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Tilting at Windmills

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October 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOD AND MAMMON, PART 2....This is indeed an interesting chart (via Sullivan) from a Pew global survey that was released earlier this month. It's interesting, of course, because it's a graphical demonstration of something I've long figured was true, and like most of us, I just love it when I see confirmation of a preexisting belief.

Motivation aside, though, it's still interesting, even if it's not surprising. As people get less religious, they get wealthier. Or perhaps the other way around. Or perhaps there's something else behind both trends.

But whichever it is (probably a bit of all three), the United States, as usual, is an outlier. The United States is always an outlier on these kinds of things. Which reminds me: I'd love to see this same scatterplot for states or counties within the U.S. Has anyone ever done that?

The full Pew report is here.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. Reader Chris T. emails a chart he created from 2000 state data, using number of churches per capita as a proxy for religiosity (raw data here). That's not a perfect equivalent by any stretch, but it certainly captures the rough-and-ready bloggy spirit. Feel free to interpret as you will.



Kevin Drum 6:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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Comments

Whopee! This must apply to individuals as well, and so I am on top of the world as the wealthiest person alive!

Posted by: gregor on October 24, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the US fits perfectly, when you understand that our actual religion is money.

Posted by: craigie on October 24, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK


Which reminds me: I'd love to see this same scatterplot for states or counties within the U.S. Has anyone ever done that?

...along with some red/blue political designation.

How much of our 'outlier' status is due to the wealthier athiestic blue states counteracting the religiosity of the poorer red states?

Posted by: kis on October 24, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

God wants us to be rich.

God wants us to kill brown people.

God smiles when we torture innocent people, 'cause they are brown!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on October 24, 2007 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

That curve looks kind of forced to me. Apart from the additional outlier of Kuwait (which, at least was also identified as an outlier, because it was named), there's an additional cluster of points above and to the right of the curve north of the $10K per capita GDP.

There is a clear correlation, make no mistake. It's just that it looks like you ought to get a better fit with a curve that comes further over to the right, that's all.

Posted by: Mithrandir on October 24, 2007 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Given that wealthier, urban regions in America are typically less religious (NY, SF etc) than their suburban counterparts, my guess is that the US has the same pattern at the granular level.

Posted by: clone12 on October 24, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

If you go to the Pew report, you will note that Venezuelans have a very positive view of free trade, foreign companies, and free markets. Certainly one of the most unexpected findings of the report, if you believe Chavez and his bombastic socialist rhetoric,

Posted by: Crusk on October 24, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Mithrandir: Yeah, just by eyeball it looks to me like a straight line would do as well or better than the curve -- out to about the $35K level, anyway. Beyond that it would have to flatten out, but obviously there's not enough data to say exactly how.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on October 24, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

That curve looks kind of forced to me. Apart from the additional outlier of Kuwait (which, at least was also identified as an outlier, because it was named), there's an additional cluster of points above and to the right of the curve north of the $10K per capita GDP. Posted by: Mithrandir

I think the inclusion of any of the Gulf States in this kind of study is problematic because so much of the imported labor is paid shitty wages that are never figured into the GDP of the "native" population, or so I would guess.

For example, the UAE has the highest per capita income in the world at around $55K/per year. However, I'm sure this figure doesn't include the Philippine maids, Bangladeshi oil field labors, etc., etc.

Posted by: JeffII on October 24, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. does worship money, Craigie. I was watching Glenn Beck the other night talk about Christianity and capitalism being one in the same.

Also, religion has played a hostile, bloody role in the making of most countries that the U.S. has escaped. No U.S. founded religion has led to the torture, murder, or oppression of millions until you get to Bush's evangelical crusade. So... maybe we're about to get less fanatical about our religion in the next generation or so.

And back to Craigie's point - our problems don't stem from religious persecution, ours come from being devoted to being the sole economic superpower. So even if we do get less religious, I don't see how that'll prevent the next Iraq venture. although without evangelism, Bush wouldn't have appeared credible to so many people.

