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A Paradox of Ecclesiology

[Epistemic status: Sloppy. You’re going to have to read between the lines and fill in some of the holes here.]

I.

Some rationalists study ecclesiology. I used to think this was dumb. Now I appreciate it a little more. Let me see if I can explain.

Suppose you have a cause or movement. Let’s say libertarianism. You’re probably not going to get too far on your own, so you start looking for other people who agree with you.

You end up with a wide spectrum of people. Some of them agree with you on nearly everything. Other people consider themselves part of your movement, but disagree with your goals and hate you personally. Maybe you’re kind of a soft libertarian who just wants the government to decriminalize pot and stop ordering illegal drone attacks, but the other guy wants to disband the government entirely and make everyone live in heavily armed communes. And the other other guy is a member of the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party, and you’re not even sure if he has real opinions or just likes chaining political-sounding words together, but that swastika armband of his is starting to creep you out.

If you only work together with the libertarians who agree with you about everything, then you’ll have a nice, low-conflict group who can cooperate naturally and completely to achieve common goals. You’ll also have like three people.

If you work together with everyone who shares a goal with you, you get much more power – money, activist-hours, votes – but you’ve got to make ideological compromises. And sometimes you’ve got to make practical compromises too – for example, letting people you consider idiots have a say in your strategic planning, or holding your nose and agreeing to wear a swastika armband on Tuesdays and every second Thursday.

One option is to refuse to incorporate a formal group. You vote for whichever major-party candidate seems the most libertarian, occasionally picket your local IRS office, and write lots of angry letters to the editor about Big Government. The heavily-armed-commune people also do some similar things, and sometimes you go to each other’s protests, or write articles in each other’s magazines. Occasionally the Libertarian Green Nazis say something, and you get to pretend you don’t know them.

This seems to be the status of the broader libertarian movement right now, as well as a lot of other movements like feminism, transhumanism, socialism, Islam, and atheism – just to name a few.

Another option is that you do incorporate a formal group. You come up with bylaws and membership requirements and elect a Planning Committee and start fretting a lot over who is In and who is Out.

The libertarian version of this seems to be the US Libertarian Party. They are no doubt the strongest face of US libertarianism, but they only capture a tiny part of the energy and power of the movement. Running through the other movements mentioned in order, they can boast groups like the National Organization for Women, MIRI, the US Communist Party, various mosques, and the Secular Student Association. Usually there is more than one group per movement – Islam, for example, boasts everything from your local mosque to ISIS to CAIR.

Muslims have this quasi-messianic goal of the caliphate – a single organization representing and capturing all the strength of Islam. It seems to me to be a very reasonable goal, at least conditional on supporting Islam and wanting it to flourish. Likewise, if there were a Single Feminist Organization that contained and directed the actions of all feminists, that would be a really big deal. If two or more socialists could sit in a room together without each accusing the others of being fascist pigs, maybe socialism would achieve more.

The Big Question of ecclesiology seems to me to be – how do you design a single organization to capture and direct the greatest percentage of your movement’s energy most effectively?

Here there are a bunch of tradeoffs, most notably:

Strict organization versus relaxed organization. If I wanted to capture near 100% of all libertarians, the easiest way would be to spend my own money publishing nice glossy pamphlets with pictures of the Statue of Liberty on them saying in a vague way that more freedom would be nice. Probably most libertarians, presented with a chance to sign their name on a dotted line saying they are “a supporter” of my organization at no cost to them, would be willing to go along. But in terms of energy direction, this is frickin’ useless.

On the other hand, imagine an organization in which the Libertarian Field Marshal gave orders to everyone who signed on – you quit college to canvas door-to-door, you get a Ph. D in economics so we can have someone ready to respond to arguments against the free market if we need it, you become a banker and donate your obscene salary to our group. This group has energy-direction up the wazoo, and it could become incredibly powerful with only a couple dozen members. It also would never get a couple dozen members.

Strict orthodoxy versus relaxed orthodoxy. Maybe you’re allowed to join the group if you “identify” with the “label” of libertarian. Maybe you have to agree to every single point on a ninety-point platform about what the ideal society should be and how we’re going to pursue it. The first group is probably hopelessly conflict-prone and can only act in very large brush strokes. The second group can work together much more easily, but is smaller.

The limiting case of relaxedness is a national government, which “represents” everyone in an entire country, but which is so non-agenty that it is better viewed as a sort of exoskeleton-suit for other movements to take over and control rather than a goal-having movement in its own right. The limiting case of strictness is a single person.

Top-down control versus bottom-up control. Bottom-up control makes members happy, offers a guarantee against certain forms of insanity, and is a good way of resolving disputes and preventing outright civil war. Top-down control is more effective in terms of making sure the group’s actions are unified and not “designed by committee” in the perjorative sense of the phrase. It also means the people who founded the organization aren’t going to suddenly get outvoted by a membership that wants to do something else, which seems to be a surprisingly common problem. For example, the Republican Party started out as the party representing the racially enlightened and highly educated North against the backward South. I wonder how that’s been working out for them?

Closely related here is the problem of value drift. You can go a large part of the way to preventing value drift by some level of hard-coding of principles in a founding document (eg the US Bill of Rights) which is very difficult for future generations to change. On the other hand, if those values prove unexpectedly sub-optimal you get stuck having to say the founding document was “meant as a metaphor” or declaring in 1978 that you got a new revelation from God saying the previous revelation from God was received in error.

If you succeed in these tradeoffs, your reward is an organization that encompasses a large number of mostly-like-minded individuals who invest a lot of effort into working together for a common purpose. If you fail, you get organizations that can never get a coherent platform together or tear themselves apart in internal squabbles or civil wars.

II.

So much for a description of what an atheist ecclesiology might be about. What about the experimental results of such an ecclesiology?

Most of the people I know who have thought about this problem hard agree upon one major ecclesiological principle that neatly summarizes the gist of their investigation into this area:

The Catholic Church is really, really impressive.

It is the oldest continuously-operating organization in the world. It is the largest organization in the world, as measured in number of members. It is probably the richest non-state organization in the world. Although we can debate how closely they have stuck to the founding principles they had as of 114 AD or 1014 AD, they are doubtlessly a lot closer to those principles than, say, modern China is to 1014-AD-China.

Although there are other religions nearly as large as Catholicism – Islam and Hinduism, for example – they lack the same level of organization or really any organization at all. And although there are various governments that are probably a bit more powerful, they cheat by being able to throw anyone who doesn’t support them in jail. So what are the Church’s institutional choices, and how do they contribute to its longevity and success?

The first unusual thing I immediately notice about the Catholic Church is its insistence on turning group membership into a binary. You can be sort-of-libertarian, kind-of-libertarian, occasionally-libertarian-on-some-topics, or super-duper-libertarian – but the Catholics make it very clear that you are either A Catholic or Not A Catholic. You become a Catholic by going through the appropriate rituals, which are obvious and public and difficult to miss. You become Not A Catholic by things like official orders of excommunication.

I agree that this has become sort of washed out in recent years, to the point where there are people who are as just as vaguely Catholic as I am vaguely Jewish – that is, hardly at all except as a fuzzy feeling of connectedness to a group that shaped your culture. But as best I can tell, the Official Church Position is that this is degenerate, and that on God’s computer each person definitely has a Boolean variable representing whether they are Catholic or not.

Second, I notice the Catholic Church formalizes what beliefs and commitments Catholicism does and does not entail. These are the endless creeds and catechisms. Most other organizations have no good equivalent to this – not only is there no Feminist Catechism, but there’s not even a creed for specific limited feminist organizations like NOW or NARAL. Although party platforms are kind of close to this, I feel like on closer inspection they’re effects rather than causes of group membership. They’re talking about “Given the current makeup of the Republican Party, here are the sorts of things we expect Republican candidates to push during the next election”. They’re not saying “If you don’t believe every plank of this platform, get out of the GOP.”

Not only does the Church formalize where they demand conformity, but they formalize where they don’t. I don’t know enough to talk about this accurately, but I think that questions like “What was the Virgin Mary’s eye color?” can be debated by anyone with a half-baked theory and any bishop asked to intervene would get annoyed and say the Church has no opinion on this and shouldn’t force consensus. On the other hand, if someone asks “Was the Virgin Mary even Jesus’ real mother at all?” the Church politely informs you that they are forcing consensus on this question and you can either fall into line with the consensus or be declared a heretic and get out of the Church and in to the pit of eternal fire where the worm dieth not.

Fourth, although I don’t begin to claim to know enough theology to have credible things to say about the demands the Church may make, there are definitely occasional instances of, for example, Catholics being excommunicated for being part of abortion rights groups or the like. So it seems like they are pretty serious about being able to tell you what to do and expelling you if you don’t do it (with the caveat that in most cases with low-level proles they never bother to enforce it). But they likewise seem pretty serious about not abusing that power in stupid ways.

Fifth, the Church is hierarchical. There are many clearly defined levels, it’s obvious who is in charge of whom, and each level has to obey the levels above it or else. The Pope is in charge of all the levels and in theory everyone has to listen to him. You get promoted based on some combination of ability and politics.

Finally, the Church seems really big on rituals. A lot of them seem to be very clear IDENTIFY US AS YOUR IN GROUP AND THIS AS YOUR COMMUNITY NOW rituals – attempts to flip Haidt’s hive switch. Others just lend an air of dignity and grandeur to proceedings.

III.

A paradox: if the Catholic Church is the most successful organization in history, why don’t other organizations follow its example?

There are a few counterexamples here. National armies seem very similar to the Catholic Church in a lot of ways. You’re either in them or out of them. There are induction rituals and dismissal rituals. They are hierarchical with a general on top, colonels and majors in the middle, and the enlisted man on the bottom. When you’re in them, you have to do everything the higher levels say or you get kicked out and make a lot of people very angry. The whole thing is extremely full of rituals and everyone has to venerate various ritual objects in weird ways (for example, the national flag, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). Fraternal organizations like the Freemasons seem to have something kind of similar going on here.

But that just makes the problems weirder. National armies are optimized for effectiveness and nearly everyone considers them impressive models of organizations that Get Things Done. If the Catholic Church – maybe the most culturally powerful organization in the world – and the US Army – doubtless the most physically powerful organization in the world – share a structure, isn’t that a pretty strong point in favor of that structure?

Yet a lot of very sincere, maybe even fanatical movements – the libertarian movement, the feminist movement, the transhumanist movement, the socialist movement – don’t seem to even be considering that model.

Their model is to have a large base of mostly atomized supporters, upon which float many different organizations. The supporters donate money to the organizations, and sometimes accept paying or volunteer jobs there. Occasionally they will wear the organization’s logo on a t-shirt, or affix its bumper sticker to their car, but this is the extent of their identification. The organizations do not have membership rosters per se, except maybe a “donor list” or “supporter list” that exists mostly so they know who to email the newsletter to.

The only political-social organizations that even approach the Church model are political parties – and as we saw before, these fall short in a lot of ways. They demand nothing from supporters, their platforms are notably different from catechisms, and although they sort of have hierarchy and ritual it seems a bit forced and apologizing-for-itself most of the time.

So phrased differently, the paradox goes: why are there so many NGOs and so few Churches?

One answer I reject is that nobody wants to join a Church. I see among my friends something approaching longing for a good Church-like structure. This is hard for me to explain without naming names in a way I worry would be embarrassing, but it seems self-evidently true to me. Certainly this was something I saw a lot in micronations – a longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Imagine that whatever cause you most support – libertarianism, transhumanism, effective altruism, feminism, whatever – had a Church type organization that you could join, led by the spokesperson for that movement you most respect (Ron Paul? Ray Kurzweil? Peter Singer? bell hooks?). You are welcome to go to their local community center, partake in a tasteful initiation ritual, and then they will ask you to do certain things for the good of the movement, which you will be assured the other members of the movement will also be doing. They will have a clearly printed list of what they do or don’t demand consensus on, and members of the movement will follow it for the sake of maintaining cohesion. No more endless “Can you still be a feminist even if you don’t…?” debates. The answer is always “Look at the list printed by the Feminist Pope (Mome?), if it’s not on there, then yes”. Also, their hierarchs wear cool clothes and occasionally speak in dead languages.

Unless every single cliched movie villain speech I have ever seen is wrong, humans long for someone to rule them and tell them what to do. Structure is good. Ability to pick your own in group is good. I have a really hard time imagining that there are no Churches because of a lack of willing adherents.

My guess is that for some reason we have a specific memetic immune response against Churches. Existing religions are grandfathered in. Everyone else who starts evolving towards such a design gets told they’re a cult and soundly mocked. I think this might have happened to Objectivism, which at one point might have been turning into a Church but now looks a little more like an NGO.

Chesterton’s Fence tells us we probably shouldn’t mess with this. But there is still a spot in my heart that misses all of the interesting Churches that there could have been.

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262 Responses to A Paradox of Ecclesiology

  1. Thomas Eliot says:

    How much of this has changed over time? Certainly the “the Catholics won’t throw you in jail” thing used to be different. The structure I expect is more or less the same.

    Did there used to be more Churches?

    • Multiheaded says:

      Might be useful to separate Catholic-influenced governments and laws from the actual Catholic “prisons”, like forcing women into convents as penance.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Did there used to be more Churches?

      Depends on what you count as a church. The official state religions of ancient Greece and Rome coexisted with initiatory cults such as the Orphic or Mithraic mysteries, for instance. Piety towards the official religion was connected with political loyalty to the state; but people might well have felt more strongly about their Mithraic meetup group (with its secrets, ranks, and ritual meals) than about offerings to the deified Emperor. Hard to say.

      The idea that you’re only supposed to have one religion seems to be pretty specific to the Abrahamic faiths and their imitators.

      • Lavendar bubble tea says:

        Greece and Rome are really interesting examples because it was expected for a person’s religious life to be divided up into different spheres and because the state religions were orthopraxic. They didn’t really care if you believed in Roma or had uncommon views about her so long as you followed social ordered and paid your offerings in taxes. Unlike with Catholicism,you were not expected to have ONE religious association and that being the end of it, and unlike more free form modern movements you still had to abide by certain set practices which were highly enforced.

        People often belonged to one or more state approved cults which all had a variety of traditions and there was also an obligation for each family to have a domestic practice as well.

        In my social network, a main aversion to the idea of churches/church like structure is the fear one organization will try to take over their ENTIRE lives and that they would need to hide/repress all difference if other groups start taking on Catholic like structures. I personally really like the Greek and Roman systems as inspiration for how to have more structured organizations since they have a standard of how to act/what to do to make an organization effective while still expecting people to have multi membership/obligations. (Please note, that I’m fairly new to studying Greek and Roman religion and history, if I am wrong/have the wrong information than I’d love to read the correct facts)

      • Mary says:

        this is because there are two kinds of religions.

        One is the type where what outsiders call religion is the part of your life where you act appropriately toward beings with divinity. This type is heavily syncretistic and not cleanly cut off from the rest of your activities.

        The other is the type formed by reaction and rejection to the first type. Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism all fall under this. Notice that the first type often doesn’t have a name until the second type comes along — Hinduism, Shinto. Technically Greco-Roman paganism doesn’t have a name yet since paganism means them out other, including Buddhists.

        You can’t have one religion until the concept of having two is possible.

        • Lavendar bubble tea says:

          @Mary

          I find the idea of divided religions into two groups based on that criteria to be really interesting.

          I think it’s important to note that both Hinduism and Greco-Roman Paganism are both really really wide umbrella terms for numerous sects. Many people tend not to realize that Hinduism is a term given to a mass amount of sects which all accept the authority of the Vedas in a religious context and the sects did have names for themselves/recognized each other in some fashion. For Greco-Roman titles, there were numerous sects with different titles, but I’ve heard the state religion of Rome called “Religio Romana” and Hellenic religion for attempts to reconstruct that period. But that’s just basically saying “Religion of Rome/the Hellenic world” so I think you may be right about those branches not having a name. I need to think that about that. (On one hand, Religo Romana was a state religion so calling it the religion of Rome is really really accurate but then I’m not sure how the ancient Romans conceptualized themselves)

        • Mary says:

          “both really really wide umbrella terms for numerous sects”

          I said that. That is merely long for syncretistic.

