Pharyngula

I just got around to reading this very nice article by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, which we godless heathen ought to find reassuring and optimistic. They describe how religion is fading, even here in the United States, and that it is a natural consequence of economic trends. In particular, the main reason atheism is growing isn’t that we’ve got lots of wild-eyed proselytizers, it’s simply that security and an absence of fear make religion irrelevant and even unattractive.

Rather than religion being an integral part of the American character, the main reason the United States is the only prosperous democracy that retains a high level of religious belief and activity is because we have substandard socio-economic conditions and the highest level of disparity. The other factors widely thought to be driving forces behind mass faith–desire for the social links provided by churches, fear of societal amorality, fear of death, genetic predisposition towards religiosity, etc–are not critical simply because hundreds of millions have freely accepted being nonreligious mortals in a dozen and a half democracies. Such motives and factors can be operative only if socio-economic circumstances are sufficiently poor to sustain mass creationism and religion.

I’d just have to add a qualifier to that. Just as you can’t say that atheism doesn’t lead to amorality because hundreds of millions of people demonstrate that it isn’t so, we have to be careful about oversimplifying the forces driving religious belief. Fear and uncertainty are strong factors in pushing people into seeking affirmation in religion, but lots would resent that characterization. For many, tradition is a bigger influence. When I was growing up, I went to church because my parents and grandparents sent me there, and because Scandinavian-Americans were expected to be members of the Lutheran church … and to like accordion music and eat lutefisk on holidays. And if you told me I was going to church because I wanted reassurances that there were spiritual ways out of my economically fragile situation, I’d have looked like an uncomprehending fish as I tried to puzzle out what the heck you were talking about.

Millions of prosperous people are willingly and enthusiastically religious, too, and for that reason it’s also risky to claim socio-economic factors are the major contributing element to religious belief. Another piece of the puzzle, I think, is that we are social animals and there is always going to be a part of our makeup that is concerned about the behavior of the others in our group. I suspect that another motivator of the hyper-religious is that busy-body reflex: religion is a good knout to use in flogging other people and getting them to conform. That’s how I see the filthy rich televangelists and far right Republicans, anyway — religion is a tool for controlling the herd (which may, ultimately, be an economic issue, too).

So while very few individuals would say that they are religious because they are poor, and would probably be rather cranky about it if you tried to pin their faith to something so crass and materialistic, if those same individuals had more wealth and leisure, I think it’s generally true that religion would be less pressing or interesting … and education in general gives people the intellectual tools to consider the foundations of their beliefs a little more deeply, and at least leads them away from the more knee-jerk forms of religion.

I do like this next bit. We wicked materialists don’t even think of religion as spiritual!

To put it starkly, the level of popular religion is not a spiritual matter, it is actually the result of social, political and especially economic conditions (please note we are discussing large scale, long term population trends, not individual cases). Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. There are no exceptions on a national basis. That is why only disbelief has proven able to grow via democratic conversion in the benign environment of education and egalitarian prosperity. Mass faith prospers solely in the context of the comparatively primitive social, economic and educational disparities and poverty still characteristic of the 2nd and 3rd worlds and the US.

Their conclusion, while positive, is a little worrisome. It’s like they’re handing over the formula for what not to do to the religious.

In the end what humanity chooses to believe will be more a matter of economics than of debate, deliberately considered choice, or reproduction. The more national societies that provide financial and physical security to the population, the fewer that will be religiously devout. The more that cannot provide their citizens with these high standards the more that will hope that supernatural forces will alleviate their anxieties. It is probable that there is little that can be done by either side to alter this fundamental pattern.

Wait … that last sentence is wrong. How can you not notice what is going on in this country? We’ve had people working to widen the gap between rich and poor, we’re seeing public education under assault, and the people who have been doing most of this have been blatantly religious. It’s obvious how the other side is working to shift the pattern in their favor — by making America more of a banana republic than ever before.

The authors make a good point about overall trends leading towards a loss of faith — the mega-churches are a product of consolidation rather than overall growth, and look, the Southern Baptists are losing membership — but what they’re missing is that many of the new churches are extremist in thought, and fraught with a sense of being under siege by the culture, something that they encourage and exaggerate in themselves. They could wither away … or they could explode. Remember the lesson of the Library of Alexandria that Carl Sagan gave.

Also note this: secularism thrives in an environment that is economically strong, where good education is the norm. Faith thrives on economic uncertainty, and grows best in ignorance. Guess which one of those conditions is easiest to generate and maintain? Cultivating a healthy society that can grow and sustain itself, with a well-informed democratic populace, is hard work. Producing an economic rathole inhabited by frightened sheep is easy — elect a few incompetent leaders, throw away resources on futile, bloody projects, and unchain rapacious business interests to exploit short-term personal gains at the cost of sustainability, and you’ve got a recipe for a fast slide back into the dark ages.

But we don’t know of any country that would do anything that stupid, do we?

Comments

  1. #1 speedwell
    June 17, 2008

    …it’s simply that security and an absence of fear make religion irrelevant and even unattractive…

    Then, as the US economy slides into the crapper, the government proves itself unwilling or incompetent to provide basic disaster relief services, and social instability becomes more and more likely… if you’ll forgive the expression, God help us.

  2. #2 Prof MTH
    June 17, 2008

    Perhaps another factor that religion is fading is the disaffection with prosperity theology. The megachurch prosperity theologians such as Joyce Meyers and Joel Olsteen have been preaching to their flocks of sheeple that if they believe enough then Yhwh/Jesus will make them wealthy. The economy continues to tank and vocational outsourcing to non-Xtian nations are contributing to this disaffection. The megachurches are slowly shrinking. Plus pretty much all of the prosperity theologians are under IRS investigation. The sheeple are seeing their herders buying leer jets while they are going broke.

  3. #3 Moggie
    June 17, 2008

    Would greater security and less fear lead to less consumption of lutefisk? Maybe not, but it’s got to be worth a try.

    As a furriner who often regards American healthcare with appalled disbelief, I’ve wondered whether the introduction of an effective socialised health system would lead to a decline in religious observance. I don’t need to fear being unable to pay medical bills, so that’s one less thing to pray about.

  4. #4 sailor
    June 17, 2008

    “Millions of prosperous people are willingly and enthusiastically religious, too, and for that reason it’s also risky to claim socio-economic factors are the major contributing element to religious belief.”
    The big divide can be stressful for all sections of the population. The rich have to live behind big fences, and feel uncomfotable as they get too close to the plebs. It is of course better being rich, but being a little less rich in an egaliterian society, might make for greater peace of mind. So it may be both the rich and the poor need religion in the big divide.

  5. #5 MS
    June 17, 2008

    While I welcome this kind of news, I always have this feeling that the more they perceive themselves to be in decline, the louder and more obnoxious they’ll get.

    But then, so long as they’re still declining… !

  6. #6 Julian
    June 17, 2008

    Economists always see the world as being completely the result of economic forces. I wouldn’t be surprised if I met one who claimed trade made the sky blue. They need to just suck it up and admit they’re a specialization in the field of history :p.

  7. #7 Moses
    June 17, 2008

    You miss that many high-income people go to church to network. Generally you want to go to Protestant denomination such as Presbyterian, Anglican or Lutheran. Those tend to be the higher socio-economic-class level churches.

  8. #8 SC
    June 17, 2008

    I linked here a few days ago to last week’s Bill Moyers Journal, which was about growing inequality in the US:

    http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06132008/watch3.html

    I noticed the other day that The Nation this month is a special issue about inequality. For example:

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080630/extreme_inequality

  9. #9 llewelly
    June 17, 2008

    Their conclusion, while positive, is a little worrisome. It’s like they’re handing over the formula for what not to do to the religious.

    Note the Bush administration has ruined America’s economy, damaged America’s educational system, contributed much to the rise in food prices, and worked very hard to make Americans afraid.

    Either they already know what to do to fight atheism, or they are following the effective strategy by chance.

  10. #10 Zeno
    June 17, 2008

    So George W. Bush really is doing God’s work by destroying our nation’s economic security and personal liberty. As people get more desperate, they’ll turn to religion and God will be served. Clever, clever George!

    (We still have over 200 days to endure this man in office.)

  11. #11 SteveM
    June 17, 2008
    The more that cannot provide their citizens with these high standards the more that will hope that supernatural forces will alleviate their anxieties. It is probable that there is little that can be done by either side to alter this fundamental pattern.