Posted by: A different Matt on October 24, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

The report also demonstrates why we'll see a gay POTUS before we ever get close to seeing an atheist/agnostic in the WH:

While 41% of USAmericans believe that "society should reject homosexuality as a way of life", 57% of USAmericans believe that "it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values".

Posted by: Disputo on October 24, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

I do not understand why the US is the rightmost point on the graph. we do not have the highest per capita GDP...

Posted by: yep on October 24, 2007 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget South Korea as a major outlier. The ROK bucked the historic trend and became more religious even as it became wealthier during the '60s and '70s. Part of this, I suspect, is due to the incredibly unequal nature of the wealth gains there during the Park and Chun dictatorships: despite per-capita real GDP growth of several hundred percent over the first ten years of the Park regime, real wages grew less than 10%. No wonder so many Koreans left in those days.

Generally speaking, increasing wealth leads to decreasing religiosity, and not the other way around. It really depends on distributional factors, though. Highly unequal, rapidly growing countries are high-stress places; high social stress in turn leads to increased religiosity.

Posted by: Pete on October 24, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

I was watching Glenn Beck the other night talk about Christianity and capitalism being one in the same.

When Beck converted to Mormonism, he must not have learned about the LDS Church's socialist days, when all property was held in common under a "United Order" patterned after the early Christian church under Peter. Oops.

Posted by: Pete on October 24, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

I would venture (as a religous person - a non-Mitt supporting Mormon) the right way to read this graph is that as we get richer, our need for spiritual fulfillment decreases. Who needs to go to church when you can shop on ebay from your iphone while at the vacation house!

Obviously this is a massive generalization.

I think that as you meet your basic bodily needs your need for spiritual things decreases. Grinding, inescapable poverty produces a natural need for SOMETHING better, even if its in the "next life".

Its no coincidence that evangelical christianity is making huge inroads in Africa, Central America etc. When everything else in your life is horrible, church is a great escape.

Posted by: CFK on October 24, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

I do not understand why the US is the rightmost point on the graph. we do not have the highest per capita GDP...

Partly depends on method, anyway see the graph.

Posted by: TJM on October 24, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

I just mapped state per capita income against the Statistical Abstract data on adherents of Christian and Jewish congregations. It's pretty much all over the map. By this measure, religiosity ranges from about 30% of the population for Oregon to nearly 75% for Utah, while state incomes vary from about $27K for Mississippi to $57K for DC. The correlation coefficient is actually positive but very small (0.055). I'll shoot you the data, Kevin.

Posted by: DCBob on October 24, 2007 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

It would have made much more sense to make the horizontal scale logarithmic, but then that would probably confuse too many readers. They probably did a linear (straight line) fit to data with X being LOG($) and simply drew the curve onto this chart.

Posted by: bigTom on October 24, 2007 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Its no coincidence that evangelical christianity is making huge inroads in Africa, Central America etc.

Well, and busybodies, I mean missionaries, play some role in that too.

Posted by: craigie on October 24, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

There is scholarship supporting CFK. In a recent book on the world values study, Norris and Inglehart suggest that religiosity is inversely related to security. That is, in countries where people are living on the edge, where the necessities of life are in question, people are more religious. In Western Europe, where the social safety net is arguably least porous, religious adherence is lowest.

Posted by: Sheila Kennedy on October 24, 2007 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

DCBob's comment made me take a look at how PEW defined religiosity:

To examine the relationship between wealth and religious belief, a three-item index was created, with "3" representing the most religious position. Respondents were given a "1" if they believe faith in God is necessary for morality; a "1" if they say religion is very important in their lives; and a "1" if they pray at least once a day.

This is incredibly biased. Just off the top of my head:

1) It is biased towards Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Xianity, Islam) that involve a belief in a single "God".

2) It is biased towards exclusionary religions.

3) It is biased towards evangelical religions.

4) It is biased against religions that involve little or no prayer.

The only religiosity attribute that appears to have little or no bias is "religion is very important in their lives", which IMO would seem to be a sufficient item for measuring religiosity.

In short, I think the graph is crap.

