Believe In God? Blame It On The Social Sciences.

I took my first graduate course about 50 years ago at the University of Puerto Rico.  The professor was from Austria.  I remember being stunned when he said, “The religiosity of a group is determined by how much uncertainty there is in economic life.”  Such a thought had never occurred to me.

This concept is being discussed again.  Scholars are suddenly interested in why some countries and continents remain quite religious while in others it is fading.

An interesting observation was made recently about the nations of Russia and Czechoslovakia.  After the break up of the old Soviet Union, Russia went the capitalist route privatizing vast industries.  Employment was uncertain and medical and social programs were eliminated.  Religious participation, suppressed for many decades,  skyrocketed.

Czechoslovakia took an different path.  It increased public spending on education, health and social services.  People worried less about their future circumstances than did people in Russia. Religious participation has plummeted.

One would have to guess just as many people in Czechoslovakia heard the Bible and were warned of their eternity in hell as in Russia.  The social forces acting on Czechoslovakians caused them to not buy it.

Sometimes U. S. religiosity is attributed to lack of a European state religion–that competing churches sell the faith and keep it alive.  The real reason may be the uncertainty experienced in U. S. capitalism.

When people the world over face uncertainty, they search for some way to control things.   Thinking about a god helps them.

33 Responses

  1. June

    I am stunned. Why would any intelligent person want to live under the thumb of a King, and have no say what so ever over their life???????? Man, it is like living as an animal — somebody brings you your food at set times, washes your bedding, cleans up after you, and takes care of any other little twiddly you might like. Go for it, Jon, just not in this country.

  2. entech

    I have seen reports similar to this, there is a theory that the more unstable a situation the more the need for the comfort and security that is one of the benefits of religion. Quite often a last ditch defence is that “it makes me feel good”, and “don’t steal the magic from my life”. Good and valid reasons but not proofs.

    The thinking is that in much of Europe, with social welfare, health, relatively secure jobs – with, of course, high taxation to pay for it – the lifestyle is pretty secure, difficult to ascend the heights, not many Steve Jobs around, but a comfortable safety net: these conditions permit a more placid atmosphere with not much anxiety and hence no real need for the ‘comfort and security’ that is part of what religion offers it’s adherents.

    So high risk and excitement need a safety net from the comfort of religion, low risk and a built in social safety net less need of religion.

    I wouldn’t want to start a war so I must say this does not detract in any way for all the other reasons people have for their religious feelings.

    If the poster June hadn’t used your name I would have thought the comments were intended for a different blog 😐

  3. Stan

    Causation or coincidence? Part of it may be that the Czechoslovakians religious history contains instances where the people were forced to switch from RC to Protestant several times during those unfortunate times when they changed hands back and forth during the religious wars. Thus may make them less enthused about religion completely. While the Russian Orthodox Church had a long and reasonably stable history until the Communist Revolution.

    1. entech

      These two amongst many, if you search on something like [relationship religiosity and insecurity], you will find it is more often thought to be causation, These are a much wider range of statistics than just two countries and their response to freedom from communist control. I don’t think the Czechs did a great deal of swapping denominations, the Hapsburgs expelled the protestants and Catholicism was the only denomination permitted.

      1. entech 4:18 Thanks for finding those links. (Sorry about the delay. The 100-200 spams a day here are sorted out all have links. When a regular contributer like you puts in links, the post goes into a suspicious file and I just have to click to put it up.)

        If ever they was something we could call “truth” about the role of social and economic circumstances influencing ideas about whether the invisible and super natural “exist” or not, these provide it. It’s ironic that the guys who were invisible to begin with disappear when conditions improve.

        This was well understood by those who wrote the Bible. They realized they needed to create uncertainty when people’s social and economic circumstances were good. So, they created “sin”, “heaven” and “hell”. This was genius. It has made millions feel insecure and has worked well for promoters of the faith.

  4. Doubtful

    Interesting. I would look at it a little differently, considering the history of socialist governments and the current financial situation in Europe. While insecurity makes people more willing to consider the security provided by a larger entity, what we are seeing is that when the false sense of security provided by unsustainable socialist governments fails people are willing to look to religion. The majority of people are looking for a sense of security from whatever source they can find. They are more receptive of the more immediate result of redistribution of wealth than of self reliance, and when redistribution of wealth arrives at it’s inescapable end they are willing to accept religion because their belief in socialism has failed. This does not speak well of the majority.