          • Lavendar bubble tea says:

            @Mary, I’m sorry, I misunderstood what you were saying. (I misunderstood syncretistic to mean very fluid to change in general/very dynamically changing religions and thought that you were trying to convey those major religious groups were very prone to changing based on the needs/events of those cultures. I didn’t realized that you were implying/referring the existence of sects. Which I feel foolish for now)

        • Mary says:

          Strictly speaking, syncretistism refers to the way they absorb all sorts of practices, but that yields both a lot of cults, and fluidity in practice.

          After all, in Shinto, the approved people to perform funerals are Buddhist monks. Which produces both results.

  2. Multiheaded says:

    I wonder if you can have the same old anarchic structure BUT simultaneously a very heavy emphasis on ritual. Presumably this would lead to temporary cohesion along several axes where the ritual’s power and narrative are overriding. For a weak but curious example, rape is profane to feminists and we have seemingly started to ritually abjure it. This has Effects: some Problematic, but some nice – like how even nasty/dishonest/harmful feminists can usually be counted upon to speak out against rape of men.

  3. Multiheaded says:

    Oh! Yeah. I had one very specific thing in mind: reblog an anti-rape/feminist thing on tumblr. I feel like clicking reblog on a colorful, illustrated post with that distinctive heartfelt and/or outraged tone, already tens/hundred of thousands of notes showing, carries a weak echo of an actual Ritual, like passing beneath a high cathedral arch. Even some bdsm porn blogs that I follow occasionally do it; to filter out scumbags, or to sanction the place?

  4. suntzuanime says:

    A few possible reasons for so few churches.

    1) In order to have a Church, you need to have a Christ to give the moral authority and a St. Peter to take it. Christs are in short supply, and when they do pop up they often have their moral authority appropriated by Judases.

    2) Churches seem pretty silly unless they’re old and sanctified by tradition, so you only see them popping up when the status quo has lost the mandate of heaven and even silliness is worth a try. Things have just been going too well in the developed world for new churches to get much of a foothold.

    3) We’re all still traumatized by Hitler and some of us by Stalin. This only explains things if the decline in churches is quite recent historically, but it might be? Also it only works if Naziism and Stalinism are churches, and they might fail on the third criterion.

    • Multiheaded says:

      From my personal, very biased understanding of history, the RCC *as a church* has probably perpetuated way WAY more evil than Nazism’s church/community aspects. All those rallies and flags were not enough to get the German people to *actively* want to slaughter their Jewish neighbours. Privately the Nazi high officials regarded the Kristallnacht as exposing a dangerous lack of public will, a near-failure, and so the death camps had to be at least deniable. The RCC was more competent at oppressing/robbing.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Most of the Church’s atrocities happened back in History Times, when everybody was pretty evil. They seemed like nice guys compared to the rivers-of-blood Mongols, for example. The Nazis did their nasty business in the 20th century, after people were supposed to have become civilized, so they get less of a pass.

      • Anthony says:

        Because the Catholic Church was rarely directly ruling the State, it didn’t actually do that much evil, though it certainly turned a blind eye to quite a lot. Also, even within the Church, you don’t hear that much about some of the good that the Church did in defiance of the State.

        Example – the Church *preserved* many American languages, by translating the Bible and much else besides in order to convert the natives. Various Kings of Spain complained about this, but it wasn’t until the 1770s that an order banning the use of languages other than Spanish and Latin by the Church actually became at all effective. If the Church had been intent on stamping out the native languages, we’d have lost *a lot* more than we did.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Never said it didn’t do good; for example, its early and laudable opposition to slavery, or the work of the Jesuits. My two main beefs with it are the systemic oppression of women and the centuries of agrarian injustice, and both of those were enormously horrible, and are still rather overlooked next to comic-book-villain things like censorship or blasphemy trials.

        • Anonymous says:

          The church didnt acquire a clear anti fascist stance till after WWII, either.

      • Oligopsony says:

        The SS was modeled on the Jesuits* and highly ritualized, although obviously they could afford to be a lot more selective than “all of Germany.” (Collins says that coerced ritual participation doesn’t produce solidarity, though this could be maturity-dependent – the generation raised under Nazism seems to have been quite enthusiastic.)

        Liberals and socialists, by contrast, seem to have had much shabbier rittech. (Note that the latter’s most successful adoption seems to be NK, which seems to rightist in a number of ways.) Of course liberals invented the rituals of the modern national state, which have been very successful, and the SPD was highly solidary and ritualized – arguably Nazi success was most prominent in disrupting others’ ritual solidarities.

        *second-strong villains in the Nazi imaginary alongside the Freemasons – in the context of this thread I suppose it jumps out that these and Jews are ritualized partial groups, but what’s always jumped out at me is that if the Nazis arose today they’d totally be fighting to free Europe from Reptoid domination.

        • Multiheaded says:

          and the SPD was highly solidary and ritualized

          Yes! That’s something that not many remember today.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichsbanner_Schwarz-Rot-Gold

        • Hanfeizi says:

          “Liberals and socialists, by contrast, seem to have had much shabbier rittech.”

          It’s been very interesting to me, as I’ve studied the history of Freemasonry, to realize that it is essentially the sacral/ritualistic side of Liberalism; it’s basically a quasi-religious order devoted to propagating the ideals of the enlightenment and has been a powerful tone-setter for the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, conspiracy theories aside.

          So liberalism’s “rittech” was strong enough to terrify the Catholic Church for a few centuries, and still does in parts of the world (particularly Latin America).

    • J. Quinton says:

      On point (2), there’s a reason the Catholic Church originally called itself “catholic”.

      In the dawn of Christianity (well, c. 100 AD) there were a bunch of what we would call heretical versions of Christianity. There were Marcionites, Ebionites, multitudes of Gnostics (who were the most atomized version)… not to mention the reason that there are four gospels instead of one in the modern canon. All of these Christianities were arguing that they were the one, true version.

      One of the arguments that those-who-would-become-Catholics used was that Christianity wasn’t a new religion, it was a very old religion. They argued that Christianity was just a continuation of Judaism, which everyone at the time respected for being at least a very old religion. This was in contrast to say, the Marcionites who argued that Jesus was an entirely new god who was unknown until Jesus started preaching about him.

      (As a side note, I’d point out that c. 100 AD was around the time that Judaism began losing its central authority. Which is probably no coincidence)

      Also, these different heretical Christianities usually only used one gospel as their central or proto-sacred scripture. Usually this gospel was edited in a way to subtly refute theological or soteriological claims of a previous gospel (e.g., the use of εις (“into”) at Mark 1.10 implying possession by the spirit — which is a heresy — to the use of επ (“onto”) at Matt 3.16 refuting any possible possession interpretation). Those-who-would-become-Catholics got the great idea to use the four most popular gospels and say that they were all true; in essence, co-opting all of the various heresies into their Church. Hence the term “catholic”.

      • Troy says:

        Also, these different heretical Christianities usually only used one gospel as their central or proto-sacred scripture.

        Is there any evidence of this being done with any of the Canonical Gospels, as your post seems to imply? The only instance I’m aware of is Marcionism, which was not exactly “co-opted” into the Catholic Church given that the Gospel of Luke already existed and was considered authoritative before Marcion excised “objectionable” passages from it and used the rest as his gospel.

        • Jaskologist says:

          There isn’t. The evidence we have shows the 4 gospels and the Pauline canon being formed and considered authoritative by the early second century. Marcion’s canon caused a stir precisely because it was contrary to what the church considered the the proper canon, even if they hadn’t drawn up a list before him.

        • Mary says:

          The traditional way to get something defined is to deny something that no one had denied before. Like the accepted canon.

        • J. Quinton says:

          According to modern scholarship on the relationship between Luke-Acts and Marcion, there was a sort of ur-Luke that existed that Marcion co-opted, and the canon as we know it today — including Luke-Acts — is a reaction to Marcion’s canon.

          It’s not exactly mainstream, but it’s not fringe either. Wikipedia is behind the curve on this issue, though as it relies on Irenaeus’ depiction of Marcion’s heresy starting “late” c.144 (as he had to, since he’s arguing that all heresies started after orthodoxy by definition of being a heresy). To quote:

          Against Heresies 3.11.7:

          7. Such, then, are the first principles of the Gospel: that there is one God, the Maker of this universe; He who was also announced by the prophets, and who by Moses set forth the dispensation of the law,— [principles] which proclaim the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ignore any other God or Father except Him. So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these [documents], each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine. For the Ebionites, who use Matthew’s Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel, as I have shown in the first book. Since, then, our opponents do bear testimony to us, and make use of these [documents], our proof derived from them is firm and true.

        • Troy says:

          I hadn’t realized that Irenaeus says that he Ebionites used the Gospel of Matthew only. Thanks.

          The reference to Mark seems less clear to me. Irenaeus seems to just be saying that those “who separate Jesus from Christ” use Mark as a proof-text; he doesn’t say that such people form any kind of community which exclusively uses Mark. Similarly, as I understand it the Gnostics frequently used John as well as other non-canonical gospels, and Irenaeus doesn’t contradict that here.

          According to modern scholarship on the relationship between Luke-Acts and Marcion, there was a sort of ur-Luke that existed that Marcion co-opted, and the canon as we know it today — including Luke-Acts — is a reaction to Marcion’s canon.

          I’m very skeptical of this. As far as I know all the church fathers who discussed the matter agree that Marcion edited the pre-existing Gospel of Luke. Admittedly they may be biased sources, but we also have no record of Marcion or others ever claiming otherwise.

          In addition, Clement of Alexandria (as cited by Eusebius’s Church History) mentions all 4 Gospels, and says that Matthew and Luke are “the Gospels containing the genealogies.” But Marcion’s Luke did not contain Jesus’ genealogy.

          • Slow Learner says:

            Um, don’t we have basically no reference to Marcion outside of denunciations by church fathers? I don’t think that gives much space for his side of the story…

        • Troy says:

          That’s right, but church fathers responding to heretics frequently tell us what the heretics themselves claimed, or even quote from their works. For example, Origen’s Against Celsus contains numerous quotes and paraphrases from Celsus’s The True Word, otherwise lost to us.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Suppose that the only quotes we had from Barack Obama were those found on Fox News. Or the only quotes from John Boehner were those found in the Huffington Post. Would we have an accurate model of what Obama or Boehner believed?

        • Troy says:

          Well, I would be very much on-guard for out of context quotations, but in both cases I would expect that if either source says that the politician in question said X, then in fact said politician did say X. And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t scrutinize Christian reports of heretical or pagan ideas. (Although as it happens most scholars treat Origen as a pretty reliable source for what Celsus said, for example because sometimes the arguments he gives are weaker than the ones he recounts in Celsus.) I’m just pointing out that there is no historical testimony to support J.’s claim, and that all the historical testimony we do have is against it. I agree that the evidential weight of that testimony is weakened by our not having access to many ancient texts and to the authors of the texts we do have being potentially biased, but this situation is no worse than in most other areas of ancient history.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Um, don’t we have basically no reference to Marcion outside of denunciations by church fathers? I don’t think that gives much space for his side of the story…

          Quite so, and we are well-advised to take what they report with a grain of salt.

          What we are not advised to do is make up our own version of what Marcion et al. really said, and what the original gospels secretly were before the church managed to erase all evidence for it, and then declare that to be what really happened. We have no evidence in that direction.

          Gospel-wise, what we’ve actually found are very early manuscripts of the gospels matching 99% to what we have now, and copious quotations of them by the early church fathers. Theories like the Q hypothesis are interesting, and I have no problem with them in principle, but we have no actual copies of a Q document. My prior for an ur-Luke is very low until I see some firmer evidence for ur-Luke.

          (Incidentally, in the case of Irenaeus, we have more recently found writings by some of the groups he talked about, and they are consistent with his description, so we have evidence of him being a reliable witness despite his vitriol.)

  5. James Miller says:

    “how do you design a single organization to capture and direct the greatest percentage of your movement’s energy most effectively?”

    You start a business that creates stuff consumers value and pays employees based on their marginal contribution to the business. The business offers rituals, rules, and rewards to employees.

    • Jake says:

      The issue of course being that a business will either be profit focused, and thus no longer motivated by the goals of your movement, or it won’t be, in which case it’s not a business, it’s a non-profit, and we’re back where we started.

    • Nornagest says:

      Every business I’ve ever heard of has been bad at ritual. Exactly how bad varies — my first job was embarrassingly bad at it, and my current one is merely pretty bad at it.

      I feel this is partly thanks to the highly infectious West Coast cultural disease of irony, which destroys any ritual it comes into contact with, and partly because businesses are a relatively new form of social organization and they don’t have a well-developed set of best ritual practices yet.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Makes me wonder about business in Old Europe.

        If you cannot sell your product, it doesn’t work.

        • lmm says:

          You can sell without making that your primary goal to the exclusion of all else. If you’re a respected member of the community then that community will support you and you can still live happily.

      • drethelin says:

        what about the guild system, with initations and sponsors and whatnot? Heck I’m pretty sure the Stonemasons used to actually be Stone Masons

      • Harald K says:

        IBM used to be pretty (in)famous for their corporate rituals. Nowadays there are motivation seminars and teambuilding activities, which are widely and understandably loathed. I agree with suntzuanime: There’s just no good Jesus here, and no good St. Peter either.

        For all its hierarchy and opulence, the Catholic church had (and has) an ideology that it’s there to serve – serve its members, serve humanity, and serve God. When it started to lose its moral authority after being couped by decadent and amoral Italian noble families, it wasn’t long until the Reformation happened, which was sort-of enough to shock it back on track again.

        Corporations have very little moral authority. Maybe the kind of corporation W. Edwards Deming wanted could have some moral authority (he was big on the leader-as-servant ethic – probably not a coincidence that he was also a psalm-writing Episcopalian). But saintly bosses are in short supply.

      • Maciej Stachowiak says:

        Have you heard of Apple?

        • Randy M says:

          Apple has loyalty. Another thing it has is secrecy, to the point where I wouldn’t share how I know that.
          (I don’t work for Apple)

        • Nornagest says:

          Okay, I may have to qualify that. Apple’s good at ritual on the sales end — walking into an Apple Store is so much like walking into church that I have to resist the urge to genuflect to the big glowing apple despite the fact I’ve been irreligious my entire life.

          From the Apple and former Apple employees I’ve talked to, though (for context, I work in Silicon Valley and one of them’s a cube away from me), they’re internally not much more ritual-driven than any other tech company. And I was mostly thinking of internal organization.

          (Actually, it’s not unheard of for marketing departments to manufacture rituals to move product; just look at Hallmark. But these usually piggyback on existing cultural practices; Mother’s Day wouldn’t be a thing if Christmas cards weren’t. Creating ritual structure from whole cloth seems to be a lot harder, though de Beers may have managed it.)

        • Faring Direball says:

          Apple has been compared to a religion so much it’s absurd. But for purposes of this post let’s go with it, based only on public information.

          Ritual: The Apple Store experience. Keynotes. Product launches. Unboxing. The experience of using the device itself.

          Creed: Product. Design. The Intersection of Technology & The Liberal Arts.

          Hierarchy: You bet.

          Membership: You’re an employee or you’re not. You use an Apple product or you don’t. It’s ok that many people are in neither category.

          Excommunication: Violate the rules and you can be fired (even if you are high in the hierarchy).

          Perhaps this plus the original post helps explain why Apple is the most valuable (by market cap) corporation of all time.

      • Anonymous says:

        It is my impression that Japanese businesses make a solid effort at ritual. Presumably an asian culture would be more accepting of such things. Pledging to work hard for the company, deference to superiors etc.

    • Sarah says:

      Plenty of businesses have religion-like qualities. The reason they aren’t a great example is that they are much smaller and less long-lasting than major world religions. The Catholic Church is older than *capitalism.* You can’t expect a business to stay profitable for a millenium. The features that make a business likely to succeed on normal business timescales are quite different from the features an institution would need to last much longer.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Businesses have some of the same issues that religions do, with charismatic founders who attract personal loyalty, then needing to figure out a more bureaucratic, corporate style of existence after the founder dies.

