Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ned's Laws of Religious Inertia

I seem to have ticked off a lot of people with my last post, so let me clarify a couple things.

I believe in religious inertia. This is not a scientific theory, just one I've cobbled together based on my observations. There are people who defy the laws of religious inertia; I am simply trying to explain the behavior of the majority of people.

Ned's Laws of Religious Inertia

1. Most people do not change religions during their lifetime.

2. Most people are not interested in changing their religion.

3. It often takes a shock to the system or a fundamental change (e.g. marriage to a spouse of a different religion) to break someone out of their religious orbit.

4. Strong social forces like families and friends work to keep people in their existing religious orbits.

I don't think these laws are very controversial. Obviously there are lots of exceptions, but I think that this is generally how the world works.


Enochville said...

I agree with that. There is inertia in most human behaviors.

Steve EM said...


I concur w/ your rationale, but your reasons all assume a steady state model. I would add a local church or entire denomination changing traditions, practices or doctrines causes some people to look elsewhere regardless of other circumstances in their lives. My folks were both educated and my dad was a successful corporate attorney. They were involved in local politics and had a wide social network. We left Catholicism when I was ~12 because the parish priest was openly gay, and while even back then my dad didn't think homosexuality was a choice, he thought someone practicing it had no business being a spiritual leader. A “kid” eating an ice cream cone stopped him on a Manhattan street and asked if he knew anything about the church. Today at least 88 people are LDS because of an out priest and Mormon missionary not bashful about bothering people on the street.

I thought about this when some people posted on another blog several months ago about “project Ammon” converts in Japan being weak and leaving the church. I would argue that when project Ammon was pulled, those converts had a good reason to look elsewhere since the church they joined had abruptly changed.

Laura W said...

I disagree with #2- I think plenty of people consider changing religions, read and investigate the doctrines of other churches and even attend other churches. I see it all the time on my college campus.

However, at the end of the day, strong social forces exert enough pressure to keep people from officially converting. I think the other reason many people do not change religions is that actively deciding to convert requires making a definite commitment to that church and many people do not want the pressure of that committment. It's one thing to be marginally affiliated with a church you were born into, it's a different thing entirely to become less active after having made a conscious committment to that faith.

Rusty said...

Whew! Good thing I was born into the right one! :)

D-Train said...

I'm generally with them all. The key words are "most". There are exceptions, but if you're actively involved in religion, you're probably not going anywhere else anytime soon. Understanding this would make missionary work a lot easier: not personal, just business.

Watt Mahoun said...

Ned, there's a reason why Homer thinks you're a jerk. He thinks everything you say and do is a personal attack.

Homer will Homer. :-)

BTW...if only all "laws" were as intuitive as "Ned's Laws of Religious Inertia."

Ann said...

I wonder if it's not JUST inertia. Maybe there's some actual "stickiness" to the original religion/lack thereof. That is, maybe, if you DO change, you end up fighting the force that is trying to bring you back?

annegb said...

I'm from southern Utah. An old professor once said "There is power in conforming to the norms and mores of the society in which we live."

He was right. In southern Utah, church activity, or even the appearance of it, is power.

He wasn't old, it was just a long time ago.

NFlanders said...

Enochville-- I agree. Especially getting up from the couch.

Steve EM-- Good point. There are a lot of external factors (bad leaders, church policy changes) that can easily override these laws.

Rusty-- Funny.

Laura W-- You may be right. However, I think many people are very interested in learning about other religions but would never consider changing.

D-Train-- A thousand amens! I remember several missionary companions who would get visibly upset with rejection. We need to understand things from other perspectives.

Ann-- Interesting theory. It is hard to leave behind an entire childhood of indoctrination. A lot of Mormon inactives come back, but I don't think too many ex-Mormons come back. I think there is definitely a level of Mormonism where the stickiness completely wears off.

annegb-- Great quote. Church gives us callings and roles and a place in the community. It is hard to give that up.

Ann said...

I was thinking the other way, too. That is, if you DO join the church, the "old ways" keep calling. Which means it's not just inertia that keeps people from changing religions, it's more like gravity.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,

I'm not sure what to make of "The Ammon Project" and I directly experienced a good portion of it (just wasn't there for the "founding").

We can all draw our own annectdotal conclusions about it. But until someone else publishes more research on the scale of that done by Cyril Figuerres, it's all just speculation.

I don't know really if "Ammon converts" were any stronger or not. Japan's always had lousy retention rate and the problems of Japanese Mormons make many of the complaints voiced on the "bloggernacle" seem pretty trite by comparison.

I do know that the Ammon Project produced a lot more converts (and they weren't sneaky "Joseph Smith Club" type baptisms either) given the time span. Maybe there were just more converts to lose.

Seth R.

Steve EM said...


As you know, I served in Western Europe, not Japan. Project Ammon was described on that other blog as "The Church of Play with your Cool New Friends". My point is if I joined such a church that then morphed into a tradition LDS church, I'd be out in a heartbeat. It's nothing against project Ammon. From all the descriptions I've read, it sounded like an initially great local program that suffered from bad managment long term and, unfortunetly, some AH threw out the baby with the bath water.

Anonymous said...

I've read my old post. I hope I didn't focus too much on only the "juicy details." People tend to do that when reminiscing.