Do countries lose religion as they gain wealth?

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The world’s poorest nations are also some of its most religious – but does that mean religion can’t flourish in a prosperous society?

Gregory Paul doesn’t think so. After constructing a “Successful Societies Scale” that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 studythat “religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies.”

Gregory, who is a freelance researcher not affiliated with any institution, compiled data on everything from homicide rates and income inequality to infant mortality and teenage pregnancies and found that the societies that scored the best on socioeconomic indicators were also the most secular.

“The correlation between religiosity and successful societies is somewhere around 0.7. Zero is no correlation and one is a perfect correlation, so it’s a really good correlation, and it’s not just an accident,” he told CBC News.

“There’s no situation where you have a really highly religious nation that’s highly successful socially.”

Paul’s intention in creating the scale was to challenge the idea that religion is universal and innate to the humane condition, and to show that societies that don’t believe in God are not doomed, as some religious conservatives would have people believe.

“Religion is highly variable, and therefore we need to ask why is it sometimes popular and why it isn’t,” Paul said. “One thing we do know is that it’s only popular in societies that … have enough rate of dysfunction that people are anxious about their daily lives, so they’re looking to the gods for help in their daily lives.

“It’s not fear of death that drives people to be religious, and it’s not a God gene or a God module in the brain or some sort of connection with the gods; it’s basically a psychological coping mechanism.”

Written By: Kazi Stastna
continue to source article at cbc.ca

12 COMMENTS

  1. I suspect that when people no longer feel they need divine intervention to stop them starving they are able to reflect more soberly and come to a more rational conclusion about their place in the universe.

    Or possibly we get too fat to kneel comfortably and religion goes out of the window.

    Or else priests are not so interested in recruiting obese altar boys.

    Or maybe there isn’t a correlation.
    Oh, wealth not weight, still my first point probably still applies. But I will go and have a lie down

    • In reply to #2 by BroughtyBoy:

      Surely it could be claimed that religion itself drives the dysfunctionality, rather than the other way round. I see no mention of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, or Kuwait here.

      Maybe so. Are these countries “highly successful socially”? Most would say yes? I still feel the biggest factor is education which may explain why some gulf states use extreme repression in education to maintain religiosity.

  2. I think India would be an exception to this. The globalization and opening up of Indian markets have brought lot of wealth into the country. We have a burgeoning middle class but we have regressed a lot in terms of social views and progressive ideals. The biggest vote bank for Hindu nationalists in the Parliament (RSS, bjp, vhp) are the wealthy middle class. Unlike most middle class communities around the world, Indian middle class started moving in the wrong direction – spending horrendous wealth in temples and religious rituals. Instead of creating scholarships to send young people to Cambridge or Stanford or MIT, or building universities or libraries, they started building more temples and celebrating festivals is the most kitsch and ghastly ways. From my view, wealth is not the path for atheism, its education and increase in rational behavior.

  3. OP

    “It’s not fear of death that drives people to be religious, and it’s not a God gene or a God module in the brain or some sort of connection with the gods; it’s basically a psychological coping mechanism.”

    I rest me case milud’…!

    Like to add that maybe a power vacuum tends to encourage certain agenda’a and religion is a fine cover…but I have no evidence for that!

  4. I think a good standard of living helps a lot not rely on religion but above all is a good education that gives the mental tools that will set people free from the superstition of religion. Scandinavian countries are more secular because their educational system is more rational. Obviously their wealth helps, but the countries in the Arabian Peninsula are also very wealthy but their education is irrational and its people are very religious, to the point of absurdity ( and sometimes to the point of terror). Countries lose religion as they gain education- but education requires wealth.

  5. Wealth is a kind of social construct and the way that wealth is distributed is sure to affect the way people view the world they live in. There are evidently other mechanisms. The USA is one of the most religious of developed countries despite having a consitution which should pretty well keep the lid on it. Here in the UK which a century ago was one of the most powerful countries in existence and still is comparatively affluent, few people are devout and yet we have an anachronistic system in which we have faith schools and the elected government is hog tied to the church and the monarchy. I can’t figure it out, there must be something else in the social order that is compelling. Perversely it may be that the process of ‘indoctrination’ employed by the Cof E is weak and like a vaccine it innoculates people by presenting them with indefensible ideas that are not sufficiently scaffolded by other processes of indoctrination. I went to CofE schools through the 1950s and 1970s and I can’t think of any of us were convinced by the morning diatribe and helfire sermnons.

  6. “a psychological coping mechanism”

    I agree with this, but I think it is a little more complex in the US in that it isn’t all about fear of death and it isn’t just the poor or displaced that are believers. Here, the religious are being told that our “wealth, health and well being” are a blessing from god and if we continue to please god, he will continue to bless us with these things. We’re also sold the bill of goods that claims if we please god, we personally will be rewarded with riches. It is psychologically difficult to “take the chance” and think independently when you’re already wealthy and you want to keep the gravy train rolling– and your parents are telling you that their money and blessings are gifts from god. When you’re raised in that environment it is hard to let go. That is why these MEGAchurches are so popular in Texas. They preach prosperity. It is like going to a Tony Robbins seminar. You leave feeling all good about yourself and your abilities. And, you feel good about your benevolent god. Who doesn’t want to feel good?

    • In reply to #10 by MAJORPAIN:

      “a psychological coping mechanism”

      I agree with this, but I think it is a little more complex in the US in that it isn’t all about fear of death and it isn’t just the poor or displaced that are believers. Here, the religious are being told that our “wealth, health and well being” are a blessing from god and if we continue to please god, he will continue to bless us with these things. We’re also sold the bill of goods that claims if we please god, we personally will be rewarded with riches. It is psychologically difficult to “take the chance” and think independently when you’re already wealthy and you want to keep the gravy train rolling– and your parents are telling you that their money and blessings are gifts from god. When you’re raised in that environment it is hard to let go. That is why these MEGAchurches are so popular in Texas. They preach prosperity. It is like going to a Tony Robbins seminar. You leave feeling all good about yourself and your abilities. And, you feel good about your benevolent god. Who doesn’t want to feel good?

      The US has been feeding on fear since it was started. They’ve been terrified of everything from the British to the Germans to the Russians to the Blacks and the Jews to the Terrorists to their own Government. You name it, the Americans are scared of it.

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