    1. Doubtful 2:43 Failure of socialism? My guess it we will not see Europe, in general, change it’s form of economics and government and go to what Russian did. Certainly, some kind of changes have to be made, but what we will see.

  5. Jon,
    For some people, I think this was a factor. For others, likely not. It’s just not that simplistic. Russians were insecure so returned to the church? There were many reasons. Some did so as the intellectual thing to do (seriously). Many others did so in reaction to the repression. Keep in mind how difficult it had been under Communism and also keep in mind that many Russians saw (and still see) participation in the Russian Orthodox Church (even if nominally) as part of Russian identity.

    To turn it around, are atheists atheists just because they’re angry and bitter? Some are, sure, but all? And even the ones who are, is that the only reason they are?

    1. entech

      I think the Russian situation is complicated, as you say, not that simplistic.
      For centuries the Royal Family and the Russian Orthodox Church were heavily intertwined, the regulations of Peter the Great holding sway until the end of Empire in 1917, the Church kept its self-awareness and established seminaries, education and so on. The common use of the double eagle symbol is an example of the closeness and the Czars were regarded almost as demi-gods. I think Stalin, with a very religious mother, was a student at one of them in Georgia before he was expelled.
      After the revolution the church was persecuted and by the time Stalin came to power and developed the cult of personality, attempts at trying to revive the almost demi-god status of the leader failed without the backing of the church. If the communist revolution had kept even half of the promise of improving the lot of the population instead of making it worse and making the authoritarian aspects of government more obvious (and worse) the background influence could have faded instead of gaining an underground strength.
      When the state failed and a market economy was instituted, the resurgent church was encouraged by the authorities and embraced by the people. As you say to some extent to be Russian is to be Orthodox.

      It would be interesting to do a study of the whole Slavic history related to religion, Serbia Orthodox remained pro Russian, Czechoslovakia Catholic was never pro Russian. From a Marxist viewpoint you see that Russia is amongst the last places where “the Revolution” should have happened, with a largely peasant population, not much better than subsistence farming – not exactly the advanced industrial capitalist country that Marx envisaged, where, theoretically, the revolution would be a reasonably peaceful appropriation of the ‘means of production’ etc.
      Czechoslovakia was an advanced industrial nation when the soviets took over, it was also one of the first to escape the from the collapse. The velvet revolution, interestingly the reverse of the anticipated Marxist situation.

      I think it all gives some credence to the security hypothesis, but how much I don’t know.

      On the why do Atheists hate Christian and Christians hate Atheists.
      Anger, bitter at feeling let down or having lost a loved one as a lot of Christians would like to think as the main cause, I don’t, but I don’t think it is as dominant as is pretended.
      Christian animosity to atheists (animosity a better word than hatred) is harder to explain, could it be simply because of a rejection of the belief is seen as a rejection of the self that retaliation is needed.
      I think that all the way through and from either side it is at times more simple than we imagine, and contradictorily much deeper and more complicated than we could ever know.

      1. I’m in a huge hurry, here, and this is a semester, even career long topic, but here goes:
        1) I disagree with the assumption that if the communist gov’t had been less authoritarian the religious influence would have died. This seems to assume further that if an anti-religious gov’t meets material needs adequately, without being authoritarian, religion disappears. I disagree. Also, I think the efforts the Soviets made with the Living Church, which failed, argue against it.

        2) I hear what you’re saying concerning “demi-god,” but there’s a more profound theological tradition behind this. It’s not mere “right of kings,” but rather a history of oikumene, of the world gov’t that keeps order and sustains the possibility for Orthodoxy to flourish. It’s how Moscow developed a “third Rome” approach. I’d actually now consider America “fourth Rome.”

        3) The East-West divide is profound in some ways, as you note, with Serbia. I agree. There is a Czech Republic Orthodox Church but yes, predominantly Roman Catholic. The history of Christianity is my specialty but yeah, that is a long thread indeed!

        4) I like your concluding point. I took it to mean it is conveyed in simplistic manners all too often while really, being complicated deep down. If I’m reading you correctly, here, I’d agree fully. That’s why I raised the issue. I do think a lot of “New Atheists” come across as embittered and angry. Certainly, I see that in the blogosphere where the insults and crass language make rated R movies look tame. Yet, behind that, I agree, there’s much more, and that’s why I raised it. I don’t think atheists would want to be dismissed as merely just “pissed off people” and likewise, Jon’s post did a disservice to Russian Orthodoxy and religion as a motivator more generally. I think we’d all be further ahead to avoid reducing one another, even while disagreeing.

