced.

A third is that they never developed a robust civil law where people could settle disputes like we do with jury trials. In Islamic societies, disputes tend to grow into vendettas that never end. This creates a whole different orientation toward history, where they remember every grudge, grievance, attack and counter-attack going back up to 600 years in some cases. As a consequence, they tend to have a strong sense of honor, and a long memory for offenses to that honor, especially the humiliations of colonialism.

And there you have it, they tend to live in an insular, backward, theocratic societies, oil money notwithstanding. That said, there are places, like Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, that have become somewhat westernized due to their being on major trade routes. Many Islamic societies have western-educated elites who are able to co-exist with their more devout brethern because what goes on behind closed doors in Islamic society is your own business. As long as people don’t flout the law in public, they can do a lot of things that are not strictly legal. And since it is a shame culture, there is very little guilt about vices and other sorts of transgressions.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I think that the Church of Beer would be the most ardently followed faith there is, and as soon as I get my situation together, I will be starting the Official Church of Beer. Those devotees who would like to join should form a double line over there—>

shadling21's avatar

<Lines up>
ALL HAIL THE MIGHTLY LAGER!

jholler's avatar

Would that let us buy our brew tax-free?

Tantigirl's avatar

evelyns_pet_zebra – but there are already Churches of Beer. Here are a couple of ‘em:

The Church of Beer
Beer Church

I would love to see you ordained as a minister! ;)

fireside's avatar

Here are the unofficial Church of Beer Outfits

shadling21's avatar

@fireside- Wow, I seriously want one of those.

AstroChuck's avatar

@shandling21— Shouldn’t that be
ALL ALE THE MIGHTY LAGER?

laureth's avatar

I’m going to splinter, just like a good infidel, and praise the mighty Stout!

BoyWonder's avatar

Way to stay on topic, “people.”

shilolo's avatar

Perhaps being devoted to the all-knowing Google?

AstroChuck's avatar

Personally, I am devoted to the toupéed one.

Mizuki's avatar

Here is the answer: 1. Lack of economic opportunity—religion finds fertile ground in poverty. 2. Absence of education—societies and cultures where education is absent create a fertile ground for religion. 3. Absence of economic security—absence of Maslow’s lower levels like food, shelter, security creates an environment for religious growth.
I believe that your question is fallacious in that it assumes Christians are not equivalent on the zealotry scale on par with Muslims, is simply false. Though, Christians that live in societies with access to education, economic security and opportunity are the ones you mentioned that are Christians but whose practice is less intense.
In areas that meet the above 1–3 criteria, Christians walk on their knees, flog themselves, crucify themselves in ceremonies——ect. I do believe that Muslims are more likely to live under criteria 1–3, therefore more likely to be zealots. Yet, all things being equal, Christians and Muslims behave in a similar manner. Heck, in Indonesia, Jakarta Muslims drink and party and have sex and gamble—just like Christians in America.
Now consider any area of the world where conditions 1–3 do exist, like Europe or the NE or West USA—religious fervency is much less marked, is it not?

Somebody give me some lurve—I just nailed it—I’m a lurve whore!

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

blame me for getting folks off topic, sorry. And since I was asleep at the switch getting the church of beer up and bubbling, let me go back to the original religion I started. I started the Orgasmic Church of Evelyn about ten years ago. We are strict in the fact that we refuse to proselytize, and as for passionate, well with the first word of our faith being Orgasmic, how much more passionate can you get?

Those people that are members are quite strict about not proselytizing and also are very passionate about Evelyn, and if you don’t believe me, just ask em.

Mizuki's avatar

2 evelyn——where can I sign up for the “Church of the Screaming O”?

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Mizuki, drop me a comment, I’ll get you all the necessary paperwork, and have you promising not to proselytize about Evelyn just like the rest of us in no time at all. Of course, the OCE cannot guarantee you all the O you want, as with everything else, your results may vary. :-)

Mizuki's avatar

I’m down

BoyWonder's avatar

@jholler: Strict fundamentalist Islam? There is only Islam, there are no variations, no denominations. Please be clear on that. What you’re referring to are the political policies of a fundamentalist dictatorship, which actually go against what Islam is all about.

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