Economics and Religion in the U. S.

“You will find since recorded history groups with occupations most fraught with uncertainty will have the most enthusiasm for supernatural religious beliefs.  Farmers have always been a very religious group.  Bankers are not as religious.”

The professor in my first year of graduate school made me lean forward. I had come to realize by age 22 when people spoke of the “religious truth”, it was most often the faith of their parents.  But now, professor was introducing a new variable that influenced the definition of “truth”.

We know economic influence appears in many forms.   A recent article explained how economics might explain why the U. S. is more religious than Europe today.

The article by Tobin Grant, “Religion and Inequality Go Hand-in-Hand”  (Christianity Today), explains religion is strongest in countries where the income inequality is greatest.  It is true in both rich and poor countries.  It is not surprising or unusual that the U. S. is highly religious, Grant writes.

In addition, within the U. S., states with the most unequal distribution of income are the most religious while those with the most equal are the least.  These observations make the link even stronger.

What causes this link may be a complicated question to answer.  The interesting thing is that it appears to be there.

The apparent link strengthens the argument of those who find religion is a product of the human mind’s seach for a way to deal with whatever comes along.

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About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years.
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26 Responses to Economics and Religion in the U. S.

  1. “when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Duet 8:12-14)

    Interesting post Jon. You are on solid biblical ground (maybe there is hope for you). The well off tend toward autonomy and away from faith. Also “bankers are not as religious”, in fact they are antichrist in nature. They were the moneychangers in the temple in Christ’s time. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and tolerated the pharisees who were the religious cronies of the bankers, his real enemies. The gentle Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace went after them with a whip. Four days later He hung on a cross. Once again, and I believe very soon, He will drive them out. This time they will stay out.

  2. Avatar of opinionated opinionated says:

    What a queer thing to say, lindgren.

  3. entech says:

    An interesting bit of quoting here. Very selective, but almost any biblical quote can be selected for the purpose of the quoter different people can and do show that god is great or God is evil. as the whim takes them.
    Chapter 8 follows from the instruction to destroy all the Canaanites and other pagans in 7, so that they could steal the land, and precedes the justification for destroying them in 9.
    But chapter 8 is a warning that if you don’t obey me then this and worse will happen to you.

    8:1. You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. Beginning of 8 it says keep my commandments and I will make you big and strong and so that you can occupy the other peoples land.

    8:10.You will eat your fill and then praise the Lord your God because of the good land he has given you.8:11 Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 8:12 When you eat your fill, … verse 12, your quote.

    8:19 Now if you forget the Lord your God at all and follow other gods, worshiping and prostrating yourselves before them, I testify to you today that you will surely be annihilated. 8:20 Just like the nations the Lord is about to destroy from your sight, so he will do to you because you would not obey him.
    Now the last two verses are crucial to understanding the basis for religious morality, my King James Bible uses the words “ye shall surely perish” for “surely annihilated” and to me the basis for Christianity is the unspoken commandment the one that makes all the rest suspect – that is ‘Lest ye perish’. A morality based on fear is no morality at all – it is blatant hypocrisy.

    • Michael Ross says:

      These verses are hard for me also.
      This is the best I’ve read on this subject:
      http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig9/green-p7.1.1.html
      Maybe it will help you also.

      • entech says:

        A very interesting piece, but it still leaves a lot of ambiguity open and does not explain some contradiction.
        It is said that the Canaanites had had fair warning; that they did not accept the God of the Israelites therefore they were pagan and deserved to die. A consistent theme is ‘I am a jealous god’; ‘thou shalt have none before me’, surely if there is only the one god where do the possible others come from? My own contention has been that the god of Abraham is a developmental process from polytheism, possibly related to Zoarastraian thought, to a one of many but this one is the only one that is on top, the only one to worship (a bit Abrahamic), with the many fading into angels and into non-existence leaving a monotheism.