    Wait … that last sentence is wrong. How can you not notice what is going on in this country? We’ve had people working to widen the gap between rich and poor, we’re seeing public education under assault, and the people who have been doing most of this have been blatantly religious. It’s obvious how the other side is working to shift the pattern in their favor — by making America more of a banana republic than ever before.

    No, that “last sentence” is correct, and your last comment supports it instead of contradicting it. They are saying that the pattern is, “more economic disparity leads to more religion”, and that there is little that can be done to break that pattern. That is, other factors such as debates, court cases, films, TV programs, etc. would have little effect if the economic conditions are not changed.

  12. #12 Richard Harris
    June 17, 2008

    Jumpin’ Jeezus, Moses, I’d’ve thought the synagogues ‘d be a better type of place for that kind of thing.

  13. #13 protocol
    June 17, 2008

    The argument in not new. Marx is only the most well-known commentator to state a version of this. At the same time, I want to urge some caution. We should not confuse or conflate levels of analysis. The relationship cited above holds at the aggregate (i.e.) international/national level. It does not necessarily hold at the level of the individual. In statistical terms this kinda leads to the ecological inference problem.

  14. #14 Harold
    June 17, 2008

    … religion is a good knout to use in flogging other people and getting them to conform. That’s how I see the filthy rich televangelists and far right Republicans, anyway — religion is a tool for controlling the herd (which may, ultimately, be an economic issue, too)

    As a foreigner I see little difference here with the democrats. Isn’t America more likely to elect a muslim president than an atheist one? Democrats may not be the god-botherers the republicans are but their constant mumblings about god are a way to make themselves acceptable to the sheeple too, and ultimately that way they keep faith alive, even though it has no place in a modern civilization.

  15. #15 clinteas
    June 17, 2008

    PZ said:
    //Cultivating a healthy society that can grow and sustain itself, with a well-informed democratic populace, is hard work.//

    That applies to the US and other 2nd or 3rd world countries,but not to Europe,where it just comes naturally,with the socioeconomic stability enjoyed there over decades,and the humanistic tradition backing up political and social life.

  16. #16 Moses
    June 17, 2008

    Economists always see the world as being completely the result of economic forces. I wouldn’t be surprised if I met one who claimed trade made the sky blue. They need to just suck it up and admit they’re a specialization in the field of history :p.

    Posted by: Julian | June 17, 2008 9:38 AM

    Seems that way, at times. Even worse are the True Believer Libertarians.

  17. #17 Paul W.
    June 17, 2008

    For another version of this argument, based on results of the World Values Survey, see Sacred and Secular by Norris and Inglehart.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=dto-P2YfWJIC&dq=%22sacred+and+secular%22+norris&pg=PP1&ots=TjJrjsIM5d&sig=1EtFjQXXmpw0rSXNLLKjWEAiaFc&hl=en&prev=http://www.google.com/search%3Fq%3D%2522Sacred%2Band%2BSecular%2522%2BNorris%26ie%3Dutf-8%26oe%3Dutf-8%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26client%3Dfirefox-a&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail#PPP1,M1

    One worrisome fact is that while religiosity has been systematically declining in the first world (“postindustrial societies”), it has not in third world (“agrarian”) societies, and those societies are far more fertile.

    The net effect is that religion is growing in absolute terms along with population, and in relative terms. Even as religion declines in the mostly-egalitarianish prosperous West, it is growing overall.

    Current population trends in the third world aren’t sustainable, but that makes the big picture even less rosy. If the theory is correct, it suggests that those places will get even more pathologically religious as things get more messed up.

    Norris and Inglehart compare and contrast several popular theories of secularization, including the theory that the U.S. is exceptional because of its freedom of religion. The common explanation is that our large number of sects and lack of an established church make religion more competitive, with more people able to find a version of religion well-suited to them. They didn’t find any evidence of that worldwide—other first-world countries with similar freedom and diversity of religion don’t show the same effect. Overall wealth and wealth distribution seem to be much more predictive. (It’s hard to come up with good measures of religious diversity, though.)

    It seems to me that the U.S. is still theoretically problematic, though. In most of the first world, religion has been fairly steadily declining for 50 years. In the U.S., it doesn’t seem to have been declining much until the last 20—when the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer. (I should probably check my stats on that, though.)

    Your caveats about causal interpretations are well-taken. This stuff is too simple, and I’m not sure what fraction of the decline in religion is actually more-or-less simply caused by economic conditions. One thing I’m curious about is effects of religion on economics, including effects of violence caused or exacerbated by religion. I suspect that in many fucked-up places, religion plays a part in the instability and/or social divisions that lead to poverty and social injustice. (Not just in places prone to ethnic violence—maybe including the U.S., where we tend to spend less than our peers on economic equity, and more on the military.)

    From reading Hector Avalos’s Fighting Words, it sound s like the relevant data are a mess. Most studies don’t address those issues, or contain implicit biases to the effect that religion must be neutral, or must create positive “social capital” that would make things better.

    (Norris and Inglehart seem to fall prey to that, IIRC; the idea that religion might be a cause of bad stuff and not just an effect doesn’t seem to be on their radar.)

  18. #18 Moses
    June 17, 2008

    Note the Bush administration has ruined America’s economy, damaged America’s educational system, contributed much to the rise in food prices, and worked very hard to make Americans afraid.

    Either they already know what to do to fight atheism, or they are following the effective strategy by chance.

    Posted by: llewelly | June 17, 2008 9:43 AM

    When we justly assign blame to Bush for his role in wrecking our economy, we must also justly assign blame to Reagan, Bush I & Clinton. Much of our economic dysfunction has to do with the “free trade is good” policies all these pushed and/or implemented.

    In many respects, Bush is reaping what Clinton, with his pushing the last round of GATT, sowed. I know that’s not a popular thing to hear. Bush should be responsible for everything… But wishing it so, doesn’t make it so.

    Bush did inherit an economy that was going to contract through labor arbitrage. Bush did inherit the Chief of the Fed Clinton nominated to serve another term – Greenspan.

    So, yes, while Bush sucks, Clinton did just as much long-term damage to our economy. His was just harder to see because he was buoyed by a recovery early in his Presidency, before GATT’s effects could be felt and couple of economic bubbles that stimulated the economy at the end of his presidency.

    I will say one thing, while Clinton is over-rated in this area, and people tend to not want to blame him for sewing the long-term seeds of destruction, Bush is worse. Bush is as bad a LBJ (guns & butter) and Nixon (wrong moves at the wrong time) combined.

  19. #19 David Marjanovi?, OM
    June 17, 2008

    Plus pretty much all of the prosperity theologians are under IRS investigation.

    LOL!

    So George W. Bush really is doing God’s work by destroying our nation’s economic security and personal liberty.

    ROTFL!

    Current population trends in the third world aren’t sustainable

    They aren’t being sustained, either*, though they may well be sustained for too long…

    * The world population will have started declining before the end of the century, and this is not taking any catastrophe scenarios like Peak Oil into account. Birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, even in countries where this means 4 instead of 8 children per woman.

  20. #20 Moses
    June 17, 2008

    Jumpin’ Jeezus, Moses, I’d’ve thought the synagogues ‘d be a better type of place for that kind of thing.

    Posted by: Richard Harris | June 17, 2008 9:52 AM

    Since when have Jews been allowed into the halls of power and prosperity in America? Seriously, there are a few that have boot-strapped themselves up. But they were, and still are, by-and-large excluded from the White Man’s Club. Literally and figuratively.

  21. #21 Nick Gotts
    June 17, 2008

    The general pattern they identify seems plausible, but it may be that once a certain level of decline in religiosity has been reached, even a decrease in security will not reverse it. That certainly seems to have been the case in the UK, where inequality and socio-economic insecurity have grown over the past 30 years, but the decline in religious observance has continued. Any of the New Zealanders know if NZ has shown the same pattern?

  22. #22 Paul W.
    June 17, 2008

    Since when have Jews been allowed into the halls of power and prosperity in America? Seriously, there are a few that have boot-strapped themselves up. But they were, and still are, by-and-large excluded from the White Man’s Club. Literally and figuratively.Since when have Jews been allowed into the halls of power and prosperity in America? Seriously, there are a few that have boot-strapped themselves up. But they were, and still are, by-and-large excluded from the White Man’s Club. Literally and figuratively.