  6. AJD says:

    I suspect that one of the reasons you don’t see libertarianism, feminism, and so on forming churches under this rubric is because their basic ideology is in conflict with some of the essential points of the rubric. People who are attracted to libertarianism in particular seem speciifcally unlikely to want to form an institution that enforces conformity and hierarchy, for example.

    • JTHM says:

      Many libertarians are fine with hierarchical institutions from which exit is feasible, such as Fortune 500 companies, churches, or communes. Rarely do they oppose the existence of hierarchy itself.

      • kaninchen says:

        Is voluntary exit from libertarianism really possible for an individual? You can devote less of your time and money to promoting it, and talk less about it, but so long as you identify as a libertarian – which is (at least in my experience) more a matter of personal beliefs and values rather than community – there are libertarian groups (the Libertarian Party, Reason.com, the GMU economics department) which will be representing you and your views.

        • JTHM says:

          I’m not sure what exit means in the context of a belief, except perhaps to abandon that belief. In that sense, exit from libertarianism is feasible. It’s certainly possible to exit the organizations representing libertarianism, or to never join them in the first place, regardless of what views you hold. The Libertarian Party is incapable of demanding your time, effort, or money, except if you have signed a contract otherwise. I’m not sure how anybody could be said to be above you in some hierarchy merely be existing and saying the same things you are saying. By the same logic, you could just as easily prove that, since you argue X and the X-ists’ Party argues X, you are actually on top of the X party in some hierarchy.

      • Patrick says:

        Many libertarians are ok with hierarchical organizations from which exit is NOT possible, so long as entrance is voluntary. I seem to recall that there was a blog kerfuffle a while back when a liberal pointed out that many libertarian philosophies would seem to endorse selling yourself into slavery. The go-to response from libertarians was a mixture of enraged umbrage, and insistence that Libertarian Utopia will be so awesome and resource-rich that no one will ever be that desperate, so who cares?

      • gattsuru says:

        Many libertarians are fine with hierarchical institutions from which exit is feasible, such as Fortune 500 companies, churches, or communes.

        In theory and for other people, yes. In practice and for themselves, not so much. Right-libertarians will say that they’d have no ideological problem with top-down organizations, but they’ll chafe quite heavily. Libertarian communes don’t tend to make it very far past the funding stage, once the actual rituals and organizations come out — Objectivism really is the closest serious imitator, and it ‘succeeded’ by defining itself as very decidedly not libertarian (and succeeded only for a very short time).

        See the anti-gun control movement for one classic example, which in the United States is heavily right-libertarian and uses establishment as a byword for bucolic stupidity. Right-libertarians tend to the Protestant, rather than Mormon or Catholic.

  7. Joe says:

    I think what the Church does differently is that it has a positive message to the world instead of just fighting injustice like the movements you sight. It claims to have something to offer. The movements you sight seem primarily concerned with neutralizing a negative in society rather than boosting society to something greater. Islam is primarily conserned with everyone obeying God it doesn’t seem concerned with sanctifying people or helping them become friends with God.

    You have written a similar vein before. You keep reminding me of Hazel Motes.
    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2013/11/10/the-church-without-christ-flannery-oconnors-wise-blood-and-the-sunday-assemblies/

    • von Kalifornen says:

      I don’t know about that. Many feminists (esp. radical feminists and those strongly influenced by them, which means most modern feminists who have serious theory and ideology going on including the glorious Ozy Frantz) have at least a somewhat clear vision of the future. The hard-core radical feminists of old (and the stupid ones of late) tend to be very caught up in a Mad Struggle Against Order that would make an organization anathema, but the more recent ones, IDK.

  8. Matthew says:

    The Pope is in charge of all the levels and in theory everyone has to listen to him.

    This would be one of those things where the Church was quite different in 114 CE and there was still some controversy in 1014 CE. The Pope was originally supposed to be first among equals among the archbishops, not a dictator at the top of the pyramid.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Patriarchs, not archbishops. I don’t think one makes so much of a difference from five.

      • Anthony says:

        That’s a later interpretation. Originally, the Pope was just the Bishop of Rome, and was first among equals among bishops.

        At least in theory, archbishops and bishops are the same rank, but the archbishop has a greater “dignity”. The Archbishop of San Francisco cannot directly discipline the Bishop of Oakland, who is within the ecclesiastical province of San Francisco, any more than the Bishop of Santa Rosa can.

  9. Anthony says:

    “The limiting case of strictness is a single person.”

    No, the limiting case of strictness is a rulebook which nobody actually follows. How many actual Shakers are there anymore?

    Communism certainly tried to emulate the Catholic Church model, and did so moderately effectively for quite a while. (And in quite close detail, in some ways, including the various heresies.) Their primary mistake was not separating Church from State, so when the State failed, the Church was discredited. The “Eastern Orthodox” Communist Church was forced to accept heresies well beyond Gnosticism in order to save the State, and is now rightfully seen as merely an arm of the State, no longer possessed of the Mandate of Heaven. (Hm. Can I mix even more metaphors?)

    I think Italian Fascism tried this as well, but doing so in the homeland of the actual Catholic Church wasn’t exactly a winning strategy.

    • Doug S. says:

      No, the limiting case of strictness is a rulebook which nobody actually follows. How many actual Shakers are there anymore?

      Wikipedia claims that there are exactly three people living as Shakers in official Shaker communes today.

      • Harald K says:

        Since the Shaker rulebook requires celibacy, these people’s claim to authenticity/historical connection is dubious. Same as neopagans, really.

        • Jeff Kaufman says:

          Shakers mostly reproduced by taking in orphans and raising them. That system fell apart as social services improved, and those three are the last.

          Shakers are not so old as to be beyond history; evaluating the claims of these three isn’t hard.

  10. gattsuru says:

    I’m not sure it’s a conventional memetic response. I’ve got a lot of criticisms of The Third Wave experiments, but they do seem to describe things that happen. And certain newer organizations do act like the Catholics or military, when restricted to limited fields, such as the Boy Scouts of America.

    The trick is that, if they try to act on a large scale, any pre-existing organization that uses the same techniques will eventually directly oppose them, and have pretty strong first-mover capabilities. Gangs are the most obvious example, often having strict identification rules, rituals, and signing behaviors, and not very well-tolerated by governments. And these very rules, rituals, and behaviors that allow them to maintain a cohesive nature simultaneously make them very, very easy for a larger organization to target. Likewise, see how Church (have trouble) surviving in mainland China.

    It doesn’t even need to be a built defense, it just need arise when a structural or ideological argument arises.

    ((Right-libertarians also have pretty strong ideological commitments against top-down, even when voluntary.))

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Gangs are the most obvious example, often having strict identification rules, rituals, and signing behaviors, and not very well-tolerated by governments.

      And in some cases, groups that start out by having rituals, identification rules, and a high state of tension with mainstream society drift into connection with gangs later on. A current example of this appears to be happening with the Juggalos, where some groups within an informal (but highly ritualized and “cultish”) fandom movement have become affiliated with organized crime.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juggalo_gangs

      • Anonymous says:

        That article claims that 10%-15% of Juggalos are gang members, immediately after claiming 1 million total.

        • fubarobfusco says:

          Well, some law enforcement agencies seem to be panicking a bit about a deviant subculture. That’s happened before.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, I think someone said “85-90%” of Juggalos aren’t gang members (the way it is phrased in wikipedia), creating false precision out of an internal thought of “almost all” without realizing how many gang members that implied.

          Also, I didn’t see a percentage in a cursory examination of wikipedia’s sources, so even if it was really intended to mean 100k, I’m not convinced that it is the police that are the ones panicking. If anyone finds the source, I’d be interested in a precise citation.

      • nydwracu says:

        Juggalos are also one of the churchiest relatively-high-profile groups in America to not be a church.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Do you mean in the sense of this post? binary membership, official beliefs/behaviors, enforcement, hierarchy? Or just in some sense of being part of an endeavor bigger than oneself?

          Regardless of what you mean, could you point to material supporting it?

        • nydwracu says:

          Endeavor bigger than oneself, shared ritual, hierarchy in some sense (it has leaders, anyway) but it’s not full of middle managers like the Catholic Church. What called them to mind is the “family” comment elsewhere — ICP says that a lot.

          [The separation of thedening shared-ritual things and belief-system things strikes me as a very good thing, but people who aren’t very likely to end up on the wrong side of the coming together of the two may have different opinions about that.]

        • Aaron Brown says:

          @Douglas Knight: If you are interested in this and have twenty-four minutes to spare, I recommend American Juggalo, a documentary about the Gathering of the Juggalos. Warning: The video is NSFW.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That video was about community and loyalty, but not much else. Nothing about hierarchy. It ended with someone saying that all you have to do is say you’re a Juggalo. I guess that’s binary, but it’s not policed. It didn’t say much about the festival itself. I guess that’s a ritual. Maybe it’s an initiation ritual, a step up from declaring your faith. Having an annual festival is a way of encouraging conformity, especially discouraging clines (cf the Hajj), but it’s not official conformity.

          Nydwracu, I missed your parenthetical, which seems to me to be quite opposite to the usage in this post.

    • Anthony says:

      Right-libertarians also have pretty strong ideological commitments against top-down, even when voluntary.

      This has been bugging me since last night, and I’ve finally figured out why:

      Right-libertarians have psychological commitments against top-down hierarchy, but ideologically are fine with hierarchy provided one can exit.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        There isn’t one right-libertarian view. For instance, some people who identify as right-libertarians are okay with people entering into contracts that others would probably describe as “selling oneself into slavery”. Exit isn’t necessarily an option there. Others aren’t.

        The thing that many folks miss about contracts is that a contract implies an enforcer who consents to enforce that contract. If you can’t find anyone willing to enforce your slavery contract, you don’t have a right to have it enforced.

      • gattsuru says:

        Yeah, that’s probably a better way of putting it. They’ll write long papers about voluntary hierarchy with exit is a fundamental human right, but will have their hackles up if it actually happens to them.

        ((Which may well be a reasonable response: some home-owners associations use coercive tools, but even those that are purely voluntarily can drive one crazy.))

  11. Scott Elliot says:

    Out of the six characteristics of churches you described, I would guess that hierarchy is at the root of and necessary condition of at least the first four. Orthodoxies, rigid group identity, conformity, and prudent excommunication policies cannot consistently be maintained without sort of hierarchy. I would also guess that hierarchies cannot be maintained unless their members view them as sacred in some way – unquestionable, beyond their epistemic capacities. Thus, I’d hypothesize that only causes that are consistent with some notion of the sacred will be able to form churches.

    Feminism is based on a critique of oppressive structures that seem universal and unquestionable; what is the chance a feminist would voluntarily accept a hierarchy? Atheists commonly employ general arguments against accepting authority on faith; we would certainly not expect an atheist ceteris paribus to submit to a new authority. One becomes a transhumanist by throwing away a good portion of society’s most sacred tropes – such as the necessity of accepting one’s death; new sacred tropes are likely to be met with equal skepticism.

    One interesting question is whether the rationalist community might be able to form a church. Unlike most skeptical communities (“Question everything”; “Open your eyes, sheeple”), the rationalist community has often recognized a role of precommitment in creating optimal outcomes. If I correctly characterize the Less Wrong crowd, many of them might credibly precommit to not questioning a hierarchical structure and to accepting its in-group-definitions and marching orders, if they thought it would them gain overall. This is fairly close to what belonging to a world with sacred boundaries looks like.

    • Nornagest says:

      what is the chance a feminist would voluntarily accept a hierarchy?

      Based on historical experience of groups attacking oppressive structures that seem universal and unquestionable, my first guess would be “pretty damn good”.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Indeed. How many feminists defended Clinton when he used his position in the hierarchy to gain sexual favors from underlings? How many spoke up about his rapes?

        As for “we would certainly not expect an atheist ceteris paribus to submit to a new authority,” do none of you remember Communism? This happened within living memory, people!

        I see talk of “memetic immune responses to religion” here often, but when I look at how those play out in the real world, those “immune responses” look more like allergies than anything else. You’re responding to wrong thing, and making yourself worse off for it.

        Somewhere, somebody’s immune system is doubtless congratulating itself for working so hard to fight off those peanuts.

        • Viliam Búr says:

          People resist submitting to authority only as long as they don’t have a “happy death spiral” about it. Once they have it, they are happy to jump on the board!

          Maybe it’s an instinct designed to make us join the winning side and avoid the losers. Best case is to join the side that is not winning yet, but will win very very soon, so we will be among the trusted members who “joined before it became profitable”. Our instincts try to estimate whether a side has this potential.

          People who don’t want to join hierachies, despite agreeing with them ideologically, are simply not impressed enough. Either they don’t believe the organization will be successful, or they don’t see a personal benefit in joining. That means, the organization is either too weak, or too fair towards non-members.

          If we had a feminist organization which would have more money and media space than all other feminist organizations together, and which would be contemptuous towards non-members (even those who consider themselves feminists) as “slaves of Patriarchy”, soon most people who identify with feminism would join it.

          But if we have an organization that doesn’t try to get power, and doesn’t punish non-members… our ape political instincts are not impressed.

    • Harald K says:

      “Orthodoxies, rigid group identity, conformity, and prudent excommunication policies cannot consistently be maintained without sort of hierarchy.”

      The Quakers seem to be a historical counterexample. Like the Catholic church, that’s an impressive movement that you secular ecclesiologists might want to study.

  12. Lesser Bull says:

    Catholic ecclesiology or national armies is what you do when you have a mature and developed system. But it didn’t just start that way. Same with the Mormons, another group that has a Catholic Church/national armies style set-up. Christianity for its first few hundred years was probably much more similar to libertarianism

    There is actually a pretty well developed literature of how religions organizations evolve. They usually start pretty loose and fluid.

    Another consideration is that modern quasi-religious movements (I consider most modern political ideologies to be quasi-religious) exist in a memetic environment where fully functioning exclusivist religions are already prevalent. One of their adaptive responses is to claim that they *aren’t* a religion, which allows them to get under the defenses of people who already belong to one, while also appealing to those whom overt religions aren’t able to. While this response is adaptive and useful, it has inherent costs. One of those is the difficulty in adopting too many of the proven successful features of existing religions, because if you do you look too religious. The wolf in sheep’s clothing finds its movements hampered.

  13. Fnord says:

    People found new organizations based on ritualism, strict in-or-out procedures, obedience to a hierarchy, etc on a reasonably regular basis. They frequently even make the doctrine about the same general concepts of metaphysics, theology, etc.

    And yet a vast majority of cults/new religions fail to turn into the Catholic Church.

  14. Fractalotl says:

    Hmmm… I think that Burning Man and the regional burn network fill many of the “Church-like structure” needs of a certain contingent of transhumanist/atheist/poly folks. Or, at least, transhumanist/atheist/poly people are vastly overrepresented in the burn community. There’s a Temple and ritual out the wazoo, but there’s a wide range of reverent and irreverent spaces. It’s very efficient — you can get your sacred and profane all at once!

    Let’s see about those structural characteristics:

    You are welcome to go to their local community center, partake in a tasteful initiation ritual, and then they will ask you to do certain things for the good of the movement, which you will be assured the other members of the movement will also be doing.

    Well, I don’t know about *tasteful* — but besides that, check and check!

    They will have a clearly printed list of what they do or don’t demand consensus on, and members of the movement will follow it for the sake of maintaining cohesion.

    Definitely — see the Ten Principles of Burning Man.

    Also, their hierarchs wear cool clothes and occasionally speak in dead languages.

    Hierarchs, not so much… but there are Boards of Directors and Team Leads and Shift Leads and various levels of responsibility based on experience and participation. Cool clothes, definitely! Dead languages… hrm, some folks might speak in tongues occasionally, but not on shift.

    • michael vassar says:

      I was waiting for that example.

      On a different note, it seems to me that it’s hard to compare the power of a thing with clear boundaries (The Church, the PRC) to one without clear boundaries (The Media, The Banks).

