Humans are social creatures. We are drawn toward conforming with what other people are doing. Being a "lone wolf" usually is less comfortable than being part of a group.
Sometimes herd-like behavior pays off.
It surely did for our ancestors, or evolution wouldn't have produced such powerful pressures to go along and get along in us. If a saber-toothed tiger is attacking, running off by yourself likely isn't the favored survival strategy.
He talks (in The Siren's Call) about how individuals end up doing the wrong thing because they're attuned to how people around them are acting.
The same pressure to conform is evident in religious groups, where someone who starts to question a consensus of the faithful will be made to feel that something is wrong with him, not the group.
When an alarm goes off, it triggers anxiety, and the hidden brain instructs you to turn to the group because groups provided our ancestors with comfort and safety more often than they exposed them to danger and risk.
In modern disaster situations, the comfort of the group regularly puts individuals at risk because threats are now so complicated that none of the members in the group knows what is happening. The point is not that groups always do the wrong thing. The point is that groups diminish our autonomy.
Vedantam tells the story of what happened to people who worked in a firm that occupied two stories of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
After the second hijacked plane hit the tower, "of the sixty-seven people at the firm who died, sixty-six worked on the eighty-ninth floor. Only one person who died worked on the eighty-eighth floor, and, as we will see, that death was the result of a conscious act of courage."
So what was the difference between the two floors?
Why did almost everyone survive who worked on one floor, while almost everyone died who worked on the other floor? All employees had the same information, the same training, the same confusion when they heard the explosion in the North Tower.
Nearly everyone on one floor left. Nearly everyone on the other stayed... If you happened to be part of the group on the eighty-eighth floor, you ran for the stairs because everyone else was running for the stairs. If you happened to be part of the group on the eighty-ninth floor, you stayed because nearly everyone else was staying, too.
It is crucial to note that the people on the two floors, just like the bystanders on the Belle Isle bridge, did not explicitly think about their actions this way. No, every person felt they were making autonomous decisions. But the evidence shows that the decision that made the difference between life and death that morning was not made by individuals. That decision was made, for lack of a better term, by groups.
...The first response of people who are trapped is not to review what they have been taught and make reasoned decisions, but to turn decision-making over to the group. Trapped people seek consensus with those around them, even if acquiring such consensus wastes precious seconds. They follow one another, even if they know their comrades are going the wrong way.
Religions also trap people.
They keep true believers confined within the narrow bound of rigid dogmas, theologies, orthodoxies, commandments. They constrain freedom of action, because religious institutions teach that obedience will bring salvation, while disobedience will be followed by hellfire (or at least bad karma).
It isn't easy for someone to start acting independently after becoming immersed in the consensus culture of a religious belief system. Vedantam says, "the hidden brain makes us feel self-conscious when we do something that few other people are doing."
But if we are confident that we know the right thing to do, we need to follow that conviction even if everybody around us is acting like sheep, content to remain fenced within the enclosure of a religion.
Our comrades may not know what they are doing, but following them is much easier than going our own way. The group provides comfort, whereas going your own way triggers anxiety. But in disaster situations, anxiety is the right response; it is false comfort that is deadly.
It may seem that life isn't a "disaster situation." However, no one gets out of it alive. So we need to guide our life as wisely as possible, getting as much meaningful living as possible out of the time we have here on Earth.
No one knows better how to live your life than you. Don't let yourself be trapped by a religion into acting against your better judgment. If the "Exit" sign beckons, run -- don't walk -- through that door.