Big Government Kills Religion

9

Atheism blossoms in developed countries but is virtually absent in poorer nations. One interpretation of secularization is that big government helps citizens to feel more secure and less in need of religious reassurance. In a new study, I have found the most compelling evidence yet for this possibility.

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In anearlier study of 137 countries, I found that belief in God was higher in countries with a heavy load of infectious diseases, making life difficult and uncertain. Moreover, fewer people believed in God in wealthy and well-educated countries where life is easier. Countries with a more equal distribution of income – and hence less social problems – had more atheists. Atheism was higher for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates).

Yet, the 2011 study had a weakness. The data were not collected in the same way in different countries and were not strictly comparable. In a study published in the February issue of Cross-Cultural Research, I analyzed Gallup data on the importance of religion in people’s daily lives. The key advantage of the Gallup data is that the same polling methodology was used in each of the 114 countries for which they collected data in 2009.

My results in the new study mirrored those of the earlier one on belief in God. I found that more people reported that religion was important in their daily lives in countries with difficult living conditions. Moreover, as the size of government increased (as assessed by personal taxation rates) the importance of religion declined.

This was not because the government was suppressing religion as happened in Communist countries. I controlled for countries having a Communist past. My study also controlled for whether a country was mostly Muslim (where atheism may be criminalized).

Written By: Nigel Barber
continue to source article at huffingtonpost.com

9 COMMENTS

  1. People in civilized countries pay taxes for welfare, medical services, policing etc.

    Historically, tithes were paid to the churches who then conditionally distributed a little as “charity”, to those who would surrender their minds, – accepting their woo and kowtowing to their authority.

    It is not at all surprising that the religious cults were in cahoots with kings, war-lords, fascist dictators, and right-wing elites, to whom they gave support in suppressing and exploiting the enhumbled masses – as they still do today in the backwaters of superstitious ignorance.

  2. In reply to #2 by Jon Snow:

    I wonder if ‘big government’ is the defining factor or a result of higher levels of education?

    Certain levels of education are required to provide the administrative skills to run big government (or any other big organisation). This is probably why right wingers howl against big government and are notoriously incompetent at running big government systems. (eg. 2 Bush administrations “won” 2 wars in Iraq, only to find chaos dragged on because they had no follow-up plan in place.)

  3. In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #2 by Jon Snow:

    I wonder if ‘big government’ is the defining factor or a result of higher levels of education?

    Certain levels of education are required to provide the administrative skills to run big government (or any other big organisation). This is probably why right wingers howl against big government and are notoriously incompetent at running big government systems. (eg. 2 Bush administrations “won” 2 wars in Iraq, only to find chaos dragged on because they had no follow-up plan in place.)

    But does that mean that the two work together as a joint cause, or that one is the cause and the other is an effect? I’m not sure big government by itself is the answer, as civilized city states in our history were theocracies, military states, and dictatorships. I’m more inclined towards education and cosmopolitanism, since the main base of religions is their dogma, which requires the religious authorities to control information and spread their doctrines uncontested by contrary arguments or information, or by their own rhetoric and authority-commanding techniques being used against them by a rival. This is easier to do when the society’s structure is pretty shaken, allowing a waiting religious authority to gain the advantage over the vulnerable and confused members of that society – and offer them a way out of that unpleasant scenario.

  4. In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #2 by Jon Snow:I wonder if ‘big government’ is the defining factor or a result of higher levels of education?

    Certain levels of education are required to provide the administrative skills to run big government (or any other big organisation). This is probably why right wingers howl against big government and are notoriously incompetent at running big government systems. (eg. 2 Bush administrations “won” 2 wars in Iraq, only to find chaos dragged on because they had no follow-up plan in place.)

    I think the link with social welfare and benefits is very compelling, far more compelling than education or anything else that has been linked to atheism. Religion has declined relatively recently in the UK, our NHS and welfare systems are from our relatively recent history but we’ve had educated governments and admin systems for hundreds of years.

    Plus both Europe and the US have education and eduated governments and administrators, but the it’s the US that has no national state provision of care and corrospondingly high levels of extreme religion while Europe has better state provision and low or largely moderate relgion. And there is no real, clear link in the UK between levels of education or poverty and religius belief.

    On another thread there is something about catholic hospitals and womens healthcare and people seem shocked. But why? Why are people shocked that when important needs are placed in the hands of private organisations like the RCC those organisations are going to abuse it to push personal agendas? The RCC may be secretive about child abuse and its accounts but its always been more than open about being a misosgynistic, pregnancy obsessed, homophobic old boys club. If I were screaming out for an epidural or wanting life saving medicines for my child I’d happily pledge my life to any pope or deity that provided it and the RCC and all other churches know that.