        Ok, gotta run. Too much already.

        1. entech

          Point 1 was not so much an assumption as pure speculation on my part, the motivation behind my speculations is probably one of those complications mentioned at the end.

          Marx’s Hegelian approach to history deemed the “dictatorship of the proletariat” a necessary historical phase that would eventually fade and become unnecessary. Been a long time, but I think it was Engels that wrote about the Origins -State, Private Property etc. a large volume but fails to account for the beginning of the historical imperative which would see its conclusion in an idealised communists state. The beginning remains undefined and the end a utopian dream.
          The Russian Revolution started quite well with councils running Moscow quite effectively in spite of the turmoil, the army in general had more control over who would lead them (almost democratically elected officers), this was supposed to be the end point not the beginning and so had to give way to the leadership. Soviet is a Russian word meaning council, local councils, theoretically would hold the final power, on the basis that locals would elect councillors, councils would send delegates to higher levels of government; with an overriding proviso that the locals could un-elect the local councillor if he/she was not doing what they were elected for and so on up the line, a kind of democratic anarchy. But Trotsky and Lenin soon put a stop to that nonsense, we needed the dictatorship for the dictatorship to fade away 😕
          So many revolutions have started with good ideas and finished as disasters, one tyrant exchanged for another, France is a shocking example. Hang on to your revolution America, avoid dominance by church or capital.

          1. You’re right that it was Marx who did the revision of Hegelian thought. Creative, really. I am not even close to being a Marxist, but I do see his rereading and creative. At the beginning, it was difficult to say exactly what the revolution would bring. Initially, it seemed possible the Russian Orthodox Church might be able to breath in an important way (truly re-establish the patriarchate Peter the Great had taken away). Of course, as we know, the patriarchate was allowed to remain but the state’s dominance over church matters remained as well.

            Your parting sentiment is well placed. I wouldn’t want my church to be domineering over the rest of America any more than I’d want someone else’s. I don’t think that’s healthy. I am concerned about religious freedom, even in ways that produces publicly observable behavior and moral decisions being protected, but that’s different. Capital, I fear, dominates already in some ways in our political system. Again, I’m no communist, not even close, but I do think we have seen some predatory behaviors by large corporations.

          2. entech

            My parting comment could be expanded a little to say that the problem with most good ideas, thoughts and schemes, religious, secular, political or economic – they are always implemented by human beings. Both Marx and libertarian free market have something to offer, pity about the people that put them into practise.

      2. As a quick PS with Marx, the authoritarian rule is part and parcel of the whole thing. It’s only supposed to be temporary, with the leaders representing the proletariat, but, well, it never seems to get past that point and never seems to represent the proletariat really. Well, ok, it does in that the proletariat are to have the views of the leaders. It’s a bit circular, but my main point is that the hard rule is a phase built into Marx.

  6. OK Jon—– I am asking you for an anwer to my question which was attacked by some of the Anal Retentives who post opinions on your blog. Here is my question for an Atheist: WHY IS IT ONLY CHRISTIANITY THAT IS DEMEANED AND ATTACKED ON YOUR BLOG?
    And further: Why……if you oppose all religious beliefs and posit that those who hold religious beliefs (by faith) are unintelligent, naive, stupid, ad nauseum —- why do you not include other World Religions in your daily drumbeat of scoffing and debasing?????
    Islam worships a “god” and claims that he is supreme and that the Islamic scripture in the Quaran is infallible and inerrant and that they must obey and live by it. That is what Christianity says about Jesus Christ and also about the Christian scriptures that are held to be given by the God who says He is the only God–above all others..Islam says the same thing about Allah.
    Other World Religions have their belief systems also…Buddhists, Hindus, the Zoroastrians, Taoists, Sikhs, and all the multitudinous World “religions” all have common systems of beliefs and also scriptures in most of them…why are the other World Religions immune to the attacks by Atheists who claim there is NO GOD at all.
    Why is only Christianity singled out.??…and please do not repeat the words of some of the others that said Christianity is the major religion the U.S. That is a P—- Poor argument, if Atheists truly believe that ALL religions and ALL gods and ALL religious scriptures and rites are the works of fools and dunderheads.
    I really want to get an answer to this question; others on the comments have failed dismally to answer the question.

