A Godless Society Is A Happy Society

“Alas” reader Joe pointed out this article to me:

Proposition 8 passed because of religious folk. There is no question about it. Church-going Black Americans, tithe-paying Mormons, mass-attending Latinos, and Evangelical whites all joined forces in “protecting marriage.” The underlying reason religious people voted to revoke from gays and lesbians the legal right to marry is doggedly theological: God doesn’t like it. And when a society or culture does things that God doesn’t like, that society or culture will suffer.

We’re seeing this going on now, as some fundamentalist Christians are saying that wildfires in California are God’s judgment on fags.

And it simply isn’t true. If God punishes societies that violate his commandments and rewards those that do, this just isn’t apparent by looking at the state of the world today. The sociological fact is that the most irreligious nations right now are among the most successful, humane, moral, and free, while the most religious nations tend to be among the most destitute, chaotic, crime-ridden, and undemocratic. A similar pattern also holds true within the United States: those states and counties that boast the greatest numbers of strong believers and regular church attenders tend to have higher poverty rates, child abuse rates, violent crime rates, and lower educational attainment rates than those states and counties characterized by more secular populations.

And so the richest, healthiest — and most pro-gay — nations are in the godless Neatherlands, whereas the most religious nations in the world, while reliably anti-homosexual, also tend to lack for freedom and money. (The exception, in the state to state comparisons: Utah.)

The writer, Phil Zuckerman, points out that there is a catch to this phenomenon, which is that forced atheism just brings about sucky totalitarian atheist states; the good effects of godlessness only happen when “secularism is not forced upon a captive citizenry by dictators, but emerges organically and freely over several generations.” And, of course, the direction of causation — or if there’s any causation here at all, rather than just correlation — is a real question.

But the fact remains — if you want to find a healthy, wealthy, free society, you’d do very well by just choosing any democracy where people don’t go to church very often.

From the Pew Global Attitudes Project:

Pew also notes:

Throughout Western Europe and much of the Americas, there is widespread tolerance towards homosexuality. However, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Israel stand apart from other wealthy nations on this issue; in each of these countries, fewer than half of those surveyed say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Meanwhile, in most of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, there is less tolerance toward homosexuality.

At the Statistical Modeling Blog, Andrew creates a similar graph for states of the US, and finds similar results — less religion equals more wealth. But he also notes an interesting result from within states:

…Overall we see a positive correlation between income and religiosity in poor states and a negative correlation in rich states: To put it another way, in Mississippi, the richer people attend church more. In Connecticut, the richer people attend church less.

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55 Responses to A Godless Society Is A Happy Society

  1. 1
    PG says:

    Hmm. You don’t clearly define what you consider to be religiosity. For example, you say, “if you want to find a healthy, wealthy, free society, you’d do very well by just choosing any democracy where people don’t go to church very often.” You then cite a Pew survey, apparently for support of your claim, but the Pew survey didn’t measure religiosity by frequency of attendance at religious services; it measured it by the respondent’s agreement with the statement that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values.

    Israel is an interesting outlier in a lot of different ways. While a survey may say that people don’t think homosexuality should be socially accepted, homosexuals nonetheless are required to serve in IDF like everyone else.

  2. 2
    Bunan says:

    I don’t think that who voted for what is the important issue here. In my opinion, when the fundamental rights of any person or persons are threatened, violated, revoked, or diminished.. it is appalling.

    How many times must we go through this iteration of oppression, fear, discrimination, and hatred before we will learn that what hurts any one of us ultimately harms all of us?

    In peace & brotherhood,

    Bunan

    http://dyingpractice.blogspot.com/

  3. 3
    spgreenlaw says:

    Well, I’m certainly glad to have done my part to build a better world by being godless! Also, that empty Sunday schedule I’ve got is a