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Manufacturing Religion

It used to be my job to improve manufacturing, making it more effective and efficient. So, I learned all I could about how to do that. One day, a man in Phoenix taught me more about the subject than I’d learned anywhere else. Here’s part of what he said.

Bob was an upbeat and charismatic, but quiet, guy. He seemed to be in his late 40’s and stood at middling height, with short brown hair and a slight Southern accent, from Eastern Tennessee I think. He also headed up a mainstream Protestant denomination with many millions of adherents. Why was this guy keynoting a conference on manufacturing? I thought to myself.

It soon became clear that the answer was: Because he’s figured out some valid, core principles and how to use them.

He began by making a little fun of himself and then gave us a bit of background. “My business is religion,” he said, “and it’s been around for awhile. Anthropologists tell us that religion in some form is present in every human culture, and always has been. A new twist to religion over the past century has been secular religions that have swept across great chunks of the world. Though their dogma and faith is secular and even atheist, anthropologists see them as religions all the same because they exhibit the same characteristics. That is, the anthropologists who have not themselves become fanatical adherants of that particular belief system.”

Next, and most profound for me, Bob laid out the general and universal, three-step process of religion:

(1) Bring people into the ‘Church’ (the shared belief system),

(2) Bring them closer to ‘God’ (or whatever substitutes for God, e.g. Nirvana, Enlightenment, Dictatorship of the Proletariat, The Earth, Money, etc.), and imbue them with the desire to go out and do ‘Good’ in the world (by whatever standards ‘God’ and the ‘Church’ say ‘good’ is, e.g. slaying infidel children or burniing homes under construction), then

(3) Encourage them to bring others into the ‘Church’

“Wash. Rinse. Repeat.” As many different shampoo bottles tell us.

What makes this process a religious one is the requirement that faith be the path to understanding. This is because, the core truths of every religion cannot be proved by rational means. So there must be faith in an unseen something, or set of somethings, that a person can be convinced is worthy of total devotion.

There are three generic cornerstones of this universal human process: ‘Church’, ‘God’ and ‘Good’. Over the ages, they have been irresistible magnets to ruthless, power-hungry charlatans. And to true saints. Regardless, most of the rest of us need faith in something greater than ourselves and worthy of devotion. We’re wired that way. I think this must be true, or religion wouldn’t be present everywhere and everywhen there are humans.

What an insight Bob provided for us manufacturing nerds in that cool, dark hall on a sizzling Arizona day! Ever since, based on science and reason rather than faith, I’ve tried to use his simple, circular process to engage people in efforts that seem worthy to me. And it’s worked pretty well.

But, perhaps it’s greatest value has been to help me detect and debunk ruthless charlatans who live to hoodwink the innocent with exhortations to ‘just believe’ and calls to destroy infidel deniers. I’ve particularly enjoyed it when the deceitful wolf wears the flayed sheepskin of junk science to help pull the wool over our eyes.

It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Thanks, Bob!

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