        As for the story of the opposition being depraved, perverted etc. (worshipping FALSE gods is a natural for this story) I can only point out that the victor has always written history. When the Romans finally defeated Carthage, it turns out the defeated enemy ate their young and worse, anti-Semitism (more honestly Jew hatred) arose from a similar habit the Romans had, always denigrating to the extreme all of their defeated foes; especially those like the Jews who had the temerity to revolt, to reject the perfection of the Roman Empire – starting to sound a bit like the Canaanites? This Roman habit carried over with the handing over of the Magisterium when the Caesars gave way to the Popes.

        It is still, and at least form always will be, impossible to justify the wholesale slaughter of other human beings especially as it was being done on the instruction of god, the omnipotent and omniscient creator of everything. And, one must assume everything includes the good, bad and indifferent. Surely God could have found a better way, a humane way. The slaughter of women and children is beyond any explanation, the conjecture in Paul Greens piece is total desperation:
        The main question for many is regarding the children. I believe this was the last of a last resort for God in dealing with the free and sovereign will of their parents. Here are some points:
        1. Killing children was not an accepted or universal military practice. It applied only to specific tribes and required the unique and specific instruction of God, the giver of all life. God, not an army, was the decider in this matter.
        2. It was not a punishment or judgement. Due to the extreme wickedness of their parents, young children would be in a physically, sexually and emotionally abused condition – and offered, from birth, to occult spirits. Deliverance from this was not freely available until demonic forces were completely routed at the cross and resurrection of Christ. Successful adoption of such disturbed children would be an impossible task, and instead cause mayhem within Israel as they grew up.
        3. To leave them alive would mean they would starve or be eaten by wild beasts.
        Whatever the reasons, one certain conclusion is that no one but God can judge such conditions and that absent a specific command of God; any killing of women and children was not permitted.

        Specious nonsense, a being that can create the universe and everything at the snap of a finger (or at least the speaking of a word, in the beginning was the word) can do no better than kill the kids to keep them safe? Sorry, I cannot deny that the whole of creation had a creator, but I am absolutely certain that the God of the Christians is not, more, could not be the one.

      • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

        Michael 4:53 “This is the best I’ve read on this subject:” Like entech, I found the reference to have inaccurate statements and inconclusive narrative. I’d suggest you begin reading the Bible in this way: Every author was writing to a specific audience of that time with a specific goal in mind. They were not writing a message to you or I. An entech points out, the Bible is not the place, or maybe is the worst place, for us to go for good moral values.

        • entech says:

          It is common for both sides of the argument to quote selectively. You really need to go back and forward from the quote to see the full context. The three chapters from Deuteronomy are a good example. The other thing that happens, and sceptics are as bad as apologists at this one, is to take a small quote completely out of context and then ignore the continuation.

          A lot of Darwin’s terminology should be taken in the context of his time; the word savage did not have the connotations we have now. There is a well used quote where he talks about the savages in Africa and it sounds quite derogatory and finishes saying if left alone they would die out – no one “NO ONE” ever completes the section and tells where he says that we would be pretty awful people if we allowed this to happen to our fellow humans.

          When I was at school; it was common to say don’t quote the bible, it has so much in it that you can prove anything you like.

          Depending on how you want to pick and choose the Bible can be the best or worst place to look for morality.

  4. Bob says:

    “Four days later He hung on a cross. Once again, and I believe very soon, He will drive them out. This time they will stay out.” Michael Ross 2:51

    I would say to you Michael, that Christs, or Jesus’s sacrifice is no real sacrifice if you really think about it (freethinker) because Jesus suffered for three days on the cross, only three days, and afterward he wins THE lottery. After just three days of suffering he is in heaven, or whereever he wants to be, he’s got all the power of the universe, physics, and all the wine women, money gold anything, anything, he wants into eternity. My god, I’d trade places with Jesus anyday. Lots of us humans suffer worse for years and years longer, die, are litte kids and starve to death by five, or ten or something and then die, or are molested and this Jesus, up in his heaven with his riches and all universal power doesn’t do a damn thing to save anyone else. What a creep!!! NOBODY should worship that dick Jesus.

  5. Jon,

    I haven’t read that article, so with that caveat in mind, I’d like to respond to this statement:
    “The apparent link strengthens the argument of those who find religion is a product of the human mind’s seach for a way to deal with whatever comes along.”

