To avoid groupthink, become religious

Buddhism: Day 10 and 11

A reader e-mailed yesterday in response to my post, The Case Against DIY Religion. In the post, I argue that the DIY method to spiritual and ethics will likely be less effective than adopting an established a religion system.

In her e-mail, she made the point that one of the dangers of becoming a member of an organized religion is groupthink, which Wikipedia defines as “the phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.”

Sounds like my day job.

I’m generally allergic to groupthink. In fact, I probably deviate to the opposite end of the spectrum; I am irrationally contrarian when there is no need to be. Falling for groupthink is one of my greatest fears in life.

I used to think that highly religious people were brainwashed and that they must somehow be less intelligent than secular people.

I have no idea where I got this idea from. I think it comes from seeing Evangelical Christian “Jesus loves you” bumper stickers all over the place that make me roll my eyes from time to time. Or perhaps it’s from movies that portray religions as cults of some sort. I don’t know.

But what I’ve discovered in the past few months is that religion does not produce groupthink at all. Religion actually cures groupthink!

Once you begin to study and experience religion, you realize that religion tackles some of the most challenging and important questions of your life. It will force you to examine your behavior, your beliefs, and your way of life.

How should you treat other people? Is there a soul? What obligations do you have to the poor? What is your role in a community?

You may protest, yes, religion does ask those questions, but then gives you a single answer you must believe in.

This is also false. Even within a religion there is serious debate about very fundamental issues. This is why you sometimes see religions split off into different sects. Does this sound like groupthink to you?

I know Catholics who disagree with the Church in a few major ways (abortion, gay marriage, celibacy of priests, etc.), and yet they don’t leave the Church. The Church does not excommunicate them. In fact, the Church forces them to engage with these issues on a very deep level. Is a fetus considered a life? What does love between two people really mean, and how does it contribute to human flourishing? How does sex get in the way of fully committing to living a life committed to the divine?

Compare this to the way modern media handles these issues. They portray the issues in a way to maximize controversy (to boost their viewership/readership). There are only two sides, and their ideas and arguments are two dimensional.

I actually think that the secular and the modern encourages groupthink more than anything else!

Let’s compare how Buddhism and modernity handle the question of suffering.

Buddhism forces you to examine the nature of suffering. Where does it come from? Why do we suffer? How do we alleviate it?

Buddhism will tell you that the root cause of suffering is attachment and craving for the impermanent. Your unmet cravings make you miserable. The way to end your suffering is to cultivate awareness of what causes you to suffer, and then to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to live a rich life devoid of suffering and full of joy.

Modernity says that your suffering is caused by not having enough money, your boss, your lack of cool stuff, etc. The cure is to get more money, get a better boss or work for yourself, and to buy more stuff.

Buddhism will ask you to question the nature of reality.

Modernity only asks you to question what type of career you might like to have and what type of car you’d like to drive.

If you are worried about groupthink, like I am, you should be more concerned about the way modernity is altering the way you think and the way you live. After some careful examination, you may find that in fact, you’ve been victim to groupthink all along!

One of the best ways to fight groupthink is to study and practice ancient philosophies and religions. You’ll be intellectually and emotionally challenged in a way that will help you grow and flourish.

And if you don’t believe me, I will excommunicate you from this blog while I lead my army of unthinking ancient wisdom seekers.

“Doubt everything, find your own light” – Fake Buddha Quote