Believers in God: Bitter or Just Less Prosperous?

Much thanks to A Darkling Glass for pointing me to this excellent article at Edge. While the author of A Darkling Glass believes the authors of the article are heathen materialists, I believe Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman are onto something REALLY interesting here. In “Why the Gods Are Not Winning” they analyze 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world countries and the levels of prosperity, education, and healthcare and how that relates to religiosity in said countries. They provide some interesting analysis and statistics and then say

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

We can also explain why America is has become increasingly at odds with itself. On one hand the growing level of socio-economic disparity that is leaving an increasing portion of the population behind in the socially Darwinian rat-race is boosting levels of hard-line religiosity in the lower classes. On the other hand freedom from belief in the supernatural is rising among the growing segment that enjoys higher incomes and sophisticated education. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch are typical upper crust disbelievers.

The practical implications are equally breath taking. Every time a nation becomes truly advanced in terms of democratic, egalitarian education and prosperity it loses the faith. It’s guaranteed. That is why perceptive theists are justifiably scared. In practical terms their only practical hope is for nations to continue to suffer from socio-economic disparity, poverty and maleducation. That strategy is, of course, neither credible nor desirable. And that is why the secular community should be more encouraged.

Zuckerman and Paul are saying basically what Barack Obama has said to working class folks. The more prosperous, educated, and healthy you are the less likely you are to believe in God. While it’s pretty tactless to tell people this outright and while there are ALWAYS exceptions (wealthy people believe in God too), what they are really saying is that AS A COUNTRY we will continue to cling to religion as long as disparity in wages, health, human rights, and education abound. Personally, I can’t help but think this is true. The authors believe that the more we move as a country toward relieving these disparities the more popular religion will rear its ugly head to keep us lagging behind. In other words, popular faith is a counter-culture, anti-progress kind of movement that is determined to make SURE disparities exist for the sake of furthering religion. It’s all about evolving and religions do that very well.

Interesting. A Darkling Glass fails in his/her argument that materialism won’t “save” you from hardship. No it won’t. But believing in God won’t save you from hardship either. Just as many believers as non-believers die in natural disasters and from illness. There is absolutely no proof that believers are protected by God any more than unbelievers are by chance. The stats just aren’t there. Obama’s problem is that he claims believers are bitter and therefore that’s why they believe. Poor choice of words there. Zuckerman and Paul offers a more excellent case, I think.


5 thoughts on “Believers in God: Bitter or Just Less Prosperous?

  1. This kind of goes along something I’ve been wondering … if people are consistently told that they are good, would they still need/seek out God? Or is God only found when people are told how bad/hopeless/damned they are? Is there a way to mesh the idea of humanity as something good and yet still need or seek out God?

    It’s kind of a sobering thought, because if part of how we’re created is that we’re created to need God, and yet the only way to identify or react to that need is that we’re wretched sinners, does that mean the “system” was set up so that we’d deliberately be sinners?

    I can see why the need for God would drop off, in your example. If you have freedoms in your society, if you’re at least middle class with a good economy, and have access to food/shelter/education/clothing, there’s less to “hope” for, or need help with. The basic needs are met. And once those needs are met, you can focus more on the wants, and through one’s own effort, possibly achieve the wants.

  2. OneSmallStep,

    You ARE ALWAYS asking the most interesting questions! I like the “set up” theory, because really that’s what evangelicals claim God does. The Jewish law, they say, was set up so that Israel would realize that it couldn’t live up to them. They were supposed to be a “schoolmaster” to “bring us to Christ” as Paul writes in Galatians, Ephesians, and both Corinthians. So yeah, God knew we would fail and therefore provided the remedy.

    As far as telling people that they are only redeemable through Christ… that again works for evangelicals. If there is no way to remove this “sin” that we are supposedly born with, then there is no remedy but what Christ is offering.

    If you look at religion as a sociological movement in line with how prosperous a country is, then the talk of sin and all that theological stuff takes a back seat to how contented people are with their lives. That’s a whole other issue I think.

    Good points to ponder!

  3. MOI,

    **You ARE ALWAYS asking the most interesting questions!**

    Thank you. 🙂 I do my best. Sometimes, it gets complimented. Other times, it gets ad hominimum (sp?) attacks. The latter’s not from you, of course.

    **So yeah, God knew we would fail and therefore provided the remedy. **

    I’ve never liked this explanation, because it doesn’t work in any other context. To compare, it would be placing a five year old in front of a chalkboard and saying, “You must be punished because you can’t meet my demands of working calculus, but I’ll punish someone else, instead.”

    It’s not a just scenario. The “answer” to this is that the solution is provided in the way of Jesus, but it completely sidesteps the whole issue of why the five year old must do something impossible to him in the first place. Giving a way out does nothing to eliminate the original injustice of the situation. Especially since we are all still held accountable for the death of Jesus even though we couldn’t measure up to the Law in the first place, because we’re imperfect.

    I also don’t like it because it doesn’t fit what I read in the Tanakh, for many times, the Law is praised as this great thing. Why would it be great if no one can do it and it just condemns people? Who’d praise that? “Thank you, God, for giving me this Law I can’t possibly follow and that condemns me!”

    I don’t mean that last line to be mocking, but it’s just really the attitude I see in the whole scenario.

  4. OneSmallStep,

    I agree completely. It’s a self-defeating scenario overall. I think that in a certain sense, evangelicals NEED to believe it in order to make sense of other doctrines that make no sense. It’s my dogma house of cards theory wherein dogma is stacked upon dogma in order to explain the nonsensical when really simple is best. Isn’t that Occam’s Razor also? The most simple and direct explanation is usually the right one.

  5. Because I have some sympathy for people who trudge around in the rain spouting their sincere beliefs to people who don’t want to hear them, I’ve had quite a few conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is a good example of arguing a logical case based on a highly questionable premise. I can understand how faith convinces them that their interpretation is in fact absolute truth, but I’ve never been able to understand how that is supposed to convince someone else, namely me. Bless their hearts for getting so cold and wet though.

    Back to the relationship between religiosity and prosperity, the closer we are to the sharp end of life, the more we seem to feel the need to blame or thank someone or something else when things go wrong or right. If we know that we can’t literally be incontrol of the famine or the plenty, then we can at least feel important by making ourselves indirectly responsible in that it was our fault in some way, or we did some good deed. We need to feel significant.

    Now when we’ve got all our nice status symbols and gadgets, we feel less vulnerable to floods and locusts ETC. Of course, the truth is that the ice is at least as thin for us, but we don’t admit it. If the power went out for good, most of us would be as helpless as babies. There are just too many things in our world which we, as mere consumers, have no idea how to fix. Whether we’re an agrarian peasant or an affluent city dweller, we all fail to admit that we’re at the mercy of random events. Whether we believe in the power of God, or the power of someone from the power company to make it all better, I think we only survive by luck. (The people of Burma or China might be worth consulting on this.

    Believe it or not, I don’t think of myself as a pessimist.


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