    I think you’re overstretching a bit. Your claim is certainly possible but not convincing on its own, as you’re working from a correlation. As I know you know, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. It might, and that’s why it’s possible, and why Christians shouldn’t reject that possibility outright, but it just as easily might not, as I think you imply when you acknowledge “What causes this link may be a complicated question to answer.” In fact, because of that acknowledgment I was a little surprised to read the rest of the essay. It seemed to me that you then proceeded to build off that link and posited that it helps demonstrate that religion is just a by-product of the human mind. It might be, but one does need to be careful.

    Correlations may be coincidental. Additionally, when a link can be shown, the correlation in itself doesn’t establish the direction of the link. The direction may be opposite of what one thinks or even circular. Finally, some additional cause or causes may be at work.

    Just think if we applied that to the point at hand (economic disparity increases religiosity):

    1) just happens to be; it’s coincidental
    2) actually, religiosity causes economic disparity (really, why didn’t you take the link in THIS direction? :-D True, it would leave the “cause” of religiosity unaccounted for but it would let you rail against religiosity as a root of economic disparity ;-) )
    3) the direction is circular: the two sides to the correlation influence each other, much like how violence in games and tv are related to violence in a culture–it’s a bit of a chicken and egg circularity
    4) Similar to number 1, except that causes x,y, and z are actually at play, linking economic disparity and religiosity (maybe some other stressors in the environment/culture are causing people to turn to religion while the same set or a different set of stressors are causing economic disparity between the rich and poor)

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Rev. Herbel 9:21 Thank you for taking the time to make this careful response. You are, of course, very correct in the various relationships between “cause and effect”. Correlations do not mean causation, and, can mean nothing at all. Had I more space, or maybe been more careful with the space I used, I would have put in all the disclaimers you included.

      I am on perhaps a different quest than you. Since religion appears to me to be only of the mind, I am interested in where it arrived from and how it traveled there. I make this tenative conclusion it is in the mind exclusively because there is, as yet, no other known source.

      Being from the social sciences, my instincts, rightly or wrongly, lead me to consider the variables that influence religious beliefs to be similar to such things as political beliefs. Political beliefs have been the a subject of studies linking them to socio-economic variables for many decades.

      • I’m actually intrigued by the idea of grounding religion in the mind, but I am also aware that how we’d perceive that and understand that are radically different.

        Admittedly, I don’t share your political views on various issues from what I have been able to discern but politics tends to concern me less in general, so I’m not nearly as likely to comment on your political posts.

        I am a big advocate for religious freedom, however. People should have the freedom to believe or not believe without fear of persecution and I’m critical of countries that are largely Orthodox but fail to be consistent with what I see as Orthodox teaching on free will (we all have it) and reason/mind (we should be reasoning our way to the Orthodox faith, not forced there with legal and political threats). I am sympathetic to many Eastern Orthodox feeling threatened by the influx of American-funded evangelicals, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc., after the fall of communism, but I disagree that the response should be legal censure. I know, a rock and a hard place, and lesser of two evils and all, but I still am critical of going down that road.

  6. Bob says:

    Jon, have you read books by Dan Dennet, the cognitive scientist, or Steven Pinker, the evolutionary psychologist, or Sam Harris, a neuroscientist? According to these guys, scientists have almost uncovered, discovered why humans invented religions in the first place.