  15. Douglas Knight says:

    You start by talking about a “cause” or “movement” that is trying to accomplish some change in the world, but you end by talking about hierarchy and belonging. Not to disparage that topic, but what does it have to do with the first topic? Does the Catholic Church actually accomplish something, or does it just maintain itself? Your other example of armies exist to maintain the state, so that the state can go about accomplishing things.

    Lots of non-hierarchical organizations accomplish their goals and evaporate. Does that make them more or less powerful than the Church? Luther complained that the Church hadn’t bothered to convert Germany, so he went and did it.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      The Catholic Churches goal is to convert everyone to Catholicism and have them follow the precepts of the faith necessary to receive salvation. The latter is a bit hard to measure, but on the grounds of converting people they are doing rather well. The number of Catholics is 1.228 billion and if you count broader the total rises to about 2.1 or 3.7 (all Christian versus all Abrahamic monotheists),

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, it’s really easy to count the number of pagans in Germany, as in my example.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The Catholic Church has been pretty effective at pushing the things it wants to push (like decreased access to birth control). Why don’t more central examples of causes use a Catholicism-like structure to arrange their organizations, rather than the classic NGO-style structure?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I think you are confused from spending time in Ireland. Decentralized groups are more effective at promoting and impeding contraception than the Church.

  16. Doragoon says:

    In the first section you talk about the difficulty in getting all these people to agree, and that’s the key. The organisation has to be able to say “this is true” and have it stand up to debate and criticism. I suspect that if those ideas had more truth to offer than the others, that it would gain dominance. Instead, games are played to avoid exposing their beliefs to criticism, such as the dragon in the garage, or that motte-and-bailey doctrine you talked about.

    Alternatively, there could be genetic flaws with those ideas (my Catholicism is showing). Those views might not describe the landscape as well as the pre-existing ones. After all, it’s hard to come up with a genuinely new idea.

  17. Sniffnoy says:

    Some quick thoughts:

    1. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m under the impression that party platforms mattered much more a few decades ago, and candidates actually considered themselves to be pretty bound by them. (Not the non-candidate party members, of course.) As I understand it, this fell apart with the change from candidates picked by the parties to candidates picked by primaries. But I’m going based on fuzzy recollection of stuff I’ve seen; if anyone can say more about this that would be helpful.

    2. One obvious difference between the Church and the military — the military doesn’t get to choose its own goals! Civilian control of the military is pretty important. The military is supposed to be a general fighting tool; it’s not exactly the same sort of goal-directed organization you’re talking about.

    Also worth noting that ISTM that even the sort of goal-directed organization you’re talking about does generally provide some way of allowing the goal to drift. Since after all organizations tend to care about perpetuating themselves and not just accomplishing a goal, and if they kept the goal totally fixed they’d fail at that. But I guess this is similar to how you have to make some compromises to attract members, just spread out in time instead of space.

    EDIT: Actually, I don’t know — it might be worth drawing the distinction here between “We’re a big umbrella organization and can’t agree on stuff” and “We’re a big umbrealla organization and our members don’t actually agree on things, but we have votes or other coordination mechanisms so that we have coordinated action (with the dissenters grumbling and going along anyway) even if we don’t have coordinated belief”. Which gets you coordination without necessarily having top-downness. It’s this latter form that democratic governments really take. They don’t seem to be very good at it, but I don’t know whether that’s an indictment of the whole approach or just governments in particular.

    Also some militaries are pretty terrible despite all the hierarchy and all, and sometimes too much top-down control is the problem. Someone who knows more than me can put here something about how Arab armies are terrible because they’ve been organized to be terrible by their governments so that they can’t stage a coup and how also there’s too much micromanagement.

    3. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again — it would be such a relief to see a unified “Church” Feminism… that way we wouldn’t have this ridiculous situation where everything is simultaneously forbidden and required… but I’m repeating myself and maybe also repeating Scott here.

    • Anthony says:

      the military doesn’t get to choose its own goals!

      Your Americo-centric bias is showing.

      “We’re a big umbrella organization and can’t agree on stuff” and “We’re a big umbrealla organization and our members don’t actually agree on things, but we have votes or other coordination mechanisms so that we have coordinated action (with the dissenters grumbling and going along anyway) even if we don’t have coordinated belief”. Which gets you coordination without necessarily having top-downness. It’s this latter form that democratic governments really take

      There’s also a significant level of this going on within the Catholic Church, which may be a key to its long-term success. The LDS church seems to have this as well, though they also have strong mechanisms to reinforce commitment and encourage exit by those not willing to signal enough commitment.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Your Americo-centric bias is showing.

        Yeah, I was aware that statement doesn’t actually apply everywhere! But it isn’t so much purely “Americo-centric” as it is, uh, “places where the military hasn’t taken over the country”-centric. I think.

        • Armstrong For President 2020 says:

          Most countries have historically had the military as an active political force. That doesn’t imply they controlled the country, military factions can be very loyal to the national leadership, just that they’re another key constituency that effective leaders needed to learn to juggle.

          Right now that’s not the case in most of the first world, but that’s mainly because they have the Pentagon as a political faction instead.

  18. lmm says:

    I feel it might be worth thinking about modern churches – scientology in particular.

    How did Catholicism make the transition between “loose association of weirdos” and its current hierarchy? Was the involvement of Constantine a fortunate accident that made it all happen, a trivial consequence, or something in between? Is there a modern-day equivalent?

    I know I’d like to be part of a church, but I avoid it like drugs and for much the same reason. I wonder if movements focused on overcoming our nature have specific problems with churchiness.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I suspect getting through the people front of Judea phase due to the Muslim expansion wiping out their competitors and weakening the Byzantine/Orthodox enough for them to be independent was a big factor.

      After that, you had a power vacuum, kings wanting a way to legitimize their rule and the only organization that crossed multiple states and had literate members found multiple niches that it could fill.

      This is of course immediately followed by complete immersion in politics and you have the next millennia spent fighting over how much the Catholic church obeys Rome versus local authorities.

      Finally it made the transition to its current hierarchy when its political weight was diminished and control over the local religious hierarchy was not necessary for matters of state.

      • lmm says:

        How did the org end up literate? If code is the new writing, do modern groups have a similar opportunity?

  19. Doug S. says:

    Universities seem to have Church-like aspects. There are even some really, really old ones in England…

    • Nornagest says:

      That’s probably at least partly because the institution grew out of the medieval church.

  20. Doug S. says:

    My guess is that for some reason we have a specific memetic immune response against Churches. Existing religions are grandfathered in. Everyone else who starts evolving towards such a design gets told they’re a cult and soundly mocked.

    Scientology’s gotten plenty of mocking, but it’s a reasonably successful Church anyway.

    • Fronken says:

      And ISTM that the notion of “old white men deciding everything for you” gets mocked quite a bit.

      So maybe this is just a pervasive environmental thing, not something the Church has grandfathered itself past?

  21. Harald K says:

    On the other hand, imagine an organization in which the Libertarian Field Marshal gave orders to everyone who signed on – you quit college to canvas door-to-door, you get a Ph. D in economics so we can have someone ready to respond to arguments against the free market if we need it, you become a banker and donate your obscene salary to our group. This group has energy-direction up the wazoo, and it could become incredibly powerful with only a couple dozen members. It also would never get a couple dozen members.”

    I’m sure you know, but comical as it is to imagine libertarians doing this, many communist groups actually did this. At least two of my high school teachers were in their jobs because they had been in a party with such “activity duty”. Their party had actually ordered them to study math and science and become high school teachers, in order to better influence the next generation. They also had both been construction workers. “Self-proletarization” was the prior fad. Like most Norwegian communists they had become more moderate with age, and were open about it (and the absurdity of it).

    More recently, a tiny “anti-revisionist” group (that’s code for “Stalin did nothing wrong” revisionist, to those not familiar with fringe left lingo) called “Serve the People” got notorious for couping a large, broad, but minimally organized and commitment-demanding anti-racism organisation. They simply all joined, and bused in their own members to the general assembly, and whoops, now it was a Serve the People front group. They are maybe 30-40 people in total, but with fanaticism and organization, that’s all it takes. (They never announced who they were, so it took a good while for the public to catch on!).

    The Norwegian government gives support to idealistic organizations based on membership numbers, so Serve the People took advantage of the anti-racist organizations huge roster of passive members, faked a couple thousand more, and funnelled the money over to their real organization. It was quite a scandal when an investigative journalist found out.

    • Slow Learner says:

      Ah yes, entryism, as also seen with Militant Tendency which sent highly committed members to virtually dead constituency Labour parties. They then took over the local Party and selected the candidate. Their most striking success was in Liverpool, where for a while Militant and Militant-influenced councillors controlled the city.

    • michael vassar says:

      That’s not absurd at all. It’s just the sort of behavior that emerges naturally and automatically from any group of people who are actually *doing* consequentialism *at all* rather than just talking about it and forming a social club.

      • Harald K says:

        It’s natural for a group of people who do consequentialism, but have extremely low tolerance for uncertainty.

    • Konkvistador says:

      @Vassar: Indeed.

    • Oligopsony says:

      “anti-revisionist” group (that’s code for “Stalin did nothing wrong”

      “Had the right approach,” not “did nothing wrong.” Mao’s judgment, for instance, was that Stalin was about 70% correct, and Mao for most of his career is generally held as a good (also imperfect, but not revisionist until late in the game) example by most ARs.

  22. Stuart Armstrong says:

    Acceptance of authority. Not just of the fact there should be an authority, but that you accept their decrees even when you disagree personally. Religions have god, armies have nationalism and practical justification for their structure, some corporations have your salary/livelihood, etc…

    We used to have a lot more people willing to accept authority (eeg medieval guilds) but that’s mainly been lost now that it’s clear that the leaders are very human.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Yes, what churches and armies have in common is that they have good reasons for their authority. Something of the utmost importance to fight for – salvation in the case of the Church and their country’s continued existence in the case of armies. Not just something to protect, but something worthy of relinquishing your own agency for.

      Although this doesn’t explain why universities are so long lasting. Or why other religions don’t have the same impressive organizational continuity (or do they?)

  23. Viliam Búr says:

    I think people have a desire to belong to a larger whole, but when they are already inside, they focus on internal fighting, sometimes to a degree that makes the group fall apart. So, although “creating an organization” is in line with what people want, “preventing the organization from falling apart” requires going against their wishes. Therefore, unless you are willing to act against what people want, you may be able to create a cool organization, but it will be short-lived.

    Armies and churches are the incarnations of violence. These days, it may not be so obvious about the churches, but in the past killing heretics and forcibly converting non-believers was the strategy. And don’t forget the threats of supernatural punishment.

    Catholic church solves the human need for internal conflict by allowing competing subgroups as long as they don’t threaten the whole. You can be a Jesuit or a Dominican or try starting a new order, you can compete with the other order, you just can’t oppose the Pope or you will be excommunicated and exterminated. This internal competition is healthy for the whole church, because it prevents it from becoming a boring bureaucracy completely. The people dissatisfied with low commitment can still find a high-commitment alternative within the church. By recruiting for themselves the subgroups also recruit for the whole.

    If a movement already has many small organizations, the next step could be trying to make a federation. Invite members from the organizations, and try to make them agree on a common credo: the list of which beliefs are mandatory (and which beliefs are optional). Publish this credo. Make some people work for the federation directly. They can be emissaries from the small organization, but their full-time job is to work for the federation now, not for their original organization. Ask the organizations to financially support this group of people. Create a committee that will check whether the small organizations are compatible with the credo. Publish a list of organizations that are part of the federation (that includes supporting it financially), and perhaphs also a list of “compatible” organizations that are compatible with the credo but didn’t join the federation. Keep friendly relations with both, but provide better support for your members. Once in a time organize something that all your member organizations will do together, to show strength. When doing it together, use the symbols of the federation. — Something like this could be used for feminists or atheists.

    For a new movement, like rationalists, I would say: Support your local groups. Don’t try to canibalize them by telling everyone to move to the Bay Area. You want an “eukaryotic” structure.

    • nydwracu says:

      For “internal fighting”, read “gaining power”.

      • Viliam Búr says:

        Exactly. If you joined the group to gain power, you helped the group gain a new member, so at that moment your interest was aligned with the interest of the group.

        But what happens then? When you are already a member, how will your further attempts to gain even more power benefit the group? That depends. If you gain more power by making your rivals leave the group, or if you split the group into two parts in order to get more power within one of the remaining parts, your interests are harming the group.

        But when the group allows internal competition of subgroups, and succeeds to regulate the competition into positive-sum games, then individual people within these subgroups trying to gain more power for the subgroup and thus for themselves are again helping the group as a whole.

        The “magic” of the Catholic Church is that when e.g. Jesuits gain power, they don’t leave and start their own Church, and they don’t use their power to make e.g. all Dominicans excommunicated. Thus when they gain power, the whole Church gains power. — This is where many other organizations fall apart instead.

        Of course, even the Catholic Church cannot satisfy every ambition of all its members. Sometimes people do get excommunicated and/or killed as heretics. But in general, there are opportunities to follow your own path within the Church. They are costly — you could be asked to spend a decade or two demonstrating your loyalty to the Church, and only then given permission for your project — but they exist, and people know it, and some people use it.

  24. Army1987 says:

    How comes no-one’s mentioned “Your Price for Joining” by Eliezer Yudkowsky yet?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m generally not very impressed with the Craft and the Community sequence. This post in particular reads like Eliezer complaining about people’s conditions for identifying as rationalists, wrapped up in some sketchy evopsych justifications (how often do forager groups fission? how often do foragers change groups or create more-or-less permanent taskforces within a band? I have no idea, but these questions need to be answered before the argument even comes close to making sense).

      The core point (don’t impose unreasonable demands on groups before joining them) seems reasonable, but given that people join e.g. clubs and religions and political parties all the damn time without imposing unreasonable demands, I’m not persuaded that we’re dealing with a real, widespread bias here. There might be some more interesting group dynamics underlying this but it’d take more digging to get them out.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your link is broken.

  25. Aaron Brown says:

    “designed by committee” in the perjorative sense

    Should be “pejorative“.

    Do you want corrections like this? Most people don’t care that much about a misspelling here and there in their blog posts, so I usually refrain from offering corrections unless the error impedes understanding, is particularly egregious, or involves a person’s name.

    (I think I know the house style well enough to not waste your time with stuff like “ie” versus “i.e.”)

  26. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    So what you’re saying is that North Korea will outlast us and our political institutions? I kid, I kid.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Mildly surprised by the lack of mention of 1984.

  28. Sarah says:

    I think we need to identify what the Catholic Church did *right* and various far-left 20th century groups did *wrong.* Basically, in the absence of direct control of a State with enforcement power, communist groups have been very fractious, despite having binary membership, official dogma, hierarchy, a strong ethic of in-group loyalty, and the power to expel members.

    Some guesses:
    1. Purging people should be *difficult.* Catholics can be excommunicated, but there aren’t rashes of half of a town’s Catholics excommunicating the other half after a bunch of friend drama. Communists may have just been too intolerant and quick to schism.

    2. There’s a big difference between “mission-driven” and “life-driven” institutions. There’s a *place* for the ordinary Catholic who goes to church, has a job, raises a family, and so on. The Church is there for him when he gets married and dies. It’s not his project, it’s not something he’ll do in his twenties and grow out of. For a few people, maintaining the Church *is* their whole lives — those are the clergy.

    The problem with most organizations is that they have members, who are passionate and active and do it full-time, and outsiders, who don’t get it. What you actually need is engagement from people who are mostly doing something else with their lives. It’s important to make sure that “laymen” don’t have significant ideological drift; the bank teller’s Catholicism says the same thing as the priest’s Catholicism, it’s just that the bank teller spends less *time* on it. A layman isn’t a less committed priest, in the way that fandoms have casual fans or feminism has moderately feminist-leaning people. A layman is a full Catholic, whose job is to be Catholic while living his own life out in the world.

