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.

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