Posted by: Disputo on October 24, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

This is a fascinating subject, but I think this chart may be something of a Rorschach test for one's own personal biases.

First, you don't have a control group of atheistic countries. So is religiosity the problem, or is it that some religions are worse than others?

In other words, it appears that if you indexed this by religion you could argue that Christian countries are more economically prosperous than Muslim countries.

And what if you then broke that down by denomination - would Protestants be more economically productive than Catholics, as go some stereotypes?

Second, not everyone will agree with the way they are quantifying "religiosity":

"Respondents were given a "1" if they believe faith in God is necessary for morality; a "1" if they say religion is very important in their lives; and a "1" if they pray at least once a day."

What about people who pray more than 2 or 3 or 4 times a day (which would increase points for Islam)? What about people who believe that their religious doctrine trumps science?

Or what about a more objective measurement, such as countries that force taxpayers to donate part of their income directly to churches? That would include a lot of European countries.

Posted by: Augustus on October 24, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Of course the US is an outlier - the religious in this country are out lying! [Rimshot]

Posted by: Lab Partner on October 24, 2007 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

Here is an order from randomness chart of "protestants, evangelicals, and mormons / 1000 pop" vs "Household income". r = -0.56.
http://www.orderfromrandomness.com/usa360/?chart=modernreligion+familyinc+scs=0

Not sure how per capita would differ. There may be family size/number of children differences.

Posted by: jefff on October 24, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

the right way to read this graph is that as we get richer, our need for spiritual fulfillment decreases.

well, not really wishing to open this can of worms but religiosity and spirituality are not really the same and can't really be conflated thus... some of the most spiritual people I have met have been areligious and some of the least spiritual have been the most religious so I don't think the graph really shows a declining need for spiritual fulfillment with wealth (and Maslow would certainly disagree). apropos of this, what disputo said at 8.04.

re. the curve, I'd suggest that it's simple a case of wealth giving more of us the time and exposure to different ideas that can lead us to question our received belief systems as well as the freedom for such explorations (as there is a correlation here too). Americans are exceptional only in that they are exceptional in their credulousness (sorry, I just had to get that wholly gratuitous and unwarranted swipe in there.

Posted by: snicker-snack on October 24, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

There are no atheists in the poorhouse.

Posted by: Luther on October 24, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

There are no atheists in the poorhouse.

Especially if they refuse to serve you soup unless you sit through a church service first....

Posted by: Disputo on October 24, 2007 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

The US is the rightmost point in this plot because PEW didn't survey in Luxemborg. Seriously, they didn't.

Posted by: TJ on October 24, 2007 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Gelman does a lot of the state vs. income vs religiosity kinda graphs, especially as it relates to voting. Often posts stuff on his blog. He's a stats & poli sci prof @ Columbia.

Posted by: Jor on October 24, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ronald Inglehart and colleagues have spent the last thirty years outlining this stuff. To my knowledge they have not looked at the breakdown in individual states. I know the folks at places like Cato, the Hudson Institute, and the Heritage Foundation take the relationship between security and traditional values seriously. They understand that if they allow more risk-sharing in the United States cultural values trend toward Scandinavia’s post materialist values. It is by no mistake they encourage policies and rhetoric that undermine security.

Posted by: bellumregio on October 24, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

Gee maybe it's the power of compound interest.

Instead of tithing 10% to the church you put that money to work for yourself... well pretty soon, by God, you get all that interest instead of the church.

Posted by: paulo on October 24, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

The connection here is:
Higher income -> higher education -> rationalism

Inglehart's postmaterialist thesis is more about valued issues, instead of beliefs.

Posted by: Neil in Ottawa on October 24, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

A little while back, Point of Inquiry did a podcast interview with Philip Kitcher that touched on the insecurity-religiousity idea.

Would also like to see a similar graph using median income . . .

Posted by: Dan S. on October 24, 2007 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

More here: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/

Per your query; here is a quick plot per-capita income v.s. percentage church attendance; one dot for each of the lower 48 states and DC.

http://xrl.us/7ohs

Same as.