    If the issue is whether synagogues are a better place to network than churches, it’s worth noting that Jews do have a higher average income, and are overrepresented in the top two income quintiles. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

    Jews have been and still are discriminated against—it’s easier to get elected to public office if you’re Christian, for example—but they have managed to do rather well for such a small minority. Prosperity-wise, they’re ahead of the majority as well as most minorities. (In the U.S.)

    Power-wise, it seems to me they’ve done a pretty good job of organizing and demanding a modicum of respect and clout. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either; I’d like to see some comparably-sized minorities I’m a member of get their shit together—notably atheists.)

  23. #23 SC
    June 17, 2008

    Because the article is insufficiently attentive to the social movements that have brought about, and continue to maintain, greater economic equality and secularism in some parts of the world (we shouldn’t forget the champions of rationalism, anticlericalism, and free thought who have suffered and died for these causes), it fails to make a key point strongly enough. We should not expect economic trends to lead to the decline of religion. Rather, the message to secular humanists should be: If you want to uproot religion and advance human freedom, the fight on the economic front is essential. (See, and I didn’t even use the word “superstructural” once :).)

  24. #24 Geoffrey Alexander
    June 17, 2008

    @#10:
    “So George W. Bush really is doing God’s work by destroying our nation’s economic security and personal liberty. As people get more desperate, they’ll turn to religion and God will be served. Clever, clever George!”

    It’s not a matter of cleverness on the part of the religious, I think, but that they are following the environmental imperative of religion to impoverish the society in which it thrives. The organisms created by religious memes (these varieties of belief we call ‘religions’) are like any organism (cf. bacteria, virii, or even insects of certain species) that create a microclimate (in this case beggary and ignorance) in which the organism can best thrive and prosper.

    It’s a material mechanism (memetic rather than genetic in this case) rather than any product of political intention or ‘design’…..

  25. #25 Joe Shelby
    June 17, 2008

    Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. There are no exceptions on a national basis.

    In this, they’ve “rediscovered” a tenant of Marxism (not that it was ever practiced accurately to Marx’s original writings).

    Marx’s view was the same: when economic equality is established, social equality increases as well and the need for religion as a compensating factor for controlling (appeasing) those lesser than others goes away.

    Lenin and Stalin reversed that: to establish Marxism, religion needs to go away. Logically, of course, A causes !B does not mean !B causes A. In the end, just as with Nazi Fascism, they replaced one superstitious belief in God with another superstitious practice, the worship of the State and Party. If people don’t realize rationalism on their own, they can’t embrace it.

    To Marx, rationalism should have been the result of the new atheism. To reality in that part of the world, superstition has continued with Russia’s heavily growing beliefs in cults, in horoscopes, in woo medicine and science, and in the “goodness” of Putin as a leader.

  26. #26 Nick Gotts
    June 17, 2008

    clinteas@15. Do you live in Europe? What you say seems to me much too sanguine about European socio-economic – let alone environmental – sustainability. In the UK, and I think in most other European states, inequality has increased considerably over the past 20-30 years. In the UK and at least some other states, that also applies to insecurity, although in others (Ireland, Spain, Portugal for example) the overall rise in wealth brought by EU membership has probably been great enough to mean security has increased.

  27. #27 SC
    June 17, 2008

    To offer another quote from Voltairine de Cleyre (this one from “The Economic Tendency of Free Thought”):

    Neither do I believe it possible that any brain that lives can detail the working of a thought into the future, or push its logic to an ultimate. But that many who think, or think they think, do not carry their syllogisms even to the first general conclusion, I am also forced to believe. If they did, the freethinkers of today would not be digging, mole-like, through the substratum of dead issues; they would not waste their energies gathering the ashes of fires burnt out two centuries ago; they would not lance their shafts at that which is already bleeding at the arteries; they would not range battalions of brains against a crippled ghost that is “laying” itself as fast as it decently can, while a monster neither ghostly nor yet like the rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger, but rather like a terrible anaconda, steel-muscled and iron-jawed, is winding its horrible folds around the human bodies of the world, and breathing its devouring breath into the faces of children. If they did, they would understand that the paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. That the crying-out demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence. They would realize that, unless the freethought movement has a practical utility in rendering the life of man more bearable, unless it contains a principle which, worked out, will free him from the all-oppressive tyrant, it is just as complete and empty a mockery as the Christian miracle or Pagan myth. Eminently is this the age of utility; and the freethinker who goes to the Hovel of Poverty with metaphysical speculations as to the continuity of life, the transformation of matter, etc.; who should say, “My dear friend, your Christian brother is mistaken; you are not doomed to an eternal hell; your condition here is your misfortune and can’t be helped, but when you are dead, there’s an end of it,” is of as little use in the world as the most irrational religionist. To him would the hovel justly reply: “Unless you can show me something in freethought which commends itself to the needs of the race, something which will adjust my wrongs, ‘put down the mighty from his seat,’ then go sit with priest and king, and wrangle out your metaphysical opinions with those who mocked our misery before.”

    http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/cleyre/etf.html

  28. #28 sjburnt
    June 17, 2008

    It amazes me that people can attribute the economy and welfare of a country like the US to one person or administration. Why, I heard there has been a Congress in session this whole time!

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?, OM
    June 17, 2008

    this very nice article by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman

    Gregory Paul?

    <click>

    Oh, yeah, that Gregory Paul.
    :-)

    Great article.

  30. #30 Steve_C
    June 17, 2008

    I don’t attribute it to one man. One party actually. Well done GOP. Buncha hypocrits.

  31. #31 chigurh
    June 17, 2008

    religion is a good knout to use in flogging other people and getting them to conform. That’s how I see the filthy rich televangelists and far right Republicans, anyway — religion is a tool for controlling the herd (which may, ultimately, be an economic issue, too).

    perhaps old news to some, but Paul Bingham has great theory that such coercive methods became the main evolutionary mechanism driving human evolution. Explains biological and cultural history quite well:http://mc1litvip.jstor.org/stable/2664816

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?, OM
    June 17, 2008

    The general pattern they identify seems plausible, but it may be that once a certain level of decline in religiosity has been reached, even a decrease in security will not reverse it. That certainly seems to have been the case in the UK, where inequality and socio-economic insecurity have grown over the past 30 years, but the decline in religious observance has continued.

    Seems to me that education is more important than wealth & security — though these latter two of course go a long way towards making access to education much easier.

    Marx’s view was the same: when economic equality is established

    And that was a mistake. If everyone is equal but poor, I bet religion thrives. The existence of Bill Gates doesn’t hurt anyone; what is necessary is a reasonably high minimum income below which nobody can fall. The proletariat must be abolished — and basically has been abolished in the richest countries other than the US –, not the bourgeoisie.

    In the UK, and I think in most other European states, inequality has increased considerably over the past 20-30 years.

    Yeah, but not to American levels.

  33. #33 Graham
    June 17, 2008

    I would say that increased sophistication would be a better phrase than education. Even watching tv exposes you to more thoughts and ideas than you would otherwise have. Consider how narrow your world view as a kid in Kansas was 75 years ago compared to today.

  34. #34 Dr. J
    June 17, 2008

    As a foreigner I see little difference here with the democrats. Isn’t America more likely to elect a muslim president than an atheist one? Democrats may not be the god-botherers the republicans are but their constant mumblings about god are a way to make themselves acceptable to the sheeple too, and ultimately that way they keep faith alive, even though it has no place in a modern civilization.

    No, I think the American public that really cares about religion generally sees anything non-Christian as being equivalent to atheism in terms of their “ability” to lead the country.

  35. #35 Steve_C
    June 17, 2008

    Democrats don’t use religion as a wedge.

    There’s a huge difference.

  36. #36 raven
    June 17, 2008

    Not sure if economics is as important as they say.

    The new noveau riche of the world are the oil Arab moslems. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, gulf Arabs etc.. With oil at $140/barrel, they are swimming in money.

    I haven’t noticed any dropoff in their version of Islam.

    The most secular moslems are in Indonesia, and central Asia, areas that are either poor and sort of developing or just flat out poor.

  37. #37 Don Kane
    June 17, 2008

    Sorry, haven’t had time to look thru all the comments, but seems a outcome of that hypothesis (that security makes religion irrelevant) is what _has_ happened in much of Western Europe.