    1. buffalogal 11:56 I answered your request to the best of my abilities. I’ll make a deal. When all the Christian marketing is removed from public property and from public meeting and from public documents, I’ll stop complaining about Christianity.

    2. At least this time someone actually took on Orthodox Christianity. Credit him for that. Most Western Christians think only of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, so by raising Russia as an example, he was (at least indirectly) being more “ecumenical” or “diverse” in his critique. As I noted in my first comment, though, the post is too simplistic over all and not one of Jon’s better arguments, any more than it would be if I tried to link atheism to some “magic bullet” singular reduction.

      Keep in mind, too, that where Jon lives, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity dominate the religious scene. That remains true for America at large, so I think it’s to be expected that he would concentrate his energies there. We should not belly ache over it, but expect it.

    3. Demosthenes

      “some of the Anal Retentives who post opinions on your blog” The day my anal is not retentive is the day I start wearing Depends.

      “ALL religious scriptures and rites are the works of fools and dunderheads.” While I like this statement, I do draw issue with the “All” portion and really that is the underlying problem. You seem to come to conclusions of fact or Truth™ without evidence, data, reason, and logic being used. Example: “ALL religious scriptures ” How can you claim absolute knowledge of a compendium of literature and the assume Atheists do as well. That should be enough for you to ‘STOP and smell the roses’ so to speak. I would work on not using words like ALL, ONLY, and EVERYTHING, just to give you perspective. If you take everything as an absolute truth™ your are not practicing anything we know or use through Science.

  7. entech

    Jon, I am asking you, as an outsider, a foreigner, trying to get some insight into the AmericanWay. I observe on the international media, on news clips people post on Youtube and items reproduced on my local television and in my local newspaper, lots of Americana.
    There seems to me that there is a huge Christian component to American politics, From Capitol Hill down to the nursery. Although there seems to be many different forms of Christianity, some don’t even accept that Jesus is the son of God, some with other ideas of the relationship. The different sects seem to fight each other about doctrinaire matters but combine to try and keep the influence of the group as whole in a dominant position and to impose their ideas on the law of the land. Isn’t Thomas Jefferson quoted as saying to someone that they should protected against a larger religious group by making sure that their influence should not become dominant in state affairs, of the need to build a wall of separation.

    It seems to me you are fighting a losing battle against tyranny, it is my question to you – why do you phrase your topics so reasonably and modestly, simply presenting decent and sensible alternatives is not enough. Consider the history of the movement, in their early days they were resistant to their rulers, the Romans, and they obviously raise the ire of the Empire and there were spasmodic attempts at keeping them in control, persecution I think they like to call it, this went on for a few hundred years and by the time the Romans finally perceived them as a danger and started in earnest to get rid of them they found it was too late, they had crept up their influence and eventually over through the Empire and took it over for themselves.

    My question to you is why do you let these people dominate you and call you names, “excrement in the punchbowl” indeed, but that is minor compared to the insidious attempts to creep their nonsense into respectability, we even have one, a very bright and clever rhetorician, who, even though well aware of the difference conflates paedophilia with homosexuality. Stop being so tolerant, they aren’t, get out there and fight for your freedom before you lose it.

      1. Henry 2:03 I specifically wrote that heterosexual men who rape little girls do not do so because they are heterosexual, they do it because they are pedaphiles. Are you feeling OK?

      2. entech

        What arrogance, I said bright and clever is that how you see yourself? Apart from that I never said it was you.

        But looking at your link. You start of trying to denigrate the possibility of any form of sincerity and commitment with some clever dialectics “we are told”, “every once in a while”, “posing as” followed by the sarcastic observation, “Not very committed”. Clever stuff phrased to provoke a response or two, they came as you had hoped. ” … that monster … “, ” … no one … implies … gay people are child molesters”
        In between you had said both homo and hetero, actually the expression is bi, or at least I think that is the term for people who are sexually attracted to either, I would bow to your superior knowledge on this: you do seem to have an inordinate interest and range of knowledge on all forms of sin, especially sexual ones. Later you mention rape, I have read that the dominance is more characteristic than the sexual, that sexual penetration is a way of asserted that dominance, that the victim can be of either sex.