    • Fnord says:

      Perhaps the first comparison should be to the Catholic Church and the many many little sects and splinter groups of Christianity that failed to prosper to the same extent.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think a hard, formal split between people who maintain the organization and people who live their lives within it is necessary. Actually, as far as I can tell the Catholics (and other pre-Reformation branches of Christianity) are somewhat unusual in having this among major religions; many Protestant denominations (Anglicans excepted) believe in the priesthood of all believers, as do the Mormons, and being a mullah in Islam is less an office and more a term of respect, kind of like “sensei”. Most forms of Buddhism have monastics but not priests in the Christian sense. The Hindus have priests, and so do a lot of traditional religions like Shinto, but their take on it is pretty different.

      These do all accommodate people who want to devote less effort to cultivating the religion, but they do it informally.

      • Viliam Búr says:

        I think a successful organization needs a few people who are paid to work for it full-time. A group of hobbyist will fall apart when they become busy doing something else.

        I don’t know how it works in the religions you mentioned, but I would guess that even if they believe in universal priesthood, there are still priests who get paid for being priests (or at least they get free food and housing), and “priests” who do something else for living.

        Alternatively, I could imagine a religion where no one gets paid for being a priest, but some independently wealthy people voluntarily take a lot of religious duties in exchange for high status. Or a commune where people don’t have a life as we know it, because half of the day they work to survive, and the other half of the day they work to support the church.

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t know how it works in the religions you mentioned, but I would guess that even if they believe in universal priesthood, there are still priests who get paid for being priests (or at least they get free food and housing), and “priests” who do something else for living.

          Sure. Protestant Christianity has its pastors and reverends and so forth; Islam has its teachers and clerics. Buddhism is in sort of the opposite situation, but its monastics interface with the public to a greater or lesser extent depending on role, and there are also lay teachers.

          The difference is that this is a matter of organization rather than theology. Each of these religions has full-time workers, but they’re not supposed to enjoy a greater dignity than lay members (for the Abrahamic religions). It’s a job, not a life.

        • Lesser Bull says:

          Mormons have lay clergy except at the highest levels. Lay members serve as clergy while keeping their jobs. It’s very difficult, but in return you do get high status and it’s only for 3-5 years. Then its someone else’s turn.

      • Sarah says:

        Yeah, but none of those religions are a single unbroken institution.

        They *do* have unbroken connections to tradition. There’s one Bible and one Koran. But there isn’t a living, official, unified church.

        The U.S. government is a single institution that has had peaceful transfers of power since its inception. And it has elected officials, who have meaningful powers not granted to the citizenry (making laws, declaring war, etc.)

        I’m pretty sure that long-lasting organizations have to have an organizational *class.*

        • Nornagest says:

          Maybe. I think the Mormons come pretty close — there are splinter Mormon sects, but they’re small and unimportant — but they’re also the youngest of the religions I mentioned by an order of magnitude.

          The major divisions of Islam have been stable for a millennium, too.

      • Lesser Bull says:

        Mormons are an edge case. They believe that you have to be ordained, like Catholics do, but they ordain almost all men.

  29. Sarah says:

    Judaism doesn’t have “laymen.” You’re a Jew or you’re not. A rabbi is just a regular person whose focus is study and community leadership. It’s not institutional enough to have people whose full-time job is maintaining the institution, so *everyone* is essentially part-time. This seems like something that would work a lot less well than Catholicism, and it does! But they have the Torah (one set of ideas that form the core of the community) and are mostly genetically distinct. So there are pressures against value drift.

    I think it’s fair to say that Judaism is a *people*, not an *institution*, and if you wanted to model a new community on Judaism, it would be very important to make it a closed reproductive community, and a minority in a noticeably alien majority culture. People naturally have strong ingroup ties to kin. And if you go through near-death experiences together (e.g. pogroms) there’s selective pressure, both memetic and genetic, towards what keeps you alive as individuals and as a culture. You become a *different sort of people.*

    Institutions are not based on being a different sort of people. They are based on social structures that in principle could accommodate any kind of person who wished to join. Catholicism is global, and was meant to be. That means that hierarchy and “laymen” are a lot more important.

    I suspect that the rationality movement is a better fit for being a People than a Church. The best geek qualities (respect for language and logic, the capacity to step back from monkey social games) are more like a phenotype than a creed. And I don’t have a good model of what a “layman” rationalist could look like.

    • Judaism doesn’t have “laymen.” You’re a Jew or you’re not. A rabbi is just a regular person whose focus is study and community leadership.

      This sounds like a theological ideal, not a functional reality. In practice, I’m pretty sure that the rabbis are functionally clergy and non-rabbis are functionally laity.

      • Sarah says:

        I think the meaningful difference is: there are rituals you *need* a priest for, but there aren’t rituals you *need* a rabbi for.

        You can “do Judaism” stranded in the middle of nowhere, so long as you have Jews (there *are* requirements for a quorum.) You can’t “do Catholicism” without some contact with the Church.

        The Jewish equivalent of priests were, y’know, priests. The centralized authority was the Temple, until it wasn’t. From a “ritual effectiveness” standpoint, there (almost/mostly) aren’t such things as special people in Judaism.

        This is a difference of kind, not degree. Consider medicine, for example. You have to be a doctor to practice medicine: that means trained by an AMA-accredited medical school, and licensed to practice. Now imagine there’s a plane crash and fifty passengers are stranded in the wilderness. The “doctor” is whoever among the survivors is best at treating the sick and injured, whether it’s an MD, a nurse, a massage therapist who used to volunteer as a paramedic, whatever. In the plane-crash scenario, “doctor” is a function — yes, it’s best filled by someone with thorough training, but only because the trained person will do a better job. In the normal scenario, a “doctor” is formally endowed with authority that a generic human doesn’t have.

    • Anthony says:

      I think it’s fair to say that Judaism is a *people*, not an *institution*, and if you wanted to model a new community on Judaism, it would be very important to make it a closed reproductive community, and a minority in a noticeably alien majority culture.

      I initially misread that as saying “a new community in Judaism”, and immediately thought of the Chassidim and other ultra-Orthodox groups, which are (mostly) closed reproductive communities and minorities in noticeably alien cultures.

  30. As others have mentioned, the most interesting question is not how the Catholic Church works today, but how it got from a handful of dudes in Jerusalem to the world-spanning organization it is today. And for that, it’s worth describing how the pre-Constantinian church was organized. It wasn’t anarchic, but it was less hierarchical than it is today.

    1) The base unit of organization was the cell (local church). Every cell has its own membership roster with clear lists of who is In and who is Out. Every cell uses the same ritual for initiation (baptism), and the same rituals reserved to recognized members (eucharist, etc.). Every cell offers a similar package of benefits to its members (spiritual benefits such as the sacraments, social benefits such as inclusion, and monetary benefits such as charitable aid).

    2) Every cell has a single recognized leader (the bishop). The bishop is responsible for maintaining the membership roster and performing most of the rituals. Furthermore, the bishops are responsible for checking up on each other. Each bishop knows not only who is in his local cell, but which other bishops he recognizes as legitimate. When a new bishop needs to be appointed, all of the other nearby bishops get together to perform the appropriate ritual, and if a bishop goes off the rails, the other nearby bishops will act to kick him out, as well as (implicitly) any rank-and-file who stick with him.

    3) Legitimacy is transitive (if A recognizes B, and B recognizes C, then A recognizes C). Thus, even without fast communication across large distances, you could identify the whole network of legitimate bishops, and implicitly the whole church universal, by virtue of transitive legitimacy. However, there was no hierarchy among bishops, except as existed informally due to relative size and prestige of their seats. (This, however, began to change even before Constantine with the development of the chorepiskopos, which was an intermediate step in the development of the priesthood as we understand it today.)

    4) There was no formal roster of beliefs. Rather, the official beliefs of the organization emerged organically as a function of what all of the bishops in the network affirmed, and the excommunicable heresies were those things that could get you kicked out by your bishop, or get your bishop kicked out of the network. There were plenty of things which weren’t affirmed by everybody but which you wouldn’t get kicked out for saying.

    The main thing that change post-Constantine was that there became a formal hierarchy among bishops, with Archbishops and Patriarchs who had authority over the bishops in a broader region, which reached its culmination in the Latin West with the office of the Pope. (The Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t recognize any authority above that of the national patriarchs, and at a theological level all bishops are still considered to be equal. The hierarchy between bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs is a contingent matter of organization and not a matter of theology proper.) Constantine also brought about the idea of an ecumenical council to which all bishops in the entire world were invited to attend, and whose decisions were applicable everywhere in the world. Previous to Constantine there had been local councils, but no universal councils. And of course excommunication became backed up by state power.

    ANYWAY if you’re trying to build a new church-ish thing, you might consider using the networked cell model rather than the total hierarchy model. AFAICT this is basically how Judaism functions, with rabbis over congregations and the official recognized sects being sets of mutually-recognizing rabbis, as well as the de facto organization of contemporary Islam. You can always transition from a network to a hierarchy later if you want to.

    • Anthony says:

      The main thing that change post-Constantine was that there became a formal hierarchy among bishops, with Archbishops and Patriarchs who had authority over the bishops in a broader region, which reached its culmination in the Latin West with the office of the Pope. (The Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t recognize any authority above that of the national patriarchs, and at a theological level all bishops are still considered to be equal. The hierarchy between bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs is a contingent matter of organization and not a matter of theology proper.)

      Aside from the proclamation of the Pope’s infallibility in matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra, which has only been used once since 1870 (other than for canonizations), what you’ve said about the Eastern Orthodox Church is true of the Catholic Church.

    • Alrenous says:

      Legitimacy is transitive (if A recognizes B, and B recognizes C, then A recognizes C).

      Ah, I hadn’t thought of that one. It will produce doctrinal clines across geography, which I consider a good thing.

      • And this, of course, is exactly what happened. The most notorious example of a geographic theocline is the filioque, which is remarkable not because it eventually became the justification for the East/West schism, but because the difference in the creeds existed for centuries before the schism actually occurred.

        • Alrenous says:

          ‘Geographic theoclines’ is clearly a phrase awesome societies use all the time.

          Sounds like improved communication happened. Can’t have a schism if you can’t find out what’s happening more than two bishops away. ‘Course, once you can find out, a schism is inevitable.

        • JenniferRM says:

          @Mai La Dreapta
          Your comment, especially the root comment in this tree, was incisive and useful. I had not heard of the chorepiscopi before, and they fill a gap in my understanding! Thank you for the education 🙂

          @Alrenous
          Schism can be sociologically explained by the incentives of the bishops and laity in the face of lay people with divergent spiritual needs (see Bainbridge & Stark’s “Future Of Religion” for details). The Catholic Church did and still to some extent does an amazing job trying to fulfill the spiritual needs of all people, from princes to paupers.

          The Reformation was a sort of decisive failure in this respect, and if I understand the theology correctly, one might almost get away with claiming that the Reformation showed that the Catholic Church was wrong about the filioque. The Protestants walked away with most of the Holy Spirit, leaving the Catholic Church with little but Christology. From the little I can tell from the outside, the Orthodox seem to be right in their claim to have both.

          In the meantime, from a sociological/cybernetic perspective schism seems not to be inevitable if the “bishops” honestly and competently hold to the creed that any two competent bishops should be (1) able to Aumann Update with each other towards a more accurate theory and (2) able to bring their respective lay people along for the ride.

    • Viliam Búr says:

      I was going to suggest a specific algorithm for a web application to implement this, but then I realized this…

      The important part is the trust network among the “Bishops”. Everything below the Bishop level is less important (and perhaps different Bishops could use different ways to organize it), we only need to know which Bishop is responsible for what. Then we know who belongs to the “Church” (the trusted Bishops and everyone below them) and who doesn’t (the rest of the world).

      So, to implement this system for feminists or atheists or whoever, we need to define the rules for the Bishop level precisely, and then contact all existing organizations and ask them to send their representatives, the new Bishops, to the first “Conclave”. There they would construct the trust network. The connected part of the graph would become the new Church. (The unconnected people — maybe there was no specific problem with them, they just weren’t famous enough — could ask some Bishop to accept them as their subordinates, and perhaps try their luck again later.)

      Then the Bishops could somehow choose a “Pope” as their spokesperson and coordinator. (Perhaps by majority vote, weighed by a number of people represented by each Bishop.)

      • MugaSofer says:

        Huh. This might actually work.

        Picture an app that lets you subscribe to a particular congregation’s membership list, and whatever the equivalent of church is.

        Members can request a premium Priest-membership from their Bishop, to split off their own congregation as numbers rise.

        Bishops can approve/disapprove of any other Bishop, anyone with enough downvote/upvote ratio is declared a heretic and their account suspended.

        (Historically, I would also suggest an “unbaptized” level of membership, for those who are interested but not committed; but have members-only areas.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The problem with this model seems to be that one controversial bishop can ruin everything. If even one bishop recognizes him, he’s in. That means that the only way you can avoid recognizing him yourself is to unrecognize every single bishop who recognizes the bishops who recognize the bishops […] who recognize him.

      In other words, either you recognize every two-bit weirdo who can get either a single endorsement, or you have instant schism over the problem.

      • Anthony says:

        As I recall, ordaining a bishop requires three bishops. That tends to limit the problem you describe, though it means that when schisms do occur, there will be significant support on both sides.

        • Again, this is what actually happened. Ordaining a new bishop requires at least three existing bishops in order to be considered valid, and the custom going back to whenever was for all of the bishops in the region to attend a new ordination. This avoided the problem of fringe elements getting in and then requiring lots of effort to get out of the network. And where the big controversies occurred (most especially the Donatist schism and the Arian controversy, which was already underway when Constantine converted), the only reason they became “big” is because there was a lot of support for both sides.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        That seems to be the usual failure of “Invite Only” systems in the modern world too: Eventually someone invites a bad apple, and then that bad apple opens the door to a ton of other bad apples.

    • da5id says:

      A similar cell model is also used by many modern megachurches, although they think about it as a church-made-up-of-small-groups model, or the meta-model.

  31. Jaskologist says:

    There is another aspect of Catholicism that I have come to believe is important to its long-term health: a certain flexibility and tolerance of hypocrisy. In a modern example, note the many politicians who are gung-ho about abortion, but still call themselves Catholic.

    For a better historical example, I’d suggest looking up the Donatist controversy. During Diocletian’s persecution, many clergy had turned over scripture to be burned. After it was over, the church split over whether or not they should be allowed to minister again. The Catholic Church said they could.

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s not a question of hypocrisy but rather one of repentance.

      Re: the Donatists, their objection was that even if someone repented and wished to be re-admitted after penance, no can do. Sacraments celebrated by such traditores are invalid.

      The Catholic position was ex opere operato and that this was precisely the kind of case for which the Sacrament of Penance was established.

      The Donatists eventually considered themselves the only true church with valid sacraments, and they were in a strong position throughout much of North Africa for a couple of centuries.

      Regarding abortion, the latae sententiae excommunication strictly only comes under Canon 1398:

      Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

      So those politicians who pull the “personally opposed” bit? Or go even further and are all enthusiasm for supporting the right to choice? Well, (speaking as Not An American), while I might very much wish some of my fellow-Catholics were not Catholics, I have to grit my teeth and accept that as long as they’ve been validly baptised and they have not formally defected, we’re all still fellow-Catholics.

      Even if they are wibbly on what does and does not constitute “being a faithful Catholic”.

      Though as regards Scott’s post, I’m inclined to laugh: we’re not an organised religion so much as a giant ball of squabbling opinions spread out over centuries, and replete with plenty of people who adhere to a ‘cultural Catholicism’ which is in effect indistinguishable from ordinary secular non-religious life.

      The pope has not so much power as you might think; infallibility is circumscribed to very particular circumstances, and our present guy seems to be dead set on stripping down the office even more (he’s very big on collegiality).

      The prospect of the decision-making being up to conferences of bishops, which is what collegiality would boil down to in practice, really is the worst form of ‘governance by committee’.

      I have no idea how we’ve managed to survive this long, and if we’ll continue to survive. Then again, how many revolutionaries over the centuries thought they were seeing the final death-throes of the papacy and Catholicism? And then again again, one of these days they must be right about it!