  38. #38 Dr. J
    June 17, 2008

    Post #34, the first paragraph should have been a quote from Harold at #14.

    (what is the method for getting in-post quotes to work?)

  39. #39 Lord Zero
    June 17, 2008

    I feel a little more confidence now. Maybe its cause
    my inexperience, but actually more of my world, its just
    through the window of science (Mostly Biology), im never
    aware of the lastest news.
    But since they seem to know their stuff… anyway
    seems almost too sweet to be true.
    But the premise: “When people arent needy, they
    dont require religion at all” make enough sense.
    Pray god, the usa economy rises and cleanses religion
    once for all.

  40. #40 Fergy
    June 17, 2008

    Another piece of the puzzle, I think, is that we are social animals and there is always going to be a part of our makeup that is concerned about the behavior of the others in our group.

    I think filling social needs has historically been the major role of religion, and the decline can be attributed to the increasing ways people have to connect with other people. For centuries, religion had a near exclusive claim to being the social center in a community, but it now competes with magazines, radio, television, and more recently the Internet, which allow people to form new groups far beyond their immediate neighborhoods. This global community disseminates ideas and information, which helps people who otherwise would have remained isolated to break free of the tyranny of religion and the ignorance of superstition.

  41. #41 David Marjanovi?, OM
    June 17, 2008

    The new no[u]veau[x] riche[s] of the world are the oil Arab moslems. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, gulf Arabs etc.. With oil at $140/barrel, they are swimming in money.

    I haven’t noticed any dropoff in their version of Islam.

    Isn’t going to happen within a single year or two. Patience, patience.

    (And I just love the wording “oil Arab moslems”. :o) )

    The most secular moslems are in Indonesia, and central Asia

    No, Bosnia and Albania… though I suspect mostly historical reasons there…

    what is the method for getting in-post quotes to work?

    <blockquote>quoted text here</blockquote>

  42. #42 Glen Davidson
    June 17, 2008

    I can’t say that increasing secularization in America appears to result from increasing equality and security. Not the former, certainly, and the latter only marginally (crime has decreased from its highs). So the evidence isn’t especially conclusive from the American experience, at least.

    I don’t really doubt that economic equality and security tend to reduce religion, nonetheless.

    There’s so much more going on in America, though. Early elite founders of America tended to think that religion was good for democracy, and we’ve since lived with a considerable civic religion.

    America hasn’t had the religious-governmental clerical abuses that Europe had, either. Resentments of religious representatives directly dictating policy in Europe led to greater resentments of religion, while Americans shopped around for the religion they felt answered their needs. There’s rarely been the kind of anti-religious sentiment in the US that has existed in many European sectors.

    Furthermore, whatever “socialism” existed and exists in Europe, equality hasn’t generally been achieved, not even close. France is still quite stratified socio-economically, for instance. Needs have been met by social programs, enhancing security (thus likely reducing the fears that keep religion stronger), but I don’t see much real economic equality in Western secular societies.

    And the grass-roots nature of both American protestantism and Islam seems to keep religion stronger. It’s relatively easy to rebel against a hierarchical religion like Catholicism and state Protestantism, not so much if you feel more responsible for choosing and supporting your own religion. Additionally, hierarchical religions in Europe tend to stay current with science and philosophy (they have an intellectual tradition lacking in much American protestantism), and to weaken religion internally in response to these, while Americans have no such guiding hand in moving halfway toward secularism.

    Clearly America isn’t becoming more secular because government is making us economically equal, or particularly secure. It’s probably more due to technology and education, and the fact that religion in America is rather tired and anachronistic. Plus, the more recent revival of religious power in America (presumably from around 1980) is wearing thin, and receiving actual backlash today (but being co-opted by the Democrats in this election cycle–something that needs watching).

    But our consumerist religious “economies” will make “buying a religion” more attractive in America than in many nations. Indeed, in Europe most people really don’t do so, for while it’s legally acceptable, it’s not socially acceptable. Religion is a market here, and if prosperity preaching loses its appeal, something else will come along to keep religion from declining too much.

    No, the “analysis” given is simplistic, not really dealing with important factors that have always made religion in America more resilient than that in Europe.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  43. #43 Matt Penfold
    June 17, 2008

    “Sorry, haven’t had time to look thru all the comments, but seems a outcome of that hypothesis (that security makes religion irrelevant) is what _has_ happened in much of Western Europe.”

    I think there is probably a fair of truth in this. I also wonder if the fact that in the last 100 years Europe has suffered two world wars which left much of the continent in ruins, and by a fair number of smaller wars does not also have something to do with it. I do not wish to underestimate the losses the US suffered in either world war, but it is fair to say in neither was the civilian population of the US seriously endangered.

  44. #44 Peter Ashby
    June 17, 2008

    The trends in NZ are very similar to Western Europe, though lagging a bit for various reasons. I suspect that while there is truth in the economic instability argument it may well be that there are tipping points. So even if you take into account that the rest of the 1st world has socialised medicine to various degrees and generous by US standards social welfare you do have to ask why the decline in religiosity has continued despite the expansion in social inequality and the effects of Free trade on people’s job securities. I suspect it is because of what PZ points out, social influences. Those who attended church regularly fell well below 50% decades ago, so most people now grow up in non religious or minimally religious households. For one thing this gives social license to those growing up in religious environments that it is socially acceptable to not a give a shit about religion.

    I remember reading about Daniel Dennett telling how he was talking to high school seniors on the West Coast somewhere and several came up to him afterwards in tears thanking him as they had not previously realised it was OK not to believe. He had given them license not to believe. Such a thing is almost unthinkable here in Yurp. You have to keep your kids completely isolated from ALL media for them not to realise this and in the information age this is almost impossible.

    That is what the godless can best do in the US, not rage against the economic machine, make it socially acceptable to be an atheist. Be loud, be vocal, be visible and yes, be prepared to be litigious to stand up for your rights. Take a few leaves out of the gay rights lobby’s history. Lots of people decry the Brights, I think they are doing the right thing for the above reasons.

  45. #45 Dennis N
    June 17, 2008

    Does anyone else think it’s odd that this idea of being American is tightly linked to independence, yet we’re strongly religious as a whole? We’re very concerned with being in charge of the world, and in charge of our own destinies, but a huge chunk believe their is a supremely powerful man who has planned out their lives. How can that be reconciled? Seems like compartmentalization to me.

  46. #46 Pierce R. Butler
    June 17, 2008

    This analysis puts atheist libertarians in a fierce double bind {snicker}.

  47. #47 mayhempix
    June 17, 2008

    I find it fascinating the correlation between universal healthcare and decline in religious belief.

    No wonder the evangelicals are willing to cut off their collective nose to spite their face.

    To all of those pontificating on the similarities to Marx’ observations, just because Marx and others may have arrived at comparable conclusions, it does not mean that the authors of the article must therefor be Marxists. I only bring this up because any invocation of the word “Marx” carries with it way too much emotional and partisan baggage for most people to get beyond. I for one am convinced that Marx was correct about many of his economic theories but the Stalinists, Maoists, western idealogues of the far left, etc. subverted his observations to form what really became more quasi-religious dogmas centered around cults of personality for control and power.

    To those who want to minimize economics as a driving force in history, like it or not trade has driven much of the history and development of civilization and trade is above all about economics. If you don’t think reactions to globalization and materialism, along with emotional opposition to rational based science, are driving much of the current crisis in the world including terrorism and extreme religious backlash, better think again. They are the main drivers of both the internal and external culture clashes that provoke violent and regressive responsives.

    Fortunately, I believe we are near the end of a reactionary pendulum swing against reason fueled by the 20th Century’s rapid acceleration of scientific and mathematical discovery. It was a monumental shock to a system that relied for thousands of years on mythologies to explain reasons for being and for the extortion and consolidations of wealth and power. Fundamentlist captalism is just another dogmatic expression of the same problem and it too will collapse under the weight its own mythologies.

    Reason and knowledge are neither pro nor con when it comes to the concepts presented by socialism and capitalism. Socialism and capitalism should be used as toolsets to be accessed for effective problem solving, and not worshiped as closed ideological systems unto themselves. History shows us that one-size-fits-all dogma is best suited for producing one-size-fits-all body bags.

  48. #48 Darby
    June 17, 2008

    All of this important stuff, and what’s stuck in my mind is:

    What does a comprehending fish look like?