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pRkQYR9Agq0jNw_Sc_8FkAw&gid=2

Some signs of an analogous pattern. Charting in Google Docs is pretty weak.

Posted by: Ben Hyde on October 24, 2007 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I'm reminded of the end of _Brave New World_ when Mustapha Mond explains to the Savage why there's no more Christianity:
http://www.huxley.net/bnw/seventeen.html

Posted by: Ted on October 24, 2007 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Ask and ye shall receive....

This was pretty easy to do; took me about 45 min. I couldn't find a "religiosity" measure per state, but I did find a ranking of various religious attributes per state on the Glenmary Research Center website. I ran a regression of "churches per 10,000 people" against "GDP per capita", both taken from the year 2000. This is what I found:

http://img85.imageshack.us/img85/3713/slide2pe4.jpg

Pretty good correlation. Next I ranked GDP per capita and Churches per 10,000 people, with "1" being the highest GDP per capita and highest Churches per 10,000 people. Here are those data:

http://img85.imageshack.us/img85/7686/slide1fd9.jpg

The data speak for themselves; like the rest of the world, US states with high GDP have relatively low religiosity, and vice versa.

Posted by: CKT on October 24, 2007 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Good to see that other people have been reading Inglehart. From the 65-nation World Values Survey (1990) he teased out the two most significant underlyng axes for wealth (let me quote a previous post here): one running from Traditional to Rational-legal and the other running from Survival to Self -Expression values. (Interestingly, in both cases, the first value is strikingly similar to conservative Republican values: Traditional world-views are strongly authoritarian, with absolute values and are anti-divorce, anti-abortion, and are uber-patriotic. Rational-Legal are opposite. Self-Expression value holders emphasize environmental protection, and women's rights.) Together, these two lines account for over half of cross-cultural variation according to factor analysis.

Snapping both continuum onto a chart, you find that richer societies group into the upper right corner (higher Rational and higher Self-Expression), whereas poorer societies group in the opposite corner.

There is a conflating factor in that Northern European countries tend to be wealthy and weakly Protestant. David Kennedy and Jared Diamond would blame geography for their wealth.

Posted by: mcdruid on October 24, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

The US as Religiosity Outlier:

One of the interesting aspects of the history of the US was that people were much less religious in Colonial America, except for New England, than they are today in America. Even in New England, church membership declined after the first generation of Puritan immigrants because not enough of later generations had conversion experiences to keep things up. This ongoing crisis of faith in New England was a major factor leading to the Salem Witch Trials, which reflected a general fear among the religious of New England that Satan was subverting the New Jerusalem. Almost every colony had a state church during the Colonial period, but outside New England, popular participation in the established churches was low; only about 10% of the colonists belonged to a congregation of anything in 1700.

American established churches never gained the degree of power, wealth, and influence they held in most of Europe, however, and the English model of an established churches plus politically impotent but tolerated churches came to dominate in the colonies as well.

This begins to change during the First Great Awakening (roughly 1730-60), which is the first major wave of American revivalism. Congregation membership rose from 10% to 30% of the colonists. The big winners were Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists.

The most absolutely important moment in the history of why the US stays more religious than most Industrial nations, however, is the American Revolution. Several crucial things happen:
1) The Southern colonies abolish their state churches because said state churches are linked to the Church of England. This leads to the eventual ending of official state religions by the early 19th century all across the country.
2) Many founding fathers are deists. Because of this, they don't set up a national state religion, and tend to foster trend 1.
3) The established religions, weaker than in Europe, basically go down quietly with no extended bitter struggle, unlike in most of Europe.
4) With no long bitter struggle against an Established church connected to conservatism, American liberalism does not become embittered against religion. Further...

The Second Great Awakening (1800-1830) spreads active Christianity on the frontier and into Northern cities as they grow. The result is that the Whigs, and later the Republicans, who are the party of Classical Liberalism, are also the party of 19th century evangelical Christianity. The American middle class is strongly defined by its adherence to the churches which spread in the first and second Great Awakenings (Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, Baptists, Methodists). Said middle class adheres to laissez-faire in economics and the imposition of religiously inspired social control over the poor, such as the temperance movement, closing businesses on Sunday, etc.