    • Mary says:

      One notes for that to work you have to have room in your ideology for the concept of original sin or an equivalent thereof.

      There was, for instance, no excuse for not being the New Soviet Man in the Soviet Union. You were, after all, living in the perfected Marxist Socialist state.

      Which would exclude all Utopian ideologies.

      • Oligopsony says:

        There was, for instance, no excuse for not being the New Soviet Man in the Soviet Union. You were, after all, living in the perfected Marxist Socialist state.

        This is false. After Khruschev the official line was that class struggle was basically resolved (the primary basis upon which Maoism declared the USSR heretical) and with Brezhnev the official line was that the socialist base was fully secure, but no one claimed to be “perfected” or anything absurd like that.

        • Mary says:

          Ah, but you hedge with your “After Khruschev”.

          I note that was also the point at which Communism started to hit problems keeping the fervor going.

        • Oligopsony says:

          Before Khruschev the official line was that the Soviet Union was locked in a bitter struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and that the Communist Party and state were full of bourgeois elements who were constantly seeking to subvert the construction of socialism and would restore capitalism if given half a chance.

          You can dismiss this as crazy – though certain parts seem to be vindicated by experience – but it is further from, not closer to, a claim of perfection.

        • Mary says:

          That is irrelevant to the point at hand. For it to be relevant, the official line would have to be that the “bourgeois elements who were constantly seeking to subvert the construction of socialism and would restore capitalism if given half a chance” could not help it.

          It was in fact the official line that they could of course help it which is what made them so diabolical. Why, they would starve themselves and their families to death, posing as sweet and gentle and harmless, which only showed the depths of their hatred for Communism.

        • Oligopsony says:

          No, the official line was always that classes seek to defend their own interests, and that this is entirely natural and to be expected.

        • Mary says:

          Sure they said that, but even Marx poured bitter moral condemnation on the exploiters. In Soviet Union, it was ramped up. Even if the natural and expected elements were sometimes said, nevertheless they were also bitterly condemned for having chosen to stand against Communism.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Seems like Oli’s argument contra Mary essentially boils down to “Communism totally had Original Sin; what it lacked was any hope for individual redemption/salvation!”

        • Oligopsony says:

          Yeah, people tend to hate their enemies, which has nothing to do with the Soviet Union claiming (it didn’t) that everyone should logically have become a New Soviet Man by now.

        • Nornagest says:

          My take on it when I read about Soviet ideology was that class struggle was entirely natural under economic conditions typified by class divisions, but that the rise of the USSR had erased those divisions and seeking to reinstate them (by e.g. not wanting fifty Stalins) was not only wrong but perverse, a crime against history.

          s/the rise of the USSR/the imminent rise of socialism for criticism of non-Soviet nations. Whenever you hear someone talking about late capitalism, they’re using a version of this argument.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      During Diocletian’s persecution, many clergy had turned over scripture to be burned.

      Historical note: The word “traitor” (Latin traditor, “one who hands something over”) comes from this incident.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditor

  32. Leonard says:

    if the Catholic Church is the most successful organization in history, why don’t other organizations follow its example?

    For the reasons you noted: voluntary organization with the führerprinzip tend to the brittle. And in any case, voluntary organizations do not get to have nuclear weapons. Nukes are awesome. If you get to have nuclear weapons if you simply force a few people to do this and that, why would you want to be voluntary?

    There’s a reason Moldbug labelled the organized Progressive movement of today “the Cathedral”. There’s where you want to look for your modern Catholicism. The Cathedral is the organized Progressive movement in its state-ruling form. A religion ruling an officially agnostic state — that’s a good trick.

    There’s a definite binary feel to progressives. They know each other almost on sight, and they know who is out. They know what is orthodox (that is, politically correct), and what is not. Conversely, they know heresy when they see it, and it enrages them. Once out, you’re really, really out. No enemies on the left, no friends on the right.

    As for ritual, I am sure you have heard about “raising awareness”. That rituals have the side effect of good-feeling holier-than-thou makes them more effective. (Not sure: do Catholics feel holier-than-thou when they, i.e., take Communion?) We have a nearly endless supply of rituals by which the progressive can affirm her faith. Indeed, my observation is that rebuking wrongthinkers on the Internet affirms the faith. Just as the Catholic can pray whenever he wants, the progressive can spit hatred at someone politically incorrect on the Internet whenever she wants. Hence SJWing.

    • Troy says:

      do Catholics feel holier-than-thou when they, i.e., take Communion?

      No doubt we Catholics do feel holier-than-thou at some points, but taking communion would be a strange point for this, given that we recite such words as “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” before doing so.

      There’s a definite binary feel to progressives. They know each other almost on sight, and they know who is out. They know what is orthodox (that is, politically correct), and what is not. Conversely, they know heresy when they see it, and it enrages them.

      I don’t think this is always true, and indeed, I think this was one of Scott’s points. Certain statements may be perfectly acceptable and even laudable coming from a progressive, whereas they would be offensive coming from a non-progressive. Or certain words may be “OK in 2013” but “NOT OK in 2014,” as the Salon parody account puts it (https://twitter.com/Salondotcom/status/488050838808842241). And there is no centralized authority telling us what those are — there are just competing voices, like progressive news sources, progressive activists, and so on. And as some of Scott’s previous posts have shown (Steve Sailer also documents many nice cases), someone who is following progressivism as they understand it may suddenly find themselves out of favor for fairly inscrutable reasons.

    • Anthony says:

      However, Moldbug’s name is somewhat ironic, in that a) Progressivism is an outgrowth of Congregationalism, not the Catholic Church, and b) one doesn’t know who the bishops are in the Progressive Cathedral.

      • michael vassar says:

        And yet it appears to be a great deal more powerful than Catholicism.

      • Leonard says:

        Why is it ironic for Progressivism to have non-Catholic roots? That’s what I’d expect, given that Catholicism had co-evolved with the medieval political order.

        As for who the “bishops” are, one knows if one looks.

        What defines a “bishop”? One: consecration or ordination by an older bishop. Two: the exclusive power to create new bishops. Three: the power to speak with authority about particular matters viewed as within their sphere.

        Ask a spiritual question of a Catholic, then trace back the answer to a man who got it from God (that is, from the unbeliever standpoint, the man who made it up). That’s a bishop (or Jesus).

        Ask a mundane question of a Progressive, then trace back the answer to a person who got it from “science” (that is, from the unbeliever standpoint, the person who made it up). That’s a “bishop”. I think you’ll find that the person is an “expert”, usually an academic, typically a PhD. Are PhD’s ordained? Can they exclusively create new PhDs? Do they speak with authority about matters within their field of expertise? I think the answer to all questions is yes.

    • ozymandias says:

      Um. …Progressives schism constantly. Look at sex-positive and trans-positive versus radical feminists, or how communists use the word “liberal” with far more viciousness than they use the word “conservative,” or the constant fracturing of various leftist groups.

      • To be fair, the Catholic Church also schisms constantly. It’s just that it’s usually pretty clear in the schism which group is official and which are the dissidents, and the dissidents have a way of disappearing while the official church keeps on trucking along. Progressives, OTOH, often split into groups which can both plausibly claim legitimacy, and both halves of the schism often persist or die together. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

      • Leonard says:

        I agree with you that there is constant fighting among progressives on the contents of the the most extreme ends of their ideology. Holier-than-thou knows no natural boundary. You are seeing the fracture of leftist groups; I see the fracture of subgroups, yet all within the same umbrella. Again: no enemies on the left, no friends on the right.

        For all their fractiousness, progressives still believe the same things on basically all questions of importance. And more importantly given the political context: they vote as a sacrament and they all vote the same.

        For example, take the most recent progressive victory, homosexual normalization. Can you name any progressive group which is schismatic on the issues of homosexuals in the military or homosexual marriage? Homosexual adoption? Homosexual teachers in the public schools? Gay boy scout leaders? NAMBLA boy scout leaders?

        • ozymandias says:

          NAMBLA disagrees with the consensus opinion on NAMBLA boy scout leaders, one assumes.

          A lot of progressives are anti-voting: see the popular bumper sticker “if voting changed anything, it would be illegal.”

          It is true that in the modern era there is a broad consensus on homosexuality. However, go back only a few decades and you’ll have Maoists arguing that homosexuals are a capitalist pollutant and black nationalists arguing that homosexuality did not exist in Africa before black nationalism. I guess you could argue that Maoists and black nationalists are less leftist than capitalist, reformist, non-separatist pro-gay groups are?

          Your model seems to predict a lot of leftists who are basically okay with more leftist groups, which hate them. This doesn’t really seem to be true. Pro-capitalist liberals fucking loathe communists; anti-feminist liberals despise feminists.

        • Oligopsony says:

          Among the Stalinist crowds I hang out in, everyone hates leftcoms. Likewise democrat socialists hate us, and we’d all hate Ankharists if any existed. No friends to the right, no friends to the left either, is the general principle.

        • Randy M says:

          “NAMBLA disagrees with the consensus opinion on NAMBLA boy scout leaders, one assumes.”

          That example presumably fell through a time portal from c. 2019 or so.

        • Leonard says:

          You say they hate them, and I’ll take your word for it, but there are degrees.

          Do they agitate to have their leftist opponents silenced? Banned from discussions on third-party sites, for example? Do they cease association with neutral third parties based on their connections? Routinely express death-wishes and genocidal ideation?

          I have not seen any left-on-left hatred myself, but I tend to avoid reading the left any more. So maybe I am ignorant. I’d love it if you had a few good examples.

          Have you ever advocated any rightist position on the Internet? If not, I am not sure you really grasp the level of hatred in the consequent vituperation.

        • Zathille says:

          @Leonard:

          http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/02/11/redd-f11.html

          This is an example, I’d say.

          There is probably an element of outgroup homogeneity bias in effect here as well. many sites on the left call any opponent to the right ‘reactionary’ and a similar phenomenon occuring on the right calling opponents ‘socialists’ or ‘communists’. There’s a lot of difference between left anarchists, Trotskyists and Stalinists just as there are many differences between techno-commercialists, traditionalists and ethno-nacionalists. Of course, the difference is in degrees, the vituperation, likewise.

        • Leonard says:

          Ozy, I think that most leftists are OK with those lefter than them. They may think they are misguided, or misinformed, or whatever. But they don’t experience them as evil.

          By contrast, y’all do experience even pretty mild rightism as evil. I.e. if I assert that blacks have substantially lower IQs than whites do — you feel that just saying something like that is inherently evil and awful. Do you feel the same sense of violation if I assert that homosexuals did not exist in Africa before colonial rule?

          And yes, I recognize exceptions here. Maybe some leftists don’t vote, but again it’s important to see that they are doing it based on lefter-than-thou. This is true of the anarchists who would propound not voting. (And I wonder how many of them eventually do end up at the polling place.) Or for example one can find gays who do not want gays in the military because they want nobody in the military. Or gays who oppose gay marriage because they perceive gays as different and opposed to (square unredeemable straight) society. Etc. None of these positions are held to be out of bounds by progressives, even today in their hour of victory, although I doubt they are very common any more since victory is clearly in sight.

        • Oligopsony says:

          By contrast, y’all do experience even pretty mild rightism as evil. I.e. if I assert that blacks have substantially lower IQs than whites do — you feel that just saying something like that is inherently evil and awful.

          Jesus, get over yourselves.

        • ozymandias says:

          Radical feminists regularly get death threats from trans-positive feminists and radical feminist conferences such as Radfems Respond are targeted by trans activists who prevent them from having a venue. So, yeah, the left does viciously attack the left. (In fact it’s a common complaint that people are way more passionate about fighting radfems than they are about fighting literally any other kind of transphobe.)

          …and I think that HBD is true and I’m still antiracist, ffs, stop with your 3edgy5me nonsense. This is Slate Star Codex, you’re not going to freak people out by mentioning racial IQ differences here.

        • Leonard says:

          Jesus, get over yourselves.
          stop with your 3edgy5me nonsense

          These are just the sort of reaction I am talking about, albeit in milder form. This is mockery. You are trying to shut down what I am saying without responding to the substance of it.

          I know how leftists feel about any assertion of genetic racial inequality because I was a leftist. I can still model it easily. That, and of course that I read stuff on the internet. I see it.

          Left-people at SSC may not freak out at the mention of racial inequality. (A few of you do, however, give into the impulse to mock.) But the vast majority of your allies do. Indeed, to believe in HBD is to be racist. Can a racist be anti-racist? I think it works in my worldview, but I don’t see how it fits with progressivism. So, I feel you guys (Ozy at least) are already off the reservation.

          As for intra-left hatred, you guys have convinced me that there is some — at the fringes. But I am still not seeing it as a factor in left politics, such that it defeats the idea of progressivism as a cohesive religious movement comparable to the Church. I guess we have democracy to thank for that. That, and the ballasting effect of amoral powerseekers.

        • ozymandias says:

          Disgust at overt signalling is not the same thing as moral offense.

          I mean, I guess you could gerrymander “leftist” to not include a gender studies major with an enthusiastic love for bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins and who supports affirmative action, reparations, and public housing projects in white neighborhoods. That is a choice you could make. Or you could accept that people are different and have diverse opinions. Whatever, up to you.

        • Zathille says:

          The objection seems more aimed at the form of the comment rather than the content, as evidenced by Ozy not objecting to HBD, but rather what they describe as 2edge4me attitude.

          I’ve had similar sentiments in another comments thread discussing the relative merits of 4chan’s anonimity vis-a-vis upvoting/downvoting systems. At some point one commenter claimed well-tended gardens died of democracy, adding that such an insight was likely only accepted by reactionaries for obvious reasons.

          I objected, saying that the failure mode of democracy described was actually far more universal, citing forums which died without implementing any voting system, remaining in their classical user<Moderator<Administrator<Owner model, and still ossified in their social relations, dying out duo to a lack of 'new blood', new content or events that could upset current relations, cemented by the reputation and the subsequent distribution of power between members therein.

          You see, while the whole 'only we have this insight and everyone else is hostile to us' thing can be true, it can also become a shibboleth as any objection or critiscism to what you have to say can be construed as a memetic immune response. I say this as someone who has had contact with a variety of 'fringe' internet communities of varying quality.

          In some ways, it feels similar to certain discussions in other parts of the internet in which 'You only say this because you're Y' is considered a valid refutation.

          To simply reverse the argument and then add a pinch of bravery debate on top has never been a constructive way to conduct a discussion, in my experience.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          By contrast, y’all do experience even pretty mild rightism as evil. I.e. if I assert that blacks have substantially lower IQs than whites do — you feel that just saying something like that is inherently evil and awful.

          Bullshit.

          Blacks have substantially lower IQ than whites do. This is an incontrovertible fact. Much so-called “leftist” thought is given to how to fix this.

          When you guys talk about the problem, though, you deliberately do so in ways engineered to elicit a “you’re evil” response. The “… and therefore blacks are inherently subhuman” is practically palpable subtext in every way you guys choose to describe the situation.

          You want to be persecuted, because it reassures you of your righteousness.

          I know this pattern well; I grew up with it for 19 years.

        • Zathille says:

          @Ialdabaoth: Has there been any indication that Leonard actually endorses the positions you say he does?

          While I can understand some reactionaries may, firstly, this is probably not a charitable description of it. From what I gather, the whole racial ethnic thing is more of an ethnonationalist focus and, from what I gather, more along the lines of: “People live better amongst their own ethnicity than among others, therefore, to better serve everyone, they should avoid mingling together when not necessary.”. While racial hatred is, of course, a possible motivation, it’s not exactly charitable to presume it is one, much less a primary one.

          Don’t take this as a personal attack, this whole thread seems rife with ‘My opponents believe X’, not at all very conductive to mutual understanding.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          This thread is about perceived tone, and global-group behavior vs. individual member behavior.

          I am describing the perceived tone of the global group that I hear whenever I interact with its members. I am doing this because the group continues to try to market to me, and I have to assume that providing feedback on its marketing techniques will be appreciated.