    Here Gove has recently tendered education out to private organisations and individuals and then expressed surprise when hardline Islamists, Catholics and creationists decided they’d use it to push – well – hardline Islam, catholicism and creationism. Any remotely sentient life form could have seen that coming – which to be fair to Gove does rule him out.

    So its a really interesting study. Here, at the moment, I know should I fall on hard times or fall ill the state will provide whatever I do or don’t believe in. I won’t have to attend a church to get my broken arm fixed or beg for financial assistance. Nor will I ever be left so desperate that prayer in the vain hope there may be a deity is all I have. Welfare systems facillitate atheism.

    By the way, for any UK folk here that agree, it might be worth looking at neuronally challenged health secretary Jeremy Hunts plans for our NHS. Especially his clauses on GPs opening up more private health provision which looks worrying. Cos if you can’t afford BUPA, you may well be relying on pope benny for your broken limbs or cancer treatments. What better way for them to re ignite faith after all.

  5. No surprise that an article like this provokes political mud slinging. Surely all that most people require from government is that it is efficient (and perhaps libertarian) regardless of size. Education, enlightenment, freedom and democracy are the enemies of religion. Big Government can sometimes be the enemy of us all IMHO.

    • In reply to #7 by BroughtyBoy:

      No surprise that an article like this provokes political mud slinging. Surely all that most people require from government is that it is efficient (and perhaps libertarian) regardless of size. Education, enlightenment, freedom and democracy are the enemies of religion. Big Government can sometimes be the enemy of us all IMHO.

      “Big” in the OP was measured by tax take. As I understood the post, is seems to show that the presence of an encompassing secular supplier of social welfare – health and education primarily – liberates the populace from the need to depend on church based charities, thus liberating them from needing to submit to any religious organization, and when that freedom arrives, people “vote with their feet” and abandon religion. Which suggest to me that many never much liked it anyway, just went along because they had to.

      The article did not appear to be “taking sides” or promoting a particular political agenda,just pointing out a correlation. You can move on from that to planning a better informed political strategy of big vs small government, big vs small religious involvement in community welfare etc.

      Put simply, something secular has to take over the social welfare side of religions, or religions will continue to hold sway. Education, enlightenment, freedom and democracy don’t necessarily imply secular social welfare. Or maybe – since you included enlightenment – it does.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. The withdrawal of State provision in education and welfare, in all its forms, will be filled in with religious groups with an exclusive adgenda: pushing religion on the less-fortunate. Middle class people don’t always appreciate that. They may never have to rely on the Salvation Army to accomodate them or feed them.
    Your post was spot on.
    In reply to #6 by atheistengineer:

    In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #2 by Jon Snow:I wonder if ‘big government’ is the defining factor or a result of higher levels of education?

    Certain levels of education are required to provide the administrative skills to run big government (or any other big organisation). This is probably why right wingers howl against big government and are notoriously incompetent at running big government systems. (eg. 2 Bush administrations “won” 2 wars in Iraq, only to find chaos dragged on because they had no follow-up plan in place.)

    I think the link with social welfare and benefits is very compelling, far more compelling than education or anything else that has been linked to atheism. Religion has declined relatively recently in the UK, our NHS and welfare systems are from our relatively recent history but we’ve had educated governments and admin systems for hundreds of years.

    Plus both Europe and the US have education and eduated governments and administrators, but the it’s the US that has no national state provision of care and corrospondingly high levels of extreme religion while Europe has better state provision and low or largely moderate relgion. And there is no real, clear link in the UK between levels of education or poverty and religius belief.

    On another thread there is something about catholic hospitals and womens healthcare and people seem shocked. But why? Why are people shocked that when important needs are placed in the hands of private organisations like the RCC those organisations are going to abuse it to push personal agendas? The RCC may be secretive about child abuse and its accounts but its always been more than open about being a misosgynistic, pregnancy obsessed, homophobic old boys club. If I were screaming out for an epidural or wanting life saving medicines for my child I’d happily pledge my life to any pope or deity that provided it and the RCC and all other churches know that.

    Here Gove has recently tendered education out to private organisations and individuals and then expressed surprise when hardline Islamists, Catholics and creationists decided they’d use it to push – well – hardline Islam, catholicism and creationism. Any remotely sentient life form could have seen that coming – which to be fair to Gove does rule him out.

    So its a really interesting study. Here, at the moment, I know should I fall on hard times or fall ill the state will provide whatever I do or don’t believe in. I won’t have to attend a church to get my broken arm fixed or beg for financial assistance. Nor will I ever be left so desperate that prayer in the vain hope there may be a deity is all I have. Welfare systems facillitate atheism.

    By the way, for any UK folk here that agree, it might be worth looking at neuronally challenged health secretary Jeremy Hunts plans for our NHS. Especially his clauses on GPs opening up more private health provision which looks worrying. Cos if you can’t afford BUPA, you may well be relying on pope benny for your broken limbs or cancer treatments. What better way for them to re ignite faith after all.

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