American liberalism becomes increasingly infused with religion in the 19th century, as does American conservatism as well. Further, the lack of an established church means that religious groups develop which appeal to every level of society, from working class members of the Assemblies of God to middle-class Methodists to upper-class Episcopalians.

Now, in the 20th century, liberalism becomes more secular, though there's still a strong religious left in the country. There are also secular and religious rightists as well. But because both sides of most political conflicts in the US have had some churches on their side, America has become less secularized, as compared to Europe, where the march of progress tended to trample the old churches underfoot and to make liberals much less friendly to religion due to long bitter fights against established Churches.

Posted by: John Biles on October 24, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

I have a hunch that religiousity might be more correlated with infant mortality rates and life expectancy that money. I don't have a problem not believing in God, but it would be awfully hard to face a dying child without being able to give a convincing argument that everything was going to be OK up in heaven. The US does have high income, but health indicators are probably not up there as high.

Posted by: Barry on October 24, 2007 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have a problem not believing in God, but it would be awfully hard to face a dying child without being able to give a convincing argument that everything was going to be OK up in heaven.

Interesting. I would think it's the opposite - the fact of dying or suffering children is one very good reason not to believe in God.

Posted by: craigie on October 25, 2007 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

While I am inclined to expect that a matching graph for the US states would in fact show a similar trend, I think "churches per 10000 people" is probably a very poor proxy for religiosity. (Statistically speaking).

Simply graphing rural vs. urban populations would likely show this trend ... even if religiosity was the same. Urban populations generally have higher income (and need it, for higher cost of living). But given the concentration of people in urban settings, it would seem likely that, given the same fraction of people attending church, a city would have fewer churches with larger congregations relative to the countryside where greater distance and dispersion necessitates more churches with smaller congregations.

So *even if* all US states had identical religiosity, the simple fact that a greater fraction of the population of some states live in cities would probably cause the graph to look qualitatively quite like the one CKT produced.

Posted by: IdahoEv on October 25, 2007 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

Who all are on the international graph? Is it just Africa, Europe, and the US? Or are Asian, Pacific, and South American nations represented as well?

I'm curious because there are some Asian nations that are rich but fairly religious (S. Korea) or poor but fairly nonreligious (China) and I want to know if they're plotted.

Posted by: IdahoEv on October 25, 2007 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

To IdahoEv:
There are significant factors that go against your thoughts:
Currently, the largest churches - megachurches - are suburban, not urban as they were half a century ago,
There has been a great deal of consolidation of rural churches with improvements in transportation infrastructure.
In many urban neighborhoods the most common churches are small "storefront" churches.

Posted by: natural cynic on October 25, 2007 at 2:53 AM | PERMALINK

Income by state should be adjusted by cost of living by state. The ACCRA data for corporations moving workers from state to state is useful. California tends to be about 40% more expensive than the national average. So, your graph would look a lot different adjusted for standard of living, where Minnesota comes in first and Kansas seventh.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 25, 2007 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

I think the primary effect is that material wealth tends to focus one's attention on the here and now rather than an afterlife. Jesus Christ himself said "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I think there's also a secondary effect that works like Kevin suggests. If you're nonreligious, one of the biggest motivating factors in your life is likely to be money. (And, by the way, if there's no God, why not step on anyone who stands between you and more money?)

Posted by: Richard on October 25, 2007 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

The "state" information is very unhelpful. What you have are two things that are correlated, sure, but the CAUSATION is rural vs. urban. Rural areas are more religious for a variety of reasons, and you can't have a megachurch in the country. In addition, rural areas in the US are poorer. THAT is the root cause of the two things being tracked. In case anyone is still reading comments at this point....

Posted by: David on October 25, 2007 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

No China? No India? Sorry I don't have time to look at the complete study, but it's pretty strange that the two most highly populated countries in the world don't even show up on the chart.