          If individuals don’t share the tone of their group, then they need to make it VERY explicit that they don’t, or they risk being associated with the group’s tone by default. I think that’s reasonable.

          If they’ve decided, strategically, that they need to share their group’s tone even when they disagree, then they have to accept the cost of that decision. I think that’s also reasonable.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Much so-called “leftist” thought is given to how to fix this.

          Pardon my ignorance, but hasn’t the black-white IQ gap actually contracted greatly in America over like 60 years? By 4 points or so? Clearly even the liberal efforts haven’t been fruitless.

        • Multiheaded says:

          @Oligopsony

          Jesus, get over yourselves.

          Follow my lead, senpai! Embed ideologically correct videos to suppress reactionary euphoria!

        • Troy says:

          Blacks have substantially lower IQ than whites do. This is an incontrovertible fact. Much so-called “leftist” thought is given to how to fix this.

          It’s easy, when you’re familiar with the relevant psychological science and read a lot of more open-minded websites, like this one, to not realize how resistant many people are to well-established facts about IQ. But many people are resistant. I have heard many of my fellow academics give as an example of a “racist” belief the belief that blacks have lower IQs than whites — and it was clear that they did not think that this belief was true. If confronted with IQ tests, they would point to things like cultural bias and stereotype threat. I know because I’ve had this conversation with some of them.

          That’s not to say that much leftist thought isn’t aimed at “fixing” the IQ gap. (Aside: Why does it need to be fixed? Why not aim at raising everyone’s IQ?) But much leftist thought is also aimed at denying this fact or suppressing any mention of it in contexts in which it might make a difference to policy. For example, schoolteachers are assumed to be racist if they group kids by intellectual ability and end up with more black children in lower-ability groups — even if this grouping actually improves those children’s learning overall. There’s a real tension in progressivism over this, because on the one hand progressives think this is a problem that needs to be fixed, but on the other hand they want to deny that the problem exists. The main aim of contemporary American education schools and education policy is to “close the gap,” undoubtedly. But often this isn’t what they say publicly. I was talking to a current student in an education school, and she said that in her classes they are now mostly being told to not focus on intellectual achievement as measured by tests at all, but about the need to “celebrate diversity” — where this seems to mean something like, not acknowledging the differences in ability that exist between students because this will make them feel bad. This is nonsense, of course, and most teachers (at least implicitly) know this and do a decent job in practice, but this nonsense is still what’s being peddled in progressive education schools.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          but on the other hand they want to deny that the problem exists.

          That’s actually not what’s going on. The Reactionary movement frequently tries to claim that Progressives want to deny that these problems exist, when what we really want is to deny you their use as social weapons.

          These are true facts, and we are aware of them. But too many people have used them to promote vicious behavior, so we’re somewhat reticent to discuss them with people who pattern-match to the same rhetoric of viciousness.

          Hence, I can’t/won’t discuss race issues honestly with Eugine Nier or James A Donald.

          There are plenty of strategies that honest, intelligent Progressives would love to use, but that are too easily corrupted by Reactionaries.

          And then Reactionaries get to trot out those strategies with a smug smile, and say “see, you don’t mean what you say because you won’t use these strategies! Come on, Charlie, why won’t you kick the football?”

          This is why we can’t have nice things.

        • Troy says:

          Pardon my ignorance, but hasn’t the black-white IQ gap actually contracted greatly in America over like 60 years? By 4 points or so? Clearly even the liberal efforts haven’t been fruitless.

          I think I read something recently that said that it had decreased, but by less than that: i.e., by around 2 points.

          And that’s not necessarily due to “liberal efforts.” I haven’t seen data on black American IQs over the last 100 years, but on most other metrics (e.g., income, employment, crime) black Americans were doing increasingly better throughout the 20th century, and then plateaued or got worse starting in the 60s, with some positive trends starting roughly in the 90s. If we assume a similar pattern here, black IQ may well have risen anyway, and liberal policies may have slowed that rise.

          At any rate, it depends on the policies. Welfare programs probably hurt. But public health initiatives (e.g., removing lead from the environment) almost certainly helped, so if you view those as “liberal efforts,” then liberal efforts helped.

        • Troy says:

          These are true facts, and we are aware of them. But too many people have used them to promote vicious behavior, so we’re somewhat reticent to discuss them with people who pattern-match to the same rhetoric of viciousness.

          I do not deny that some progressives do that. Heck, I do that with some people. But I really think you’re overgeneralizing from your own experience here. I have had conversations with multiple progressives who deny that there is a racial gap in intelligence. Sometimes they will be unaware that IQ tests have persistently found such a gap. Other times they will claim that IQ tests are culturally biased, or that IQ tests don’t measure anything objectively real/reflective of actual intelligence, or that blacks experience stereotype threat when taking IQ tests and that this explains their poorer performance.

          Have you really not encountered these claims in reading about this subject? Heck, Charles Murray had to be convinced that IQ tests weren’t culturally biased. Here’s a quote from an interview with psychologist Linda Gottfredson (page 16): “As a sidebar, Bob [Linda’s husband] and I had to convince a skeptical Charles Murray over dinner after the symposium that there were, in fact, good data indicating that IQ tests are reliable, valid, and not culturally biased against blacks, just as Julian Stanley had had to convince Bob himself years back.” (http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/reprints/2007gottfredsoninterview.pdf) The points in the Mainstream Science on Intelligence statement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainstream_Science_on_Intelligence), written in response to the media furor over The Bell Curve, show that many of these misconceptions were common at that time too. (If nobody was claiming that IQ tests were culturally biased, they wouldn’t have felt a need to make point 5. that they are not so biased.)

        • Troy says:

          One more point on the claim that progressives just avoid talking about IQ claims with people “who pattern-match to” vicious behavior: I can certainly understand this as a reason to not talk to, say, Jim. But what about denunciations of people like Charles Murray, or Jason Richwine, or Linda Gottfredson? I don’t think one can seriously read someone like Murray or Gottfredson and reasonably think that they’re evil racists. Indeed, most of their critics have not read them, and denounce them only on reports they’ve heard from others on what, say, The Bell Curve says.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          But what about denunciations of people like Charles Murray, or Jason Richwine, or Linda Gottfredson?

          I, personally, would never denounce the people who wrote the Bell Curve for writing the Bell Curve.

          I will, however, get awfully sick of people using the Bell Curve to support arguments that it doesn’t actually support, and might tend to get a bit irritated when yet another book comes out that will inevitably be used to support those arguments.

          Give the world a better class of Reactionary, and the world can give you a better class of Progressive.

        • Troy says:

          Give the world a better class of Reactionary, and the world can give you a better class of Progressive.

          People in general are irrational, self-deceived, and intellectually dishonest, especially about politically charged topics. If we all waited for our ideological opponents to become better before getting our own house in order, nobody would improve.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Hmm. You’re missing what I’m saying. Let me spell it out more:

          The behavior of Reactionaries (and proto-Reactionaries) is like 90% of why Social Justice Progressives are so awful. If you’re going to complain that the dog bites, stop hitting it with sticks.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The behavior of Reactionaries (and proto-Reactionaries) is like 90% of why Social Justice Progressives are so awful. If you’re going to complain that the dog bites, stop hitting it with sticks.

          I don’t buy this. Progressives vastly outnumber Reactionaries; I’m not convinced that the majority of progressives even know about NRX. I am doubly skeptical in the context of Charles Murray, as I’m pretty sure NRX flat-out didn’t exist when The Bell Curve was published.

          Using the existence of some mean people out there somewhere as an excuse for your own bad behavior is weak. There will always be dissenters out there; if your movement can’t be non-awful as long as dissenters exist, your movement will always be awful, and it’s time to find a new one.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I don’t buy this. Progressives vastly outnumber Reactionaries; I’m not convinced that the majority of progressives even know about NRX. I am doubly skeptical in the context of Charles Murray, as I’m pretty sure NRX flat-out didn’t exist when The Bell Curve was published.

          Only if we use your definition for Progressives and Reactionaries. If I were to use similar definitions based on my own motivations, Reactionaries would far outnumber Progressives.

          In the interest of fairness, would you rather use your definition of Progressives and my definition of Reactionaries, or my definition of Progressives and your definition of Reactionaries?

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          That’s what I thought. I don’t think we can bridge this gulf.

        • Nornagest says:

          A better question might be: who are the “reactionaries” that you’re talking about, Ialdabaoth? Moldbug-style neoreaction’s weird enough in terms of ideology that I’m most comfortable treating it as its own thing, but we’re never going to bridge this gap if we don’t talk about the criteria we’re using.

        • Matthew says:

          This is ridiculous. Progressives far outnumber reactionaries. I think Ialdabaoth is conflating people who hold some subset of various non-egalitarian prejudices (there are many sexists and/or racists etc.) with people who actually subscribe to a reactionary ideology. Your average Republican probably doesn’t think much of black people voting (your average Tea Partier definitely doesn’t), but unlike actual reactionaries, you won’t get many of them arguing that democracy or human rights in general are bad things.

          Functionally, progressives outnumber conservatives too, although conservatives like to pretend otherwise, having successfully demonized the word liberal. But this is at least sort of a close contest. Conservatives vastly outnumber reactionaries.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Agree with Matthew. Suggest both sides taboo “progressive” and “(neo)reactionary.”

      • Doug S. says:

        “A heretic is someone who shares almost all of your beliefs. Kill him.” – Steve Jackson

  33. Dave says:

    Yes.

    Also:
    > The limiting case of strictness is a single person.

    Would it were that this were so.

  34. Troy says:

    I think it’s a pretty consistent finding in sociology of religion that churches/sects that require high levels of commitment from their members — i.e., lots of personal sacrifices — tend to be much better at retaining members than ones that do not.

    Also of interest: studies of utopian communes find that almost all the ones that don’t die out within a generation or two have some religious commitment.

  35. Quite Likely says:

    I think this sort of conflates an organization being able to retain its values for a long time, and an organization being successful in accomplishing its goals. Obviously being enormous and having a lot of resources help the Catholic Church get things done, but beyond that it doesn’t seem particularly more effective at accomplishing its goals than any other organization. The church isn’t even able to exercise much control over actual Catholics these days, much less impose its priorities on others to the extent you might expect from a group including one out of every seven people on Earth.

  36. Mary says:

    “Not only does the Church formalize where they demand conformity, but they formalize where they don’t.”

    In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas

  37. Quixote says:

    In addition to the Church, the National Socialists and the Centralized Communist Party also all had this structure. They were both monstrously effective and those 3 organizations are collectively responsible for ALL THE WORST STUFF THAT EVER HAPPENED. So it shouldn’t really be suprising that organizations with members that have studied history chose not to avail themselves of this structure.

  38. Uh…if you haven’t read Anathem you really need to. Not only is it just

    a) a great book overall
    b) especially crack for LW types

    it, without spoiling too much, is about a church of the sort you consider here.

    (I have spent the last year or two making ha-ha-only-serious jokes about starting a concent somewhere in the woods in the PNW (possibly rural oregon.) Everyone says “You’re nuts” but is a bit stumped as to why I shouldn’t actually do this.

    • I absolutely support you starting a math out there in the woods. I would come if you allowed deolaters, and also if I could convince my wife I wasn’t crazy.

      • By the way, I clicked on your profile link and saw your most recent post; I am very amused, as I read the same More Right post and instantly said “…do they realize they’ve just reinvented Anathem?”

        As for deolaters, I have to say I believe in the same sort of Sconic logical positivism most of the Edharians hold. But you’re welcome to form a second order within our math, so long as you can defend your beliefs in dialog.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve always suspected that about half the neoreactionary memes out there are just recycled ideas from Neal Stephenson books. Especially The Diamond Age, but plenty of others too.

        • Multiheaded says:

          In that case, have neoreactionaries taken a look at what actually happens in The Diamond Age? (BTW, Stephenson got some flak from Confucians over his depiction of Neo-Confucianism.)

    • Lavendar bubble tea says:

      I just looked at the book on wikipedia and saw their definition of concent in the book. Honestly, this concept sounds like a really good and really needed thing. A concent would effectively be created a strong place for intellectual inquiry outside of a society which seeks to devalue such endeavors which are non profitable in an economic sense.

  39. Typhon says:

    The Communist International seems to me like a rather successful attempt at creating something like the catholic church. The 21 conditions of admission to the Communist International is exactly what you’re talking about ; In particular, it strongly emphasizes the need to keep out the heretics and to not be confused with them.

    The problem with creating a highly hierarchised organisation is that everyone wants to be on top, and you need some pretty damn good reason to convince others to follow orders rather than giving them.

    • Mary says:

      You need Pride to be a sin.

      It doesn’t prevent the ambition but at least gives you reason to curb it.

  40. Deiseach says:

    Oh, forgot to say: congratulations, Scott, for inventing a new heresy! Or at least one I’ve never encountered before; in all the various Christological heresies, I’ve never heard one denying the maternity of Jesus. Whether or not she was a virgin, whether or not Joseph or some other guy was the father, and so on, but none about who was the real mother of Jesus 🙂

  41. Konkvistador says:

    I find myself wondering if you chose to omit the obvious example of Communists or didn’t notice?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_International

    At its height it nominally united several hundreds of millions of people and effectively changed political direction of thousands of organizations. Communists under its direction did very impressive things like infiltrating, compromising and perhaps nearly fully subverting the highest levels of American government in the late 1930s and 1940s.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Didn’t notice. Communists nowadays tend to be schism-prone and ineffective, state communist parties seem more likely state governments than like either churches or NGOs (ie using threat of violence or loss of privileges to bypass the problem) and I don’t know enough about the history of non-state Communism to comment.

      • Anonymous says:

        In France, Communism is pretty well organized, including a yearly Fete de L’Humanite which is a big festival near Paris with communists from all over the world, with speeches, music, food (from a lot of places!), etc. it’s a nice athmosphere I was there a few times.

        Though seems to me international organized communism has been on a pretty steady decline for a few decades. But it’s still worth mentioning…

  42. Konkvistador says:

    This piece brings people up to speed to many of the basic thoughts on institutions post-rationalists like Newsome and Muflax thought about a few years ago. I would recommend it for rationalists interested in these questions.

    It makes me wish I had finished my Institution building Institution sequence. I discontinued it because it seemed too few people understood it.

    The Cult of Neoreaction
    (purposeful organizations are hard, their goals collapse into generic social group goals)
    http://www.moreright.net/the-cult-of-neoreaction/

    Working with disinformation in our map
    (organizational epistemology is hard)
    http://www.moreright.net/working-with-disinformation-in-our-map/

    Conquest’s Second Law
    (outisde routinely memeplexes hijack attention away from formal purpose of purposeful organizations)
    http://www.moreright.net/conquests-second-law/

  43. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I agree that we have a memetic immune response against churches/cults. It’s not hard to think of purposes this might serve, but the big question is how, when and where it came to be. Seems like there’s probably always been an instinct to detect and oppose coalitions that don’t include us (if we don’t want to join). Does modernity ensure that we’re always in contact with too many non-cultists for joining a cult to work? That would explain the relative success of Objectivism, since it appeals to introverts. It may also be that new cults read as lower status in modern times than in the past–but how did that happen?

    One possibility–and I don’t know the history to say if this is the case or not–is that the Catholic Church created our derision for ‘cults’ to fight competition. Our ‘immune response’ would actually be a bacteria-produced antibiotic!

    • Jaskologist says:

      One possibility–and I don’t know the history to say if this is the case or not–is that the Catholic Church created our derision for ‘cults’ to fight competition.

      It’s not the case. Christians were derided back when they were a new and unknown cult, too. They got accused of everything from incest to cannibalism, and Nero was able to attack them as a way to distract from his own rumored culpability in Rome’s fire.

      Derision of cults is just standard human distrust of weirdos and the Other.

  44. Emile says:

    I don’t think we have a memetic resistance to cults as much as a resistance to being told “shut up and just do it”; religions (be they cults or The Catholic Church) get a pass because members accept the concept of divine command – and also, because in our society, churches avoid ordering you to do stuff you dislike *too* much. Or maybe, because “shut up and just do it” works better when it’s something everybody is doing already.

