Religion and psychology are closely related. In fact religion is based on psychology. The following example will prove it.
There is a motivational theory called Reinforcement theory proposed by behaviorist BF Skinner. The theory uses outcome as a tool to mold behavior. The theory states uses of rewards (positive reinforcement) and punishment (negative reinforcement) to condition an individual’s behavior.
According to the theory desirable behavior can be evoked out of an individual by giving positive reinforcement each time an individual behaves in the desired manner. Positive reinforcement is giving positive responses to desirable behavior. For example, positive reinforcement will be praising an employee for punctuality.
Similarly in order to discourage undesirable behavior, an individual should be subjected to punishment each time they behave in an undesirable manner. For example, if a fine is imposed every time an employee comes late, the employee will be discouraged from coming late.
The same example can also be used to explain negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is removing undesirable consequences for desirable behavior. Every time the employee comes on time, he or she does not have to pay fine. So the undesirable consequence of fine is removed when the employee comes on time.
First brush with the theory
Our first brush with the theory is often with our parents. We repeat that behavior and those actions, which elicit a favorable response from our parents. For example reciting a poem. We also avoid behavior and acitions that elicit an unfavorable response from our parents. For example, sucking our thumb.
The Truistic Theory
The theory seems too simplistic, but the fact is mankind has been using positive and negative reinforcement to mold behavior since we know time. BF skinner just put the concept, which has always existed into words.
Take the Stone Age man for example. It discovered fire keeps away animals at night; it started using fire to scare away dangerous animals (positive reinforcement). It discovered lack of clothing, makes us cold, it started covering its body (negative reinforcement)
Religion and Reinforcement Theory
And the best example is religion. Religion has used the concept of heaven and hell to mold people into desirable behavior. For example, most religions claim donating money towards religious causes will take you to heaven. And religions have defined heaven in as pleasant a description as possible- home of the Gods, flowing with delectable food and full of the most beautiful angels. Most of the people would not mind paying a few rupees for such a ‘heavenly’ experience. This is nothing but positive reinforcement. Then of course we come to hell, religion’s negative reinforcement. Religions will claim things like talking ill of religion or religious institutions will take you to hell. And hell has been given as horrid a description as possible like the place where you are cut alive into pieces and fried in hot oil.
Religion has capitalized on greed and fear, traits inherent to mankind as positive and negative reinforcement respectively. There is not better example and validation of the theory.
Thank you for reading and have a nice day!