  49. #49 Julie Stahlhut
    June 17, 2008

    I remember reading about Daniel Dennett telling how he was talking to high school seniors on the West Coast somewhere and several came up to him afterwards in tears thanking him as they had not previously realised it was OK not to believe.

    OT, but that’s exactly the reaction — relieved tears — that my husband got from several students at a math and science high school program when he told them it was okay to not go to medical school. (His words: “If you want to go to medical school, by all means you should go. If someone else is trying to push you to go to med school, tell THEM to go.”)

  50. #50 sdg
    June 17, 2008

    Economists always see the world as being completely the result of economic forces. I wouldn’t be surprised if I met one who claimed trade made the sky blue. They need to just suck it up and admit they’re a specialization in the field of history :p.

    regardless of the validity of this statement, i question the relevance.

    GREGORY PAUL is an independent researcher on subjects dealing with paleontology, evolution, religion and society. Books include Predatory Dinosaurs of the World and Dinosaurs of the Air.

    PHIL ZUCKERMAN is a sociologist at Pitzer, and the author of Invitation to the Sociology of Religion, Du Bois on Religion, and Sex and Religion.

  51. #51 Phoenix Woman
    June 17, 2008

    PZ, why do you think that there’s such a HEAVY emphasis on destroying secular public education in the US? The alliance between the corporate elite (who will make sure their own high-quality private schools are too expensive for 99.9% of us to attend) and the professional Christians is all about keeping us stupid and impoverished — or worse, brainwashed and impoverished.

    Meanwhile, for you students of inequality, check this out:
    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080630/cavanagh_collins

  52. #52 True Freethinker
    June 17, 2008

    The end of religion has been predicted many times. Mass murder and Gulags were even implemented by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and their followers.

    Voltaire predicted it before the French Revolution, whose leaders tried to carry it out.

    All failed, because the kind of hate you promote self destructs.

    Voltaire, Paine, Ingersoll, Russell, Freud, Lenin, Trotsy, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Sartre all failed.

    Even PZ Myers will fail.

  53. #53 Dennis N
    June 17, 2008

    Tell that to largely atheistic Western Europe. Mass murder and Gulags were not in the equation, just as they aren’t now. I don’t think you truly freely thought about that.

  54. #54 mayhempix
    June 17, 2008

    True Freethinker #52 is completely oblivious to the irony of his/her name.

    Hey PZ! According to TF that’s some serious company you keep! You sure can stir up some serious hate… at least from the likes of FT.

    Of course gullibility and fear is not in short demand for the forseeable future so religion will continue to be with us for centuries to come. However its grip on power and influence will continue to steadily wane as civilizations progress and slowly continue to embrace reason over programmed fairy tales and mindless superstition.

  55. #55 Steve Bloom
    June 17, 2008

    Re #25: Joe, Marx had *tenets* (principles), not tenants (renters). Doubtless Engels greedily kept all of the latter for himself. :)

    (This isn’t picking on you, BTW; I see this conflation a lot around the tubes and wanted to take the chance to correct it where it would be seen by many.)

  56. #56 sdg
    June 17, 2008

    #52 has clearly been freed from critical thought. smells like troll but what the hell…

    a) the point is that religiosity does not decrease as a result of direct efforts to decrease religiosity. it is the result of other changes in society.

    b) they did not exactly predict the end of religion. they simply stated that IF current trends continue, the role of religion in America will decrease.

  57. #57 Interrobang
    June 17, 2008

    Seems to me that education is more important than wealth & security

    I don’t know about security, but education is wealth. If there’s anything I dislike most about modern right-wing economists, it’s that they’ve narrowed the definition of “wealth” such that it includes only things like money and assets. (See also “natural capital” for a similar idea.)

  58. #58 Nova
    June 17, 2008

    PZ Myers:We’ve had people working to widen the gap between rich and poor

    This is why it’s the Christian right.

  59. #59 Nova
    June 17, 2008

    Oops did the quote all backwards in my post immediately before this one!

  60. #60 Paul W.
    June 17, 2008

    the point is that religiosity does not decrease as a result of direct efforts to decrease religiosity. it is the result of other changes in society.

    I don’t think that’s the right interpretation.

    Socioeconomic conditions may tilt the playing field a bit more or less toward secularism or religion, and that may have a big effect in the long run.

    Still, somebody has to fight the fight on that playing field. Ideas and arguments matter—you can’t just sit back and expect things to happen automatically.

    Sociologists have been wondering about this stuff for a long time. For a while, many thought that European secularization was mostly temporary, and that the trend would reverse as the less-religious generation or two got older and more religious. That does not appear to have happened. Apparently the less religious young folks are not getting much more religious as they get older, and each new generation has more people losing religion than gaining it.

    Whether that applies to the U.S. is unclear. I’m optimistic that we’ve just been slow to get seriously started with secularization, and it’s started now and we’ll continue to ratchet religion down slowly but steadily as the Europeans have been doing for 50 years. I’m not counting on it, though.

    It’s hard to make definite generalizations about this sort of thing, because it’s unprecedented, but it seems likely that most of the first world has substantially “broken the spell” of religion, and there’s no going back. Irreligious folks are out of the closet, and are not going to go back in, and religious folks have lost their traditional advantage of being the overwhelming majority, able to suppress dissent.

    The U.S. may be on the way there, but we’ll have to wait and see—or rather, we’ll have to make it happen here, too.

  61. #61 sdg
    June 17, 2008

    I don’t think that’s the right interpretation.

    i wasn’t necessarily saying that i agree 100% but i am quite certain that it was the point of the article. IMO, there is not really much to interpret.

    In the end what humanity chooses to believe will be more a matter of economics than of debate, deliberately considered choice, or reproduction. The more national societies that provide financial and physical security to the population, the fewer that will be religiously devout. The more that cannot provide their citizens with these high standards the more that will hope that supernatural forces will alleviate their anxieties. It is probable that there is little that can be done by either side to alter this fundamental pattern.

    that being said, i agree with you that talking about it matters and i am grateful that so many people are “out”.

  62. #62 Longtime Lurker
    June 17, 2008

    I want to echo Moses’ contention that Clinton is almost as culpable as Bush in many ways. While he was not guilty of Bush’s disdain for the Constitution, authoritarianism, and sheer incompetence, he was firmly on the free-trade bandwagon and did retain that fool Greenspan as fed chief. Suffice it to say, Clinton has been the best Republican president since Ike.

    Funny how that gives Freepers apoplexy.

  63. #63 windy
    June 17, 2008

    I also wonder if the fact that in the last 100 years Europe has suffered two world wars which left much of the continent in ruins, and by a fair number of smaller wars does not also have something to do with it.

    I wouldn’t emphasize that too much. Sweden’s population didn’t suffer from the wars apart from the shortages and fear they caused, and they are among the most nonreligious today.

  64. #64 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 17, 2008

    That is indeed a great article. I think the best service it does is to reveal that new statistics are cherry picked and misrepresented by apologists. I was also pointed to another possible cherry picking by a commenter on Sandwalk:

    The spin in and around Ecklund and Scheitle’s RAAS (Religion Among Academic Scientists) is ridiculous.

    They want to make it sound like science doesn’t erode religious belief. Their own data show that it very seriously does.

    According to their data, atheists and agnostics are overrepresented by a factor of 7.5 relative to the (mostly liberal) theists.

    Atheists outperform agnostics, who outperform liberal theists, who outperform liberal theists, who outperform traditional-but-not-literalist theists, who outperform raving biblical kooks.

    What would be interesting is to test the proposed model, especially for causative relationship suggested by the time ordering instead of the mere correlation found.

    I think PZ does the article a disservice here, as he seems to momentarily confuse a current economic situation with economics and insecurity when discussing social expressions such as traditions. Traditions are more often transformed or abandoned in safe environments AFAIK.

    Another misstatement on the suspected correlation is that “the other side is working to shift the pattern”; that it can be used isn’t the same as that it can be disused; which SteveM already noted.

    The point about oversimplification is well taken though, this proposed correlation must be teased out as to the underlying factor(s). But it seems valid at first glance.

  65. #65 Peter Ashby
    June 17, 2008

    Sweden also has enjoyed very generous social welfare benefits, good employment and a fairly egalitarian society, what the study indicates was important in shucking off religion. They also have a state church like we do in the UK. You Americans made a mistake when you opted for religious freedom…

  66. #66 Paul W.
    June 17, 2008

    I was also pointed to another possible cherry picking by a commenter on Sandwalk

    Torbjorn, that anonymous commenter was actually me, forgetting to sign my name.

