How Money and Religion Blind Us to the Greater Good

As of this writing, the U.S. has more than 75,000 COVID-19 deaths, has not bended the curve sufficiently, nor does it have enough testing and yet the dominant issue is reopening the economy despite the certain loss of further lives.

And we got locked into this difficult position in the first place by downplaying the severity and contagiousness of the coronavirus primarily for the sake of stock market numbers.

While thinking about this state of affairs in disbelief, I remembered a quote from the eminent psychologist Albert Bandura that I read in Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan, that seems especially relevant to these times.

One of the most prominent ways in which people justify their harmful practices is by using arguments about money to obscure moral and social issues. Because we can’t and won’t acknowledge that some of our choices are socially and morally harmful, we distance ourselves from them by claiming they’re necessary for the creation of economic wealth.

The economic justification makes the environmentally damaging decision possible.

Albert Bandura

And now in the context of the pandemic, the economic justification makes even the sacrificing of lives possible.

Studies on the psychology of money by Kathleen D. Vohs and others also tell us that money motivates individual effort but makes us selfish, isolated, less helpful, and less concerned for others. And the mere presence of money elicits market-pricing orientation toward world. People feel self-sufficient, they don’t need or care about others; each man for himself.

Mere reminders of money increase endorsement of social inequality. Such as the existing social system in the United States and free-market capitalism, the assertion that victims deserve their fate, and the belief that socially advantaged groups should dominate socially disadvantaged groups.

I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian household. And experienced various ways in which religion can suppress our minds and hearts. Here are some I feel are relevant to our current state.

Choosing leaders and relationships, even who you do business with based on their professed religion.

A lack of empathy for the “other”. Sure, love your neighbors, but care for fellow believers first. Never mind the fact that others will burn in hell for eternity.

A lack of care for the environment since earth is merely our temporary home. Jesus’ second coming will save us before earth becomes uninhabitable.

Since there is only one truth, no need to listen to or learn from others leading to notably a disrespect of science. Exacerbated whenever there is conflict with the literal wording of the Bible.

In church, people were not encouraged to think for themselves, but rather blindly follow “God ordained” authority.

And no true responsibility or sense of agency since everything was “all God’s doing”.

We all have blind spots. But money and religion in combination is a powerful force that blinds and binds individuals and whole societies. Which is why those that are not quite as strongly under its grasp may feel incredulous at times as to how others cannot see the obvious.

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