Posted by: what now? on October 25, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

I would think rather than "Churches per 10,000 people", which would be skewed by smaller scattered congregations in rural areas, a better statistic would be "Church membership per 10,000 people" or "Regular attendance per 10,000 people".

Posted by: DRS on October 25, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

People, like Richard above, who think that without God there is nothing stopping people from killing each other, scare the hell out of me, since what they are really revealing is there own psychotic impulses. However, they also make me grateful that religion does exist as a method to help keep their psychotic impulses in check.

Posted by: Disputo on October 25, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

I would think rather than "Churches per 10,000 people", which would be skewed by smaller scattered congregations in rural areas, a better statistic would be "Church membership per 10,000 people" or "Regular attendance per 10,000 people".
Posted by: DRS

Yes. And I think this would reveal that fewer Americans today, thank god, are attending church than did 40 or 50 years ago.

While it's true that we've seen a rise in the numbers of whack job evangels, attendance is so far down in the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, and membership in the Mormon "church" has been stagnant for at least a decade that a few mega churches here and there hardly show a rise in overall religiosity in the country.

Posted by: JeffII on October 25, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK
But whichever it is (probably a bit of all three), the United States, as usual, is an outlier.

Far too little data to make it anything but a curious observation, but the graph is consistent with the U.S. and Kuwait being on a separate curve that parallels the main one, but is offset because of some common distinction that Kuwait and the U.S. share that differentiates them from those countries clustering around the main curve.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 25, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

A few years ago I saw a study that indicated something like 90 percent of the members of the American Academy of Sciences were atheists or agnostics. In other words, scientists who have achieved the highest level in their profession are less likely to believe in a personally involved God. Contrast that with Texas High School cheerleaders, who uniformly praise God and give thanks for his personnal intervention in allowing them to achieve their positions.

Posted by: fafner1 on October 25, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Disputo, Richard sounds far less psychotic than certain other posters around here (hint, hint). His "devil's advocate" question need not relate to "killing" at all; does anyone seriously question that religious people have an added motivation against cutting ethical corners?

Posted by: Citizen on October 25, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Citizen, I might agree that religious people have an added motivation against cutting ethical corners if I ever observed that religious people as a group behaved any better than non-religious people. Religious people have proclivity for rationalizing the worst sorts of behavior as consistent with their religion. Sometimes it seems that their behavior determines their religious beliefs, rather than vice versa.

Posted by: fafner1 on October 25, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Of course coming from the view of one in the US who is religious, I could argue that this is because the revivalists of the early 20th century corrupted Christianity in the US by associating industrousness with Christianity despite the Gospels countless warnings against personal wealth and admonitions to give freely to charity, even past the point of logic.
"You don't have to give 90% of your resources to good causes, just give 10% to me and you're saved"

Posted by: J on October 25, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

"A few years ago I saw a study that indicated something like 90 percent of the members of the American Academy of Sciences were atheists or agnostics..." (fafner1)

This study convincingly shows that the most educated people in the US do not believe in religion.
"Leading scientists still reject God" by Larson and Witham. NATURE| VOL 394 | 23 JULY 1998

Posted by: Neil in Ottawa on October 25, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

The causality is obviously not atheism leading to wealth. The wealthy states became wealthy, almost universally, before they became atheist. Indeed, around the time they became atheist was around the time they began to decline (although they still have a long ways to go before India catches up). Most likely, wealth lead to education which lead to some critical thinking skills. This, in turn, lead to people realizing that some religious doctrines were ludicrous. Some people, as a result, switched religions to ones that made sense, whereas others, rejected religion outright.

On the other hand, this can hardly be used as an argument for atheism. It was predicted in the Bible:

"...I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." -- Matthew 19:24.

Indeed, many religious folks would (correctly) argue that wealth is inherently immoral. If I spend $60,000 on a Hummer instead of $3000 on a used compact car, that's $57,000 I did not donate to charity. That, in turn, means that a few dozen people in the developing world will die as a result. By buying that car, I am deciding that my driving comfort is worth more than a few dozen lives. This is a fundamentally immoral decision, and one which someone genuinely religious ought not to be able to make (even though few such people exist).