    Since you liked it, I’m happy to take credit for it. :-)

  67. #67 Dave Wisker
    June 17, 2008

    Churches are being converted into libraries, laundromats and pubs.

    Amazing.

  68. #68 Paul W.
    June 17, 2008
    Churches are being converted into libraries, laundromats and pubs.

    Amazing.

    I’ve never been in a laundrochurch, but I’ve been in a couple of discochurches. An old church with stone arches and vaults makes a way cool Goth club.

  69. #69 Peter Ashby
    June 17, 2008

    One at the bottom of the hill here, stone built, tall steeple is an Indian Restaurant below and a snooker hall above. Along from the shops is one that stood empty and for sale for a long time, there is work being done on it but I do not know what it will become. Others in the city are nightclubs, one is flats (apartments), another an architect’s office.

    Pass a church on a Sunday morning as the service ends and the vast majority of the heads are grey or white. The Catholics are seriously worried about the lack of people with a Vocation. Maynooth in Ireland closed! The Irish no longer export priests and nuns to the world. The Catholic church in NZ has urged its schools to try and sell vocations to modern youth. Religion truly is dying everywhere in the first world except the US. I doubt it will ever truly vanish but I think we may come to look on it as we do astrologers or crystal gazers.

  70. #70 tony (not a vegan)
    June 17, 2008

    I remember that before my wife & I moved to the US, there seemed to be multiple church conversions (to apartments) for sale in almost every area we were looking to live (in the west of Scotland, near Glasgow). Definitely symptomatic of decline in church attendance, because the population had grown, and there were fewer and fewer churches performing as churches.

    On actual religiosity: I don’t remember many (if any) of our peer group actually attending church for anything other than the occasional wedding, funeral, or christening (still somewhat popular, despite a lack of overt religion, because it’s an event!).

    None of our children have been christened, nor have those of our closest friends.

    My will demands that my funeral be a celebratory burning (to ‘Wish you were here’), followed by a party with all the music performed by me (I’ve recorded about 50 songs so far! bwa ha ha ha ha). I’d like it to be a big outdoor bonfire, but I doubt that would get a permit!

  71. #71 Kseniya
    June 17, 2008

    Wow. You mean these grand and beautiful places of worship might one day be known to the world solely as artifacts of bygone times? As mere tourist attractions?

    Why, that’s impossible!

  72. #72 Peter Ashby
    June 17, 2008

    When Billy Graham Jr was over here in Scotland a few years ago he was warned we were a post xian nation, from his comments I don’t think he truly understood the depth of that. It is unprecedented, in history religion has replaced religion but never before has whole societies dropped religion without picking up another one. Our ancestors would have averred that such would lead to complete societal breakdown.

  73. #73 tony (not a vegan)
    June 17, 2008

    Peter @ 72: never before has whole societies dropped religion without picking up another one

    The replacement religion in this case is the team
    partick thistle,
    morton,
    queen of the south,
    etc). ;-)

  74. #74 Andrew JS
    June 17, 2008

    This seems to remind me of a question on a test from my Grade 12 religion class (in a publicly funded Catholic school no less! Isn’t Ontario great?) that asked “Explain how the Church in the future is determined to become a ‘church of the poor’?”. The correct answer was some social justice thing but I answered that it was the Catholic Church was going to have to take advantage of impoverished Latin Americans to keep membership as the First World moves away from religion. My teacher was not impressed.

  75. #75 negentropyeater
    June 17, 2008

    PZ,

    It’s obvious how the other side is working to shift the pattern in their favor — by making America more of a banana republic than ever before.

    And it’s obvious that our side, the people who do not want to belong to any religion, the people who want to be able to think freely, needs to :

    1) multiply its efforts to express its opinions accross all platforms of communication, books, blogs, TV, movies, print, conferences, debates, etc…

    2) show that they represent a very significant minority of American people, the fastest growing one, and systematically denounce the prejudiced notion that “Americans are religious”

    3) insist on politicians (Obama) that they should actively promote tolerance for freethinkers/non believers

    When are you(we) going to write to the Obama campaign about 3) ?

  76. #76 Peter Ashby
    June 17, 2008

    Tony not a vegan you are sort of right, though in my case it a game played at Murrayfield, not Hampden. It satisfies the need to feel part of something bigger than yourself that a church service can give you. I like it when Scotland play New Zealand, I get to sing both anthems then. Oh Flower of Scotland, E ihoa Atua…

  77. #77 David Marjanovi?, OM
    June 17, 2008

    The Catholics are seriously worried about the lack of people with a Vocation.

    Same in Austria, where I haven’t seen a single abandoned church, but priests imported from Poland and Nigeria…

    The Irish no longer export priests and nuns to the world.

    For the first time in what — 1400 years?

  78. #78 ndt
    June 17, 2008

    PZ said:
    //Cultivating a healthy society that can grow and sustain itself, with a well-informed democratic populace, is hard work.//

    That applies to the US and other 2nd or 3rd world countries,but not to Europe,where it just comes naturally,with the socioeconomic stability enjoyed there over decades,and the humanistic tradition backing up political and social life.

    Posted by: clinteas | June 17, 2008 10:00 AM

    This is incorrect and a dangerous way to think. European societies got to where they are now through very hard work, and without vigilance and more hard work they could easily slide backwards.

  79. #79 Trent Eady
    June 17, 2008

    I find it hard to believe that debate has no effect! Surely a rousing argument can help someone rethink their traditions.

  80. #80 efrique
    June 17, 2008

    #10: You mean “only 200 days until the Republican dirty tricks campaign intalls McCain for a third Bush term”?

    Remember, the USA re-elected Bush (and don’t give me any guff about stolen elections – the vote was close enough to 50% that it was possible to steal with only a few blatant dirty tricks – and if its as close again, the same thing will happen).

  81. #81 Paul Murray
    June 17, 2008

    “the mega-churches are a product of consolidation rather than overall growth”

    Mega-churches are a product of exurban living, and utterly dependent on cheap gasoline enabling their enormous congregations to turn up on sunday. Massive carparks.

    The oil crisis alone will doom them.

  82. #82 Mooser, Bummertown
    June 17, 2008

    Where you make your mistake is in thinking that all those people are gathered at those mega, and not-so-mega churches for religious purposes. By our own atheist logic no religious ceremony or ritual will have any effect on the participants or the world at large, right? So they are there for some social or psychological purpose that they call, cause it makes them feel good about it “religion”.

    So, what goes on at those churches will go on, and maybe even grow more popular, if it produces results in the individuals attending which they consider beneficial.

    By the way, PZ, you do that quite a bit. You take people at their word when they say they “believe in God”. Why do you do that? It’s the same when you accept that people go to church for religion. They can’t, cause there’s no such thing. Oh, there is some kind of group or individual process going on, but it ain’t “religious”. That would imply the involvement of God, and as you know, that ain’t possible.

    Those people go to church now, even though they don’t believe in God (they can’t). And in a seeming paradox, the more God doesn’t exist, the more those people need to go to church. They are there for church, but they don’t expect God to show up, just other people.

    The profession of religion is always an indication of bad faith and an inability to be honest with one’s self, and especially others. It’s all for the others, either those sitting in the pews, or those sharing their mind.

  83. #83 Mooser, Bummertown
    June 17, 2008

    That applies to the US and other 2nd or 3rd world countries,but not to Europe,where it just comes naturally,

    You bet, pal. It comes with the blood and soil.

  84. #84 Zetetic
    June 18, 2008

    This isn’t news to me. Spending my life in an evangelical Christian environment, I have often heard that Christianity is on the decline in wealthy nations and on the rise in poorer nations. This observation is usually accompanied by a lament about how difficult it is to get healthy, privileged people to recognize their dependence on god.

    Of course, PZ is right to caution us against oversimplifying matters. However, it seems reasonable to expect that those who have the least control over their lives would be the most attracted to the idea of a supernatural being arranging things behind the scenes for their benefit. It does seem easier to accept one’s lot in life if you believe suffering is all part of a larger plan and everything is going to work out in the end.

  85. #85 Brian Coughlan
    June 18, 2008

    This is incorrect and a dangerous way to think. European societies got to where they are now through very hard work, and without vigilance and more hard work they could easily slide backwards.

