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Big Gods: How Religion Transformed…
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Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

by Ara Norenzayan

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This book deserves a short review if only to list the big ideas. The main thesis of this book is that religion has to be large in order to be trnsformative, particularly for civlizations. Norenzayan present a lot field studies to show how these eight propositions are useful, if not compelling.
1. Watched people are nice people.
2. Religion is more in the situation than in the person.
3. Hell is stronger than heaven.
4. Trust people who trust in God.
5. Religious actions speak louder than words.
6. Unworshipped Gods are impotent Gods.
7. Big Gods for Big Groups.
8. Religious groups cooperate in order to compete.

The author does spend time at the end of the book dealing with successful countries which have a low level of religious engagement (e.g. Scandanavia). And he parses out different sorts of atheism. ( )
1 vote vpfluke | Nov 16, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691151210, Hardcover)

How did human societies scale up from small, tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today--even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with "Big Gods"--the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths--spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising and provocative argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization are one and the same, and answer each other.

Once human minds could conceive of supernatural beings, Norenzayan argues, the stage was set for rapid cultural and historical changes that eventually led to large societies with Big Gods--powerful, omniscient, interventionist deities concerned with regulating the moral behavior of humans. How? As the saying goes, "watched people are nice people." It follows that people play nice when they think Big Gods are watching them, even when no one else is. Yet at the same time that sincere faith in Big Gods unleashed unprecedented cooperation within ever-expanding groups, it also introduced a new source of potential conflict between competing groups.

In some parts of the world, such as northern Europe, secular institutions have precipitated religion's decline by usurping its community-building functions. These societies with atheist majorities--some of the most cooperative, peaceful, and prosperous in the world--climbed religion's ladder, and then kicked it away. So while Big Gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions, it also helps us understand another, more recent social transition--the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:00 -0400)

Big gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising and provocative argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization are one and the same, and answer each other. So while Big gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions, it also helps us understand another, more recent social transition--the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.… (more)

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