Posted by: Peter on October 25, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"I do not understand why the US is the rightmost point on the graph. we do not have the highest per capita GDP..."

Posted by: yep on October 24, 2007

-------------

Not only that, but the graph presumably doesn't consider national debt. Once you add in those factors you might find that America is much poorer and fits in better with the other countries which have the same degree of religiosity.

Kevin, you need to do more on this and also take a look at Charlie Rangel's latest tax proposal.

Posted by: MarkH on October 25, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's not that wealth and lack of religiosity are linked, but that education levels are linked to both wealth and lack of religiosity.

Posted by: Mark on October 25, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

what about temples and mosques? only churches are taken into account?

Posted by: shawn on October 25, 2007 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Mud races make me vomit blood.

Posted by: Halibuttox on October 25, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

1. Correlation != Causality or even remotely explains common causes.

2. Perhaps the US is an outlier because of immigration from those countries on both ends of the curve (i.e. US immigration is not uniformly distributed.)?

3. Churches per capita is probably not a good enough measure of religiosity hence the poor fit on that second analysis (for example if richer areas build more churches per dollar because there is more to spend this will cause richer areas to appear more religious and poorer less.)

Posted by: neet on October 25, 2007 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

No one has mentioned this yet, but one obvious posible source of the effects in the graph is not religiosity per se, but the TYPE of religiosity. Muslim countries are forbidden to charge interest because it violates the Koran. This has had a strong trammeling effect on their economic potential. How much? We don't know--because India and China aren't in the mix. I'm afraid the graph is useless without them.

Fun to talk about, though.

Posted by: Wordboy Dave on October 25, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

what about Jewish people? Even the most uber religious Jewish people argue-ably have the most money and power in this world. Dont get me wrong, they deserve it because their religion encourages them to live like the here and now is heaven. unlike christians who live under g-d's thumb. silly christians. This study is biased against christians though as it only takes into account "churches". It needs to include Jewish, Muslim institutions and all religions...

Posted by: Barney on October 26, 2007 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Well said, Barney. I know many Jewish wealthy individuals that happen to be religious.

Posted by: Mike on October 26, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

some reasons

TRUE
" As people get less religious, they get wealthier. " is true
1) about 1 hour time at church per week is a waste of time when million dollar ideas could be created?
2) in times of disaster you can sleep and hope for the best..
3) people give money to church perhaps between
$260-520 per year ..

FALSE
1) 1 hour at church is good relaxation, or faith
2) faith allows you to still function in times of disaster


Posted by: urworstnightmare on October 26, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

This co-relates perfectly with Marx' theory about religion as something people need for comfort in hard times, and which keeps them from seeing the real reason for their poverty. "Opium for the people" indeed.

He thought that under Socialism/Communism religious belief would disappear because it would not be needed. It's no surprise that people who live in rich and stable countries are less religious than those who don't.

Posted by: Daniel on October 26, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

The current graph is a single point in time comparison. What would be quite interesting is to see how the correlation would develop in time for an outlier like the USA.
Questions:

- For the USA: does increased wealth also correlate with lower religiosity and did the USA only start at an extremely high level of religiosity and therefore is not yet in tune with Western Europe?
- or is it the other way around?

And what about Kuwait, S.Korea, etc. in this regard?

Posted by: Erik on October 26, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

This is more of a cause and effect question than some land breaking discovery. There is a direct increasing correlation to wealth and education. The more educated a country's people are the wealthier they are. I suspect this is why there is such a divide between the two, people who are educated generally have a tendency to be less religious and look for their answers in different places. While the less educated groups have a tendency to be more religious because they simply are not exposed to other options, what they see is what they know. I think it would be incorrect to characterize it like "people are poor because they are religious." I think a better characterization would be people are religious because they are poor. I also do not think this is the homerun arguement against religion that it is being touted. It seems like arguing that individual wealth is based on per capita GDP while making up a subjective value like "Religiosity" on the other scale is a pretty far stretch.