    They did indeed. We had a very nasty war in Europe if you recall, a war that killed about 50 million people, and on top of that endured 70 years communist totalitarianism.

    We do appear to have learned our lessons (hence the unprecendented achievement of political and monetary union through the EU), but all it takes is a generation of upheavel and ignorance to loose all those gains. The republicans seem hell bent on generating the kind of global chaos that will erase the gains of the last 150 years, sacrificing the long term survival of the entire species, for ephemeral short term political gain. These assholes may yet wipe us all out.

  86. #86 sdg
    June 18, 2008

    #11 – You are 100% correct. They are not changing the pattern, they are exploiting it.

    #75 – While I think that the three items that you list are important, the whole point of the article is that things like universal healthcare and better access to higher education might do significantly more than the three items you listed. If you agree that PZ’s original analysis of the conclusion was wrong and that SteveM got it right in #11, I think it becomes clear that if one side is successfully exploiting the pattern, the other side’s best “counter-attack” is to exploit that same pattern for their benefit, not necessarily to try a completely different approach. Again, I agree that one should be careful not to oversimplify and discount that there are almost always multiple factors and approaches to consider, but I think this article gets a lot right and should be taken seriously.

  87. #87 negentropyeater
    June 18, 2008

    sdg,

    While I think that the three items that you list are important, the whole point of the article is that things like universal healthcare and better access to higher education might do significantly more than the three items you listed.

    I think it’s an itterative process.
    How do you think things like universal healthcare and better access to higher education are going to come ? Are they going to fall from the sky ?
    These are things people have to actively fight for, they have to demonstrate their profound disatisfaction, but how can they when Religion and conservatism ensures that the mediating role of rationalization of inequality and the relationship between conservatism and the illusion of happiness is so strong in America ?

  88. #88 negentropyeater
    June 18, 2008

    sdg,

    you want an example of this “illusion of happiness” that cripples America ?

    According to the WHO, the USA ranks very poorly on all key health indicators for a developped nation, but there’s only one indicator, where they rank very well, that is, people’s level of satisfaction with their own system ???

  89. #89 sdg
    June 18, 2008

    Are they going to fall from the sky ?
    These are things people have to actively fight for…

    A) It’s not really fair to suggest that by omitting the means by which the ends are achieved I am stating that it will occur magically or without effort.

    B)I do not know that the argument about healthcare system satisfaction is valid in this case. I took a look at this report http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/reprint/20/3/10.pdf and it seems to suggest that it is not. First, I realize that this report is from 2000 and things may have changed significantly so please provide a link to more recent data if you have it. However, if the numbers are still similar (40% satisfaction), I would not agree that that qualifies as ranking “very well”. Furthermore, there are other countries that are less religious that have a bigger disparity between WHO ranking and citizen satisfaction. The first two in Exhibit 1, Denmark and Finland, are perfect examples.

  90. #90 negentropyeater
    June 18, 2008

    sdg,

    A) I’m basically agreeing with you, just want to stress the point that it’s an itterative process and that as long as this “illusion of happinness” and the mediating role of religion and conservatism mediates people’s rationalization of inequalities, you shouldn’t expect too much progress.

    B) I’m saying “according to the WHO”, and you pull a study from somewhere.

    Why not check the WHO : here you get all the groovy details:

    http://www.who.int/whr/2000/en/whr00_annex_en.pdf

    The US ranks #37 in overall performance, this ranking includes a #1 rank in level of responsiveness, which is defined, as “how well people of varying economic status find that they are served by the health system”.

    BTW if the US didn’t rank as well on responsiveness, it would be even worse in its overall performance ranking, which puts it just behind Costa Rica and just two ranks in front of Cuba.

    The whole thing is from 2000, which is a bit outdated, but I’m quite ceratin, if they did it today, the results wouldn’t be any better, probably even worse. The US would still rank #1 in responsiveness, and #30+ or even #40+ in overall performance.

  91. #91 negentropyeater
    June 18, 2008

    Now of course, you could say that the WHO is a biased “anti-american” think tank (which is basically what the neocons keep using as their propaganda), but that would just make the point even clearer, when the neocons’ main strategy has been to reinforce the mediating effects of people’s rationalizations of inequalities.

  92. #92 sdg
    June 18, 2008

    First, I agree that we mostly agree. :) I’m glad you said that because I was thinking the same thing.

    Still, I feel compelled to mention that responsiveness is not the same as the satisfaction of the citizens. The papers cited in footnotes 23-25 of the paper you linked support this statement. I only looked at the papers briefly but I think my point is fair.

    http://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper21.pdf

    Responsiveness differs from traditional patient satisfaction measures in three main ways.
    Firstly the scope of patient satisfaction is usually limited to clinical interaction in a specific
    health care setting whereas responsiveness seeks to evaluate the health system as a whole.
    Secondly, the range of issues considered by patient satisfaction often combines both medical
    and non-medical aspects but responsiveness as defined here focuses only on the non -health
    enhancing aspects of the health system. And finally, and most significantly, while patient
    satisfaction represents a complex mixture of perceived need, expectations and experience of
    care [2], responsiveness evaluates individuals’ experiences with the health system against
    ‘legitimate’ universal expectations.

    http://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper22.pdf

    The countries forming part of the key informant survey were selected according to the
    criteria of obtaining a cross-section of countries with different types of health systems, in
    different WHO regions and with large populations. Focal persons were contacted in each
    of these countries to co-ordinate the surveys. The criteria for selection of the focal
    persons were that they should be working in the health sector, have experience with
    research survey methodology and have a good professional reputation in their field. The
    focal people were sent instructions on how the key informant surveys should be run.
    This included instructions on how to select the various key informants. These
    instructions included ensuring that they selected key informants were from different parts
    of the health sector, including the private sector and government as well as different
    levels and different professions and they were requested to ensure that they obtained a
    balanced gender profile. The specific phrasing of the instructions were that “key
    informants should be individuals drawn from different organisations such as the Ministry
    of Health, Provincial Health Authorities, universities, research institutions, private
    medical practitioners, government medical practitioners, professional bodies in the health
    sector, patient organisations, health insurance groups, disease groups, and social
    workers”.

    http://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper23.pdf
    i’m too tired of this exercise to quote something from this paper. :)

  93. #93 PZ Myers
    June 18, 2008

    Just to qualify the whole “responsiveness” issue, though, that has been Target #1 in the right-wing offensive against “socialized medicine”. Ask anyone who’s been the recipient of the usual propaganda what’s wrong with health care in Canada and England, and right away the first thing out of their mouths will be gabble about waiting for months to get an appointment, long lines, not being able to choose your own doctor, etc.

    Basically, if you ask an American who has never experienced health care in Europe, their most common misperception is that American capitalism makes for faster, better service.

  94. #94 sdg
    June 18, 2008

    Let me just state up front that I am a citizen of the USA and I would LOVE to see us have universal health care. Just want to get that out there so my statements cannot be misconstrued.

    PZ – I agree that that is a very common perception amongst Americans when talking about “responsiveness” in the generic sense. However, I was only talking about “responsiveness” in the specific context of the WHO paper cited by negentropyeater. According to the WHO definition, responsiveness “focuses only on the non-health enhancing aspects of the health system”. Also, it seems that they did not survey anyone not working within the health care sector (http://www.who.int/healthinfo/paper22.pdf). It seems that the WHO’s responsiveness ranking may not have a direct correlation to the average satisfaction of average citizens (or to how average citizens view the system’s responsiveness in the generic sense).

    Hope that clears up the intent of my post.

  95. #95 negentropyeater
    June 18, 2008

    I refer to a very interesting paper “Why are conservatives happier than liberals?” (only have a hard copy, didn’t check if it was available online)

    Napier, J.L., & Jost, J.T. (2008). Why are conservatives happier than liberals? Psychological Science, 19(6), 565-572.

    It shows how conservative thinking helps people to rationalize inequalities and mediates their relationship with happinness.

    So as long as you’ve got “religion, exceptionalism, ignorance of other cultures”, how can you expect people to reach the level of disatisfaction required for them to demand progress ? They don’t. They maintain this illusion of happinness, until the day when it has accumulated to one point (NOW !) when it becomes the “big revelation”.

    Whereas in Europe we have had an itterative process, in the USA, it’s going to be one big jump into reality.