        @ June 28, 2012 at 3:01 am
        The ancient homosexuals strived to have a sexual relationship with a boy. This an entirely different thing, the attraction of the older for the adolescent of the same sex has a different medical description, I could look it up but I am sure you know all about it. This was part of the mores of Ancient Greece, Mature men would often take on a young man as a protégé, to act as mentor, this was with the family approval and the man was supposed to see to the education and introduction into society of the younger man, that this often included a sexual component was known and accepted. That this was acceptable at the time is one of the many things that, rightly, would not be acceptable today – it would be generally deplored and depending on the ages could even be an indictable offence. This attraction for the young by the older is not only for the same sex but also for the opposite sex, Nabokov’s Lolita was a case in point; from my view this is understandable, perhaps a reflection of when you were of that age yourself and all the adolescent phantasies – understandable, but wrong to act upon – even more so when you are in loco parentis which is what makes teachers and pupils, priests and young parishioners et. al. so egregious. Couple of nasty ones have come out of Australian elite swimming a male coach and a young female (physically mature but very early teen) just as wrong as any other combination of age/sex.
        What kind of act did Sundasky perform – the act was RAPE. (which was the point Jon made @ 3:24). This could get complicated – what if he had been basketball instead of football and had been coaching both male and female, we would have to know if it was exclusively or one or the other, relative numbers compared to opportunity?

        June 28, 2012 at 3:12 am. you talk of associations being accepted or rejected, the domination association is the overriding one here. As for sugar-coating I would say that conversely it is your total hatred of homosexuality in any shape or form leads you to saying anything to condemn a certain section of your fellow human beings, more than hatred it seems to be primeval need, so much so that you will make any distortion and say things that you know are wrong to score points, to make your case at any cost, you are full of it.


        1. Henry

          “Apart from that I never said it was you.”

          No one else was accused of conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Essentially, you did.

      3. entech

        PS. Can I take it from your silence on the rest of a rather long post, that your silence implies agreement. Thank you.

    1. entech 1:13 Great observations about U. S. politics and how it is infused with religion. I’m sure you can see its influence even more clearly than we can by seeing it from the outside.

      There is a blind spot in the U. S. political eye. Too few see only good coming from religious infusion. When a country with a Muslim infused government came over here on a religious mission to harm us, I incorrectly thought the U. S. public would see a part of itself in the behavior of those religious nuts. Instead, our President at the time went to the National Cathederal for prayer.

      It’s past time to start throwing some rocks in the stream.

      1. entech

        My question to you is why do you let these people dominate you and call you names
        Like kay syvrud(buffalogal) says, I am waiting for an answer.
        Why are you so nice and polite to the people that say some atrocious and insulting things to you. Absolute lies in many cases.
        Yet here you are, incessantly polite:
        “Thank you for your comment”
        “Please come back”
        “Your opinions are welcome”.

        Is that any way for an intolerant, arrogant atheist to behave! I suppose though, that to be a vehement or an aggressive freethinker would be a bit contradictory wouldn’t it, when offering alternate views to tell me people where to go if they didn’t like it would be ‘counter productive’, as Kay might say it would be a P— Poor Aproach.

        Just to diverge, I have always like Tony Graylings remark about “Militant Atheism”, “so silly, bit like talking of ‘sleeping furiously'”.

        1. entech 5:15 “Is that any way for an intolerant atheist to behave!”

          The way I approach people here who are really mad at me (and you) is this. If there really is a god, it is not the god most of these good folks worship. It has to be one of the earth spirits like native people and Wiccans worship. That god seems integrated with the rest of the natural systems.

          That being the case, we I die and go to hell for not believing in that earth god, who will I meet there? All of these Christian people who bet on the wrong horse. I don’t want them saying, “Oh, I’m not talking to you now when you called me naughty names back there on your blog comments.” 🙂

  8. Your excuse for attacking Christians and Christianity is pretty flimsy Jon.
    If you truly took a stand against ALL religions you would be consistent in opposing all religions who worship something other than themselves as Atheists seem to do.
    You are not really an Atheist if you do not see all types of worship of a God or gods in a consistent way. Christianity alone because it advertises or appears in some public venues? Can you not see how transparent and weak your “explanation ” is????

    1. Buffalogal 8:46 I have decided to yield to your criticism. Tonight’s blog is not about criticizing Christianity. It criticizes the Republican politican party. I know, flaming liberal that you are, you will be pleased. : )

  9. Demosthenes….you are Exhibit A for an example of the word “arrogance”.

    I base a lot of my thoughts on my own perceptions of things…and find nothing wrong with that. Commenters do not have to follow YOUR prescriptions for discourse.

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