Posted by: Eric on October 26, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

"No one has mentioned this yet, but one obvious posible source of the effects in the graph is not religiosity per se, but the TYPE of religiosity."

To me, this is the reason why the graph is totally wrong. In "wealthier societies," people just follow the "state based religion" instead of one of the "brand name" religions. The US government has it's creeds and beliefs and the average American is satisified with them. i.e. as a country, we have beliefs in what wealth is and what is justice.

"The more educated a country's people are the wealthier they are."

the US and the UK are so smart and wealthy that they've gotten fat but don't know how to stay fit.

if an oil based economy that crashes or our world ecosystem collapses from the party, our notions about wealth could change a great deal.

Posted by: smitty on October 26, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

This model assumes that wealth, or money, is the ultimate goal in life. In that is true for you, then religion will only slow you down. But if you think there may be something more out there than simply buying stuff, then religion is a great place to find answers.

Posted by: anonymous on October 26, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

I've suspected this correlation because I think the poor need hope more than the rich. When you're poor and you see no way out, you have to wonder why you bother to keep living in misery. Religious faith promises a happy afterlife. This gives the poor something to hope for. What's 60, 70, or even 80 years of misery compared to an eternity in heaven?
I like the quote: "Religion is the opiate of the masses."
Religion helps the poor get through their daily grind, it is very much like a drug in that sense.
The rich, on the other hand, have less need for hope. They have less need for the crutch of religion, so fewer are inclined to believe. Plus, if you don't believe in eternal justice it makes it easier to make a buck by taking advantage of your fellow man.
However the rich realize that they need religion to keep their poor workers from revolting. If you take religion away from the poor, if they realize that god, heaven, hell, eternal justice, etc. are nothing but empty words, then they'll have no reason to keep living. Some will suicide and some will "look out for #1" by taking from the rich. Either way the rich lose their workforce and possibly their lives and fortunes. Supporting religion is a matter of practical neccesity for them.

Posted by: twriter on October 26, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

This line of thinking is pretty common in the world's religions, as well. The thinking generally goes that material wealth is a barrier to spiritual progress. Consider who are the villians, for the most part, in the Bible. Wealthy kings and bankers.

This was expressed pretty succinctly by the Dalai Lama about 10 years ago. In his denomination of Buddhism there are five levels of reincarnation: animals, demons, humans, demigods and gods. They are each associated with emotional states that keep them from enlightenment: ignorance, anger, desire, envy and pride; respectively. The Dalai Lama's comment was that he did not consider the residents of California to be described by the "human" category, but closer to the description of demigods. This is important because humans have the best chance of enlightenment. The desire that goes along with poverty is easier to overcome , in the view of many buddhists, than the envy associated with our (my, Western) lifestyle.

Posted by: Ian Smithdahl on October 26, 2007 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

This is pretty much a classic example of misleading with statistics - you throw up a scatter chart and then draw a line that matches your prejudice, and come up with reasons to discount the outliers.

But really, if you look at that chart, the clusters that you see all have to do with history. Places where there is poverty are places with thuggish governments. Eastern Europe is recovering from poverty not because they have abandoned religion, but because they are no longer behind the iron curtain. India has poor infrastructure and is overpopulated.

Are these things caused by religiosity? Maybe, but I don't see anything here that leads me to think that what correlation you *can* show without discounting outliers is anything more than a coincidence.

Furthermore, wealth is a lousy measure of success. The U.S. has a huge disparity between the wealthiest and poorest people. Would you rather have enough money to live a comfortable life, and have all your neighbors be in that situation, or be poor and constantly worried about money, and have a neighbor who's richer than Croesus?

Posted by: Ted Lemon on October 26, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a broad hypothesis I'd love to see some social scientist (is that an oxymoron?) test: As the level of widespread education increases both the level of wealth tends to increase and the religiosity tends to decrease. Obiter dicta: The U.S. may be an "outlier" because, while we have a very broad (relatively) spread of education among our population, the "depth" or quality of much of what we call education is shallow - most of our college-attenders are really getting job training, not education (and of course, that's exactly what most of them want).

Posted by: JoeJ on November 3, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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