  96. #96 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 18, 2008

    Liked the WHO vs US connection. A cognitive dissonance would go a long way to explain current status.

    @ Paul W:

    Paul, thanks for getting that straight. It was a really timely comment too, as you can see.

  97. #97 trueblue99
    June 19, 2008

    I suspect that if folks knew a bit more about history, their exuberance about the fading of the gods would be tempered. A long time ago in a land far, far away the gods were fading too. In the world of late antiquity, traditional religion had become mere civic and social rites, critical philosophy had eroded belief in the supernatural, science was groping toward natural explanations of the natural world, an ever-growing body of skeptics found religion vulgar superstition.

    And then Christianity was born and took that world over from top to bottom, inside and out.

  98. #98 sdg
    June 19, 2008

    Exuberance? Where? I don’t see any in the article, PZ’s post, or the comments. Optimism, yes. Exuberance, no.

    Also, your argument does not take into account the fact that there are a lot of differences between life here and now and life “A long time ago in a land far, far away”. For one thing, IF (ginormous IF) people are willing to listen, a lot more of the “unexplainable” can be explained.

    ps – Apparently “ginormous” is a real word now. I can hardly contain my exuberance. :)
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ginormous
    http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/2007-07-10-dictionary-new-words_N.htm

  99. #99 trueblue99
    June 19, 2008

    No one has ever argued more cogently or persuavively that the world is natural than did Lucretius in “De Rerum Natura”. He was enormously influential in his time (1st century BCE) and afterward. The world he lived in was thoroughly receptive to his ideas.

    Yet into that world of alive with skepticism and emerging science and widespread disbelief, Christianity was born and swept that world away.

    As the poet writes, “For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth.”

    You ought to give some thought to the age you are helping come to birth because history shows all too plainly that you won’t get the progeny you think you will.

  100. #100 Steve_C
    June 19, 2008

    Uhg. People will be people, I still prefer them to not have stupid superstitions and placing value in faith.

    It won’t be tempered. Religion is stupid.

  101. #101 negentropyeater
    June 19, 2008

    Trueblue99,

    how is what happened in the 1st ccentury BC relevant for discussing what is happening today ?

    Why don’t you say what you want to say instead of hiding behind such platitudes ?

  102. #102 sdg
    June 19, 2008

    So science has not advanced at all since the 1st century BCE? You clearly know more about the history of that time than I do. I admit that freely and do not wish to challenge your knowledge of it. I’m not saying that I’m not skeptical of how much things might change, I’m just saying that your comparison of then to now is not apples to apples. You basically said “it didn’t happen then, so it won’t happen now”. That’s a weak argument because while some circumstances may be similar, many are different. It’s one thing to argue that the world is natural, it’s quite another to prove it.

  103. #103 Loren Petrich
    June 19, 2008

    Even here in the religion-addled US, the mainline Protestants are in rather serious decline, with only the evangelical/fundie ones showing a lot of vigor.

    And it’s even worse for Catholics in some ways — the US Catholic Church has a hard time recruiting priests and nuns.

    Yes, US nuns are becoming “None” with remarkable speed. Their average age is now around 70, and only a tiny fraction of them is significantly younger.

    Some of you older people may have gone to Catholic school and may have memories of lots of nuns there. But those days are long gone; many Catholic schools now hire lay Catholics and even non-Catholics. Someone I know who had taught at one in a recent year made a remarkably discovery — about 50% of its teachers were non-Catholics.

  104. #104 sdg
    June 19, 2008

    yeah, lucretius had it all figured out…
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lucretius/#6

  105. #105 negentropyeater
    June 19, 2008

    So science has not advanced at all since the 1st century BCE?

    Just a tiny, tiny, little bit. Apparently, according to trueblue99.

    You clearly know more about the history of that time than I do.

    When one says “the world was alive with skepticism and emerging science and widespread disbelief” one would need to qualify “alive” and “widespread disbelief” first in order to judge if the statement made sense.

    That’s a weak argument

    That’s not an argument at all. Thinking that what happened in the 1st century is relevant for discussing what is happening today is so pathetic it hurts. All is different; demographics, knowledge, technology, society, culture, history, etc…

  106. #106 Dennis N
    June 19, 2008

    Not to mention, there were no natural explanations back then for much of the world. No science meant no true understanding of biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, etc. God Of the Gaps was could be a big man unlike today. There was no printing presses, so this skepticism and disbelief you think happened, even if it did, would have been isolated to the privileged. It’s seems you’re happy that “Christianity was born and took that world over from top to bottom, inside and out” Why? It seems to have set the world back hundreds or thousands of years in science and other knowledge and created a demon haunted world. Another way Christianity took a world over? Force. Remember those dark ages? You should be ashamed that Christianity was born, not happy. All of this is a digression from any actual argument for a god’s existence, or any reason to believe.

  107. #107 Owlmirror
    June 19, 2008

    No one has ever argued more cogently or persuavively that the world is natural than did Lucretius in “De Rerum Natura”.

    Eloquence in the defense of naturalism did not end with Lucretius.

    He was enormously influential in his time (1st century BCE) and afterward. The world he lived in was thoroughly receptive to his ideas.

    He was one philosophical voice among many. And his influence was limited to fraction of those educated in philosophy, which was in turn a fraction of the wealthy.

    Yet into that world of alive with skepticism and emerging science and widespread disbelief,

    Actually, Neo-Platonism was pretty popular as well, and its mystical philosophy was folded in to religious belief.

    Christianity was born and swept that world away.

    With abalone shells. And swords. And knives. And rocks. And setting books and people on fire.

    They were called the Dark Ages for a reason.

    You ought to give some thought to the age you are helping come to birth because history shows all too plainly that you won’t get the progeny you think you will.

    Yeah. You think about that real carefully now.

    Religion is ultimately a pragmatic response of an irrational, superstitious animal struggling with the unknown: When you don’t know what to do, do what everyone else is doing. Worship the Big Scary Thing, like everyone else is doing, because the Big Scary Thing will harm you if it’s unhappy, and might give you what you ask for if it is happy. And everyone knows the Big Scary Thing exists, because (a) Where else did everything come from, if not from the Big Scary Thing? and (b) Parents and neighbors all agree that the Big Scary Thing is real, and they wouldn’t lie about something important like that.

    But the Big Scary Thing seems less important in a cosmopolitan society where food, water, and good health are plentiful. And when education is added to the mix, the Big Scary Thing seems a lot less Big and Scary.

    When something bad happens, like fire or flood or cold or drought or storm or famine or disease or war, or some combination of bad things, the priests and ministers perk up and cheerfully claim that the Big Scary Thing has demonstrated how Big and Scary he is, and how the bad thing can only be fixed by having everyone worship the Big and Scary thing in the “right” way — the way that the priest or minister says, of course, which usually includes people giving money to said priest or minister so that he will ask the Big Scary Thing to please stop being quite so Scary.

    But science, and secular humanism, has been eroding the power of the priests and ministers. The bad is mitigated by science, and science improves life, and secular humanism points out that being good to each other just makes sense; regardless of what the Big Scary Thing says.

    It may take a while. But there is hope.

    “In this great and creatorless universe, where so much beautiful has come to be out of the chance interactions of the basic properties of matter, it seems so important that we love one another.”
    – Lucy Kemnitzer

  108. #108 windy
    June 19, 2008

    He was enormously influential in his time (1st century BCE) and afterward. The world he lived in was thoroughly receptive to his ideas. Yet into that world of alive with skepticism and emerging science and widespread disbelief, Christianity was born and swept that world away.

    If you ignore the entire development of the Roman empire…

  109. #109 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 19, 2008

    @ trueblue99:

    I suspect that if folks knew a bit more about history, their exuberance about the fading of the gods would be tempered. A long time ago in a land far, far away the gods were fading too.

    Um, that is a data point in favor of the above model. The current correlation is based on democracy and (for the purpose) sufficient social security (for the middle class). Lucretius lived in a society that possibly had one but surely not the other.

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

  110. #110 negentropyeater
    June 19, 2008

    Anyway, there are at least some people who seem to think like trueblue99…

    Tony Blair’s one of them (since he converted to Catholicism, his brain has gotten severely impacted) ;
    “Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century,”
    http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/05/29/blair-religion-to-be-as-important-as-20th-century-ideologies/

    “The 21st century will be religious or it will not be.”
    is falsely atributed to André Malraux

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