    There are probably several things going on:

    * The general zeitgeist (Democracy! Critical thinking! Everybody should be educated! Freedom of thought! Down with Fascism and oppression!) is against blindly obeying orders, bet it at work or at home.

    * Probably many more people consider themselves qualified to decide on much more issues than before (everybody has more education and access to more information).

    * Unquestioning obedience may be better for organizational effectiveness, but it’s not better for organizational creativity, which means that in creative/complicated/uncertain domains (including a lot of engineering and management), companies that insist less on blind obedience outcompete the others. And since those domains tend to be “higher status” and more visible, the norms that work there will tend to be copied even in organizations where it makes less sense.

    I’m less sure about the last part; Japanese companies seem *way* more into ritual, but it’s not clear to me how they compare to Western companies (too many factors vary, it’s hard to tease out causality).

  45. Noah says:

    This makes me want to start the Utilitarian Universalist Church with some folk. (It was too hard to resist naming it after the real-life Unitarian Universalist Association. The UUA has no officially required beliefs, values, or common purposes, but is kind of just a motley group people who find themselves temporarily well-served by the loose organization. It’s more like a political party or NGO than like the Catholic Church. I imagine a hypothetical UUC that is more formal, and that might operate a bit like Raikoth with its system of Angels.)

    Joe wrote:

    I think what the Church does differently is that it has a positive message to the world instead of just fighting injustice like the movements you sight. It claims to have something to offer.

    The Utilitarian Universalist Church would be founded on a formal purpose to maximize the happiness of every living thing in the universe, most especially its members. How’s that for a positive message? 😀

    As for how the UUC would organize, a utilitarian evaluation of the different options may or may not lead to having a hierarchy or other Catholic Church-like features. I suspect it would have some obvious similarities.

    Quixote wrote:

    In addition to the Church, the National Socialists and the Centralized Communist Party also all had this structure. They were both monstrously effective and those 3 organizations are collectively responsible for ALL THE WORST STUFF THAT EVER HAPPENED.

    Excellent point. If the UUC existed and grew to become a powerful social force, it would probably also eventually be corrupted. I wonder what the trade-offs are between gaining-power-and-eventually-growing-corrupt versus lacking-power-and-failing-the-mission. Time for a utilitarian calculation of the answer! 🙂

    • Anthony says:

      What’s the utility of a universe full of paper clips?

      • Nornagest says:

        Who’s asking?

      • Noah says:

        Paperclippers will be excommunicated. 😉 Or more plausibly (if it matters for a purely hypothetical organization), paperclippers will be denied initiation on account of them having no sincere interest in the happiness of other living things and so no sincere interest in the purpose of the church.

        • Lavendar bubble tea says:

          What if the paperclips just want to help us all with our typing? /kidding

  46. lambdaphage says:

    Some folks seem to presume that organizations differ in the degree of disciplined adherence they can extract from members in pursuit of their goals due to exogenous factors like “amount of time spent performing rituals”. But what if discipline is an endogenous result of the group’s goals themselves?

    As others have noticed, groups that inspire fanatical dedication tend to be those with singular, eschatological, end-of-history type goals, like the salvation of all of humanity forever through Christ or Marx/Lenin/Mao/Trotsky. Such goals are supposed to constitute supreme values for their members–quite plainly the most important thing there is. If someone really believed such a thing, the fact that they’d willingly line up behind the Catholic or Communist Field Marshal does not really need much further explanation.

    Troublingly, serving The Most Important Thing was more important than procedural liberalism: an inquisitor who extracted professions of faith from conversos was really doing them a favor, even if the bethumbscrewed beneficiaries didn’t see it that way at the time. Of course, no modern Catholics endorse this modus operandi. But that’s just cause to celebrate how deeply the values of lowercase liberalism and tolerance have soaked into the members of formally anti-lowercase-liberal organizations. And maybe it’s not such to stretch to think that if the Church seems a shadow of her former self as a social force in people’s lives, widespread acknowledgement of higher secular values (e.g. not plunging nations into civil war over questions of dogma) might have had some effect?

    A great number of people acting within various communist parties in the 20th century really did seem to believe in their Most Important Thing, hence the mountains of corpses.

    Most “cat-herding” organizations, on the other hand, have goals that can’t really be sold on such a basis. You might think libertarianism is a good idea, but it is hardly stirring in comparison to worldwide communist revolution, Das Tausendjähriges Reich or the return of Christ on earth.

    Perhaps a more succinct way of putting it is that goals that are compatible with an open society can’t promise anyone the sort of power worth engaging in coalitional aggression for.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Are you sure of this? There seem to be some really dedicated conservatives.

      And my list of groups that don’t seem to form churches – libertarians, feminists, transhumanists – seems to contain its fair share of eschatology.

      • lambdaphage says:

        > Are you sure of this?

        Nope!

        > There seem to be some really dedicated conservatives.

        I’m not sure who you’ve got in mind, or whether they’re counterexamples. But to take a step back, I suppose I’m fumbling around for the hypothesis that groups differ in their discipline because they offer different prospects for their adherents, in a way that need not even be conscious on either end. Having the Most Important Goal is not even the entire story, I think.

        Human beings seem to have a lot of baked-in cognitive tools for calculating about status, dominance and coalitional confidence, and they were probably as operative when Mercader icepicked Trotsky as when his (great)^5000th-grandfather and his buddies decided that Og the Big Man was getting a little too big. Whenever you find human beings doing strange, risky, seemingly self-sacrificing things like initiating group violence over “altercations of relatively trivial origin” [EDIT: wordpress thinks I’m a spambot, but search google books if curious] or spending twenty years in a cell on behalf of the international proletariat, the dark logics of expected value via reciprocal altruism or kin selection are probably not far behind.

        Fundamentally: get together in this group to do this risky thing because because the expected value is positive. Why is it positive? Because the potential reward is large, and the group is likely to coordinate successfully and distribute the benefits favorably. Why? Because they’ve accumulated high trust by playing an iterated game, or because of genetic relatedness that intertwines their reproductive payoffs. So even if something bad happens to you personally (missionaried to Malariaville, imprisoned in Mexico, preemptively Ogged…), you still made the right call as a replicator.

        Not all highly-demanding groups go so far as to literally promise you 72 virgins, but their appeals are probably ancient. Indeed, it would be surprising if modern groups did not cash in on those heuristics, either deliberately or through cultural selection. Steven Pinker noted, for example, that practically all large groups employ metaphors likening the group to a family in order to foster unity, whereas no parent exhorts their children to act more like members of a political party or corporation.

        More broadly, practices like arduous initiation rituals, marked forms of language, uniformity of appearance, coordinated rituals and taboos all serve to increase trust in cooperation either by emphasizing relatedness or raising the costs of defection. Having a well-defined dominance hierarchy within the group seems to appeal especially to men. There’s a lot more to be fleshed out, and a lot of literature to be cited, but I’m tentatively going with “cohesive groups get cohesive by appealing to the monkey brain and its expected fitness calculator(s)”. I think that gets you pretty far in explaining some otherwise bizarre human behavior.

        The cat-herding behavior of people worried about the singularity is an acknowledged deficiency of the “have the most important goal” theory that I forgot to mention above. I think someone on LW once suggested that they should rectify that through arbitrarily painful initiation rituals and laborious, mutually-observable group tasks in order to emphasize that everyone was committed and everyone knew that everyone was committed and everyone knew that everyone knew that everyone knew… You can imagine how that proposal was taken.

        Sorry for the wall of text. I like your blog.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Also, it should be noted that while Communist revolution is fairly taskifiable (though note that they developed ideology to prevent it from being), there is no end condition for Christ.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Slate-star-codex – a blog that manages to be so non-traditional that Chesterton’s Fence is used to defend the time honored tradition of *not* creating to church like structures.

    Exactly how old does a taboo have to be before Chesterton’s fence starts applying?

    • Oligopsony says:

      Arguably if you allow rules too recent in provenance you run into the West’s “throw out an old tradition without fully understanding the reasons for it” tradition.

    • ozymandias says:

      I feel like when I talk about Chesterton’s Fence I’m applying it to things as they currently work, regardless of how old currently working is.

      Which also applies to meta-level conservativism in a broader sense, I think: it doesn’t matter how well something worked a hundred years ago, lots of things have maybe changed since then, and you should not go about making radical change in complex, unpredictable systems you don’t understand without a very very very good reason.

      • Anonymous says:

        That makes sense. Meta level conservatism seems… deeply impractical, considering the complex systems in question is constantly shifting under our feet.

      • Ken Arromdee says:

        That just rephrases the question: instead of asking “how old does it have to be before Chesterson’s Fence applies”, it becomes “how old does it have to be before you can describe it as currently working”? After all, if it just started, it might not have had a chance to fail yet, so it isn’t really fair to say that it’s something that currently works.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think I tend to be more likely Chesterton-fence things that look like spontaneously evolved near-universal-in-a-society adaptations – of which the contempt for Church-like organizations is a prime example.

  48. Matthew says:

    Isn’t it possible that this is case of survivorship bias? The Catholic Church springs immediately to mind because it’s so successful. But how many binary ritualistic selectively-conformity enforcing hierarchical organizations don’t come to mind because they’re in the dustbin of history?

    (That’s not a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer and I think it’s worth thinking about.)

  49. Kaminiwa says:

    I can see how religions, with the Immutable Word Of God on their side, would have an advantage over philosophical and political organizations: They CAN be bound by a strict set of rules, because those rules aren’t going to change. By contrast, mainstream politics and philosophy have shifted vastly in even the last century.

    Still doesn’t explain why most religions aren’t as powerful as the Catholic Church, but this could well be down to scale. Christianity in general also seems to be a bit more… ruthlessly missionary? I tend to see other religions shunning the unbelievers, or preaching tolerance. I don’t see many religions that seem to want to actively absorb unbelievers in to the fold.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      Yes. As far as I can tell, only Islam, Christianity, and possibly Buddhism (which is not “really a philosophy” unless possibly you take Hindu gods for granted) have the combination of a somewhat concise creed and a focus on spreading the religion beyond the original bounds of culture, language, and race. Note that the modern dominance of Christianity is a result of it being adopted by the previously pagan Roman Empire, and that its birthplace is no longer predominantly Christian.

  50. anon says:

    It seems like the pope is the obvious source of strength of the Catholic Church. It thus also seems like the pope is a potential weak point, if something went wrong with the selection process it could bring down the entire church. It makes perfect sense to me that there were a few anti-popes, since people wouldn’t want to obey popes they didn’t share beliefs with. But why weren’t there more?

    Maybe it has to do with the hierarchy? Is the Church federalist or regionalist in some extremely way that ties all the believers together with one pope? The local elites are given more by Church hierarchy than their direct local supporters could give, so they try to force their supporters in line with the Church rather than the other way around? But what does the Church give to the elites?

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I think the reason is that is a country didn’t like the current pope, they could simply select priests on their own and cut out the pope- Venice went to war regularly with the papal states, but they didn’t create an anti-pope, they just held that the city was the only one who could pick the priests that serve Venice. You get all the benefits of being Catholic without the dangers of social unrest or the downside of breaking with the mother church.

  51. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/07/16 | Free Northerner

  52. Michael Mouse says:

    Unless every single cliched movie villain speech I have ever seen is wrong, humans long for someone to rule them and tell them what to do.

    Not *all* humans.

    I’m pretty sure it’s one of those Galton-mental-imagery/Typical Mind Fallacy things. Many or most people like direction, particularly if they believe t’s benevolent and mostly right. But to some, having someone to rule you and tell you what to do is awful, terrible, no good, very bad – even in the unlikely event that they are right all the time.

    I suspect this latter group mostly end up as libertarians and/or anarchists of some sort.

  53. Evan Gaensbauer says:

    I figure reactionary readers of Slate Star Codex would share this on their own blogs, writing something like “Scott Alexander is noticing an important trend, but this is how we can take it even further, because of how important formalism is”, or whatever. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is something the reactionaries believe they don’t need to rehash among themselves because it’s a point they covered a while ago. Either way, if you have a likewise response to this blog post, link to it in a reply below, and I’ll receive an email reminding me, so I’ll check it out.

  54. Evan Gaensbauer says:

    The categories social movements fall into seem fuzzy, so one could overlap a boundary of multiple categories. What I find interesting is the idea that such a phenomenon could have two social movements form a coalition, or hybrid, temporarily, or permanently, to become more powerful.

    On the political left in the Western World, what reactionaries call the Cathedral seems to be a combination of explicitly political elements, such as the Democratic Party, and some government bureaucracies, with other organizations which are more generically progressive, such as established universities, and social movements, e.g., feminism. On the political right in the United States, the Republican party, looser conservative factions, and various evangelical, or non-Catholic sects of Christianity, have united. This seems notable because sects which are as fractious from each other as each is from Catholicism are united through politics as a mediator, and this religious-partisan machine can sometimes exert more powerful in the United States than the Catholic Church can.

    In another comment replying to the original post above, in response to James Miller, someone noted that corporations as social movements will lose sight of goals which aren’t motivated by profit. However, in various states promoting some sort of capitalist orthodoxy, they enable the pursuit of profits by oligopolies, or monopolies, and benefit in return through financial contributions, and the like. Regardless of whether you identify this as corruption, I can’t tell if political, and corporate, entities becoming bedfellows is another trend of two social separate social movements merging towards a separate goal, or merely two separate structures forming a pragmatic symbiotic trade of resources.

    Oh, man, the idea of two (or more) social movements that have goals orthogonal to one another, or which are competing, gaining from trades is something I want to be analyzed now, because it usually isn’t analyzed.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “Oh, man, the idea of two (or more) social movements that have goals orthogonal to one another, or which are competing, gaining from trades is something I want to be analyzed now, because it usually isn’t analyzed.”

      You mean like communists fighting against minimum wage? Or missionaries and free traders working together to butress colonial adventures?

  55. Jeff Kaufman says:

    Their model is to have a large base of mostly atomized supporters, upon which float many different organizations. The supporters donate money to the organizations, and sometimes accept paying or volunteer jobs there. Occasionally they will wear the organization’s logo on a t-shirt, or affix its bumper sticker to their car, but this is the extent of their identification. The organizations do not have membership rosters per se, except maybe a “donor list” or “supporter list” that exists mostly so they know who to email the newsletter to.

    Within the effective altruism movement Giving What We Can might be a good counterexample. They define membership, you pledge to join, and you have do something (donate to effective charity). There’s no pope figure, though, and my memetic immune system thinks trying to set one up would be a really bad idea.

  56. Ronak M Soni says:

    Possibly a large part of the reason is the idea of intellectual autonomy that has taken root. I’m not familiar with the history, but I’d guess that the number of metaphorical NGOs in the middle ages was extremely tiny – even tinier than what would be expected by backward extrapolating the amount of communication freedom from today. This would be because there was this one in-group, and it really didn’t do you any favours to argue with it – people had more important things to do.
    All these other movements you mention in the post are invariably ones that have begun in the recent past, which emphasise things like intellectual honesty and the right to dissent, which probably exist solely because people dared to dissent against the ruling thoughts of the day – in short, I think most NGOs would actively try to avoid a more church-ish structure.
    Maybe some part of the disdain for cults also comes from here (to be clear, I hear christians are as likely to hate cults – and I have absolutely no way to gauge how much of that hatred is internecine in nature – so this is a close-to-noise statement at best).

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d guess that the number of metaphorical NGOs in the middle ages was extremely tiny – even tinier than what would be expected by backward extrapolating the amount of communication freedom from today.

      The Christian military orders — the Templars, the Hospitalliers, the Teutonic Knights, and many other less-well-known ones — were effectively NGOs, and incidentally had a very church-like structure: most of them were modeled to some extent on monastic orders, which also often took on NGO-like characteristics. Mercantile organizations like the Hanseatic League might also qualify, although that blurs the lines with a formal government.

  57. Bruno Coelho says:

    Most XX century rituals do not resemble old Christians, but the signs persist. People think like essentialists, and this is sufficient to maintain a institution. Besides, a lot of opaque heuristics work underground the explanations.