Not just any ordinary normal-sized brick, but a large, cinderblock-sized one, heavy enough that he had to carry it with his arm raised up, hoisted over his shoulder. In the library. On its side was painted a purple symbol I didn't recognize.
I was dying to know what the deal was here, so I approached him, and inquired as to the unusual behavior I was observing.
"It's a fraternity initiation rite," he explained sheepishly. "I have to carry this thing around for a week, everywhere I go, never entirely letting go of it."
I sat back down, pondering the absurdity I had just witnessed. Why would anyone subject themselves to such a pointless exercise, I thought to myself? And what's with these crazy fraternities that they make people go through these idiotic rituals?
Eventually, the obvious answer became all too clear to me. I realized that it's simply a loyalty thing. The guy is doing this to prove to the fraternity how loyal he is willing to be for them. By fulfilling this meaningless ritual, he's demonstrating to the group that not only does he want to be a part of their group, but that he is willing to subject himself to their demands, even when those demands go against his own self interest. They're not asking him to perform 30 hours of community service, or maintain a certain GPA, or score a certain number of foul shots. They're asking him to do something that has absolutely no sensible rationale whatsoever; something which no sane person would ever agree to doing. And why? Why perform a pointless task? Only because they told him to do so. It's an act of pure obedience. By agreeing to perform this task, he's implicitly acknowledging that their authority takes precedence over his own moral and logical sense. Although this act might indeed seem harmless enough, by his willingness to surrender his interests to those of the wider group, he's proving to them that, in the future, if need be, they can rely on him to protect the welfare of the collective over his own needs. They can rest assured that if he is ever faced with a choice between doing what his own mind tells him is right, and doing what the group tells him is right, he will act appropriately. In appreciation of this compliance, the person will no doubt be amply rewarded. He'll be granted entry to a select group of people, and be provided countless benefits that outsiders are denied. But his access to these privileges will be contingent on his continuous and unyielding submission to the demands of the greater group.
As I sat there contemplating this incredibly brilliant system that the inventors of the fraternity came up with, it suddenly occurred to me that I had actually just been deconstructing one of the key aspects of religious society. After all, hadn't I just described so much of what religion is about? Doing things that in ordinary circumstances you'd find ridiculous and pointless, but because some authority figure deems them necessary, you acquiesce to their demands? Isn't so much of religion about subverting your will to a greater interest?
The parallels were uncanny.
- Religion often (not always, but often) asks people to live their lives by a set of rules that doesn't make any sense whatsoever to a rational person. And why? Because the religious authority (god, the rabbis, the talmud, etc.) says so.
- Religion often says to its adherents, "Don't trust your own moral sense of right and wrong. It's only right or wrong because we say so."
- Isn't it common to find religion highly averse to independent thought?
- Doesn't religion grant its adherents countless benefits denied to outsiders, in exchange for its members' continued loyalty and devotion?