Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Religion, Needs, and Leadership

In life, there are many forms of leadership experienced on a daily basis. From the shows we watch to the company we keep, whether aware of it or not, we lead or are led. All of these examples are of significant influence in every person’s life. However, in my experience there is only one example of leadership that spans not only centuries but pervades every niche of society including those aforementioned. This example is religion.

Since the dawn of time, people have searched for a higher power to provide purpose and to aid in satisfying inherent needs such as food, water and shelter. Once these needs were met, humankind looked toward their respective deities to satisfy more abstract needs such as safety, social acceptance, and self-esteem. This postulation is similar to that of the Maslowian theories of motivation proposed in McGregor’s Theory X. Just as the fulfillment of lower ranking needs in an organization brings rise to needs of greater substance and thus reward, man’s self-fulfillment of simplistic needs creates a yearning for a leader to aid in the gratification of those more complex (McGregor 1960).

Initially, this acknowledgement seems of no harm when its truth is, in fact, of great concern for three primary reasons observed in my admittedly short time here on Earth. First, the degree of complication associated with our unfulfilled needs arise as it is the action of man that ultimately allows them into existence. Second, as we depend on man’s ability to maintain integrity to fulfill these needs honestly, we ignore the frailty of the human conscience. Third, similar to Hackman and Johnson’s ideas regarding unethical impression management, the most morally corrupt will shroud their own personal agenda as the will of their espoused deity (Hackman and Johnson 1991).

One example of religion-based leadership with regards to these shortcomings can be seen by looking at the black freedom struggle of the mid-twentieth century through two very different lenses with the same religious base of Christianity. During this time, Martin Luther King Jr, through his charismatic speaking and faith in God, rose to become a prominent leader of the movement by promoting equality through non-violence acts (Carson 1987). Conversely, during this same time period the Ku Klux Klan became well-known by its acts of violence and oppression; claiming it to be the will of the same God. Clearly, the Ku Klux Klan was falsly claiming its actions as just. With this example, it is easy to discern which group worked honestly to aid in the fulfillment of a complex need, in other instances the distinction may not be so easily made.

Religion is indeed the gate keeper of morality and the author of our world’s values. As such, the virtues of religion can keep mankind safe from itself (our only enemy) but only as long as those entrusted with its responsibility maintain a righteous poise. Since this is not always the case, those that choose to follow rather than lead must judiciously watch for those whose motives are less than pure so to keep the fragile virtues of society safe.


  1. Fascinating post- I was curious about your decision to label "religion" as the leader, as opposed to individuals (popes, rabbis, Lamas), who are the figureheads/ decision makers. Are you postulating that it is the collective of various religions to be held accountable for actions (either positive or negative), as opposed to individuals?

  2. Thanks Christopher! I labeled the general term of 'religion' as the leader for two reasons. First, I didn't want to focus on any one sect. Second, it's the rules and/or traditions of any given religion that are ultimately what believers are (or sometimes think they are) following.

    Figureheads, though they may lead the masses, are still in essence 'following' their respective deity. The issue is whether they are actually following a deity or just following a personal agenda. As such, I think accountability of actions should be dependent upon the intent of the leader and whether it is personalized or socialized. Granted, It's difficult to say how one can do this. Should we judge one's actions or wait for the end result? Can we deduce from one's actions that they are indeed furthering a personal agenda and not the desire of a deity?


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