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Marketplace of the GodsHow Economics Explains Religion$
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Larry Witham

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195394757

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195394757.001.0001

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The Gods of Risk

The Gods of Risk

Chapter:
(p.53) Chapter 4 The Gods of Risk
Source:
Marketplace of the Gods
Author(s):

Witham Larry

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195394757.003.0004

Religion is a form of risk management in human lives and in religious groups. Pascal’s Wager famously illustrates the calculation of loss and benefit in religious belief. But there are other economic models for how religion deals with uncertainty, and this chapter looks at three. First is insurance against risk, with its byproduct of “moral hazard. Second is the need to verify the reliability of religious “goods,” which economists call “credence goods.” Religions, like businesses, seek to assure consumers of reliability. Finally, consumers search for reliable information, which in religion means explanations about the gods, the afterlife, and ultimate religious consequences, such as hell. Typically, monotheistic faiths are deemed “high risk” religions because of their belief in ultimate consequences. But all religions have this feature to some extent, speaking to the human incentive to avoid risk.

Keywords:   advertising, afterlife, credence goods, hell, insurance, monotheism, moral hazard, Pascal’s Wager, risk

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