  7. Thanks to Michael Ross for his initial comment (and his others)
    Entech said “chapter 8 follows from instructions to destroy all Canaanites and other pagans…”
    Indeed the Lord God did give those instructions— to the dismay of all who do not believe Him or His word. None of us can know the mind of God (Jehovah, the Judeo-Christian God of the OT and NT) None of us can understand His purposes but what I have learned in being a part of an intensive study group of the OT last year, God told the Hebrews (His chosen people) to destroy those occupying the land promised to
    Abraham and his descendants to insure the purity of the Israelites’ worship of the one true God. God did not want pagan idol worship to come into his People’s lives but they did not obey the instructions about the Canaanites and the other idol worshipping people in that land…..the Israelites sowed seeds of trouble when they mixed with the pagans they had been commanded to kill…totally. We can see the results of that disobedience clearly today and throughout Israel’s long history as a people. ( especially in the OT book of Judges)
    Unbelievers only see the brutality/unreasonableness (to them) of such commands by God and use the instructions for destroying the pagan peoples as a reason to say that they will not ever accept such a “god”…who to them is only cruel and bloodthirsty.
    This sounds unreasonable and mythical and weird to all Unbelievers who scorn God and His word..but to Biblical scholars it makes sense….God is not mocked nor can any human–past or present—- know His mind and His purposes.
    In spite of unbelief and scorn and mocking…He continues to fulfill His purposes and many recognize the things happening in our time as small parts of the Divine Plan set in place from Creation.
    God’s plans for his Chosen People (Israel) are so clear in scripture…especially in the book of Genesis beginning at chapter 12 where the first promise of land is made to Abraham. Those who cannot stand this promise will never accept that promise nor do they believe any of it—but it will be fulfilled in God’s time and according to His purpose. Believers know this by faith—- and that is impossible to explain to those who have no faith and have only scorn for such things.
    I do not say any of this to be smug or irritating—-I am a Christian Believer and God’s promises to His chosen people are sure and certain…according to faith..that hard- to- understand condition of Believers in Jehovah God. To those who doubt and question, it is stupid in their eyes. But Believers persist in their faith–which is another gift from God….and are willing to take the heat given them by the Scoffers. Jesus promised his followers that such conditions would be a certainty…the scoffing and mocking. He knew well what it was to be scorned.

    • entech says:

      Buffalogal, when I read your posts I always see an honest belief, honestly held and consistently expounded.
      However, there had to be one of those or it wouldn’t be me ;) , My interpretation of your God is not so much as a cruel and malicious being given to being “only cruel and bloodthirsty”. All of man’s gods have been like that, when things go wrong propitiation is required, sacrifice perhaps, even human – and as only the best will do an innocent female child (hate to think of the psychological overtones in that one), the ones least able to defend themselves and as their parents and guardians are true believers they will offer them up rather than defend them. Let me hasten to add that I do not suggest that this kind of extremism was part of Abraham’s crowd although he did come close with his own son – I prefer my friendly local Rabbi’s explanation that this was part of an object lesson by God to Abraham, asking what kind of God did he think he was that a sacrifice, any sacrifice, was required, the cruel God of the Christians turns this into a test of faith! Further the God of Abraham was not very interested in heaven and hell that was the Christian God’s followers. But as Usual I am going off on a tangent.

      My interpretation is more of a juvenile and immature entity, it is not possible to understand such an entity “nor can any human–past or present—- know His mind and His purposes.” In some ways the bible reads like a shadow play or puppet show, the director , who being omniscient, knows the script in advance and chooses which side will believe what, do what and who will win or lose, who is punished and who rewarded, and some time if he gets bored can bring down the curtail whenever he wants. This view makes the “heresy “of Marcion more understandable, Marcion’s contention was that the God of Abraham was not the “Good God”, the creator of everything but one of many – not a benevolent God, but a bit cruel and fickle but by his own lights a ‘just’ God. To end this cruelty the Good God sends an aspect of himself, Jesus, to earth to bring the people to him and save them, not from evil but from the God of Abraham. Marcion made parallel versions of sayings and acts from the old testament and the new testament to demonstrate the differences, to show that the god of the old testament was incompatible with the ideal of the Good God preached by Christ. The Church of Marcion was a serious contender for about 500 years. Why did Marcion fail and Abraham succeed, I can only break a habit and quote, Ecclesiastes 9:11 “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong”.

      I do not think we can validly claim that the Bible is the source of all truth and all knowledge of God and the will of God. The discussion is essentially circular. I will use the musical term dc, da capo from the top.

      In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The history of the heaven and earth is told in a book called the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God. Because God inspired the Bible we know that every word is true and that it contains no mistakes. From the bible we learn about the true God and all we need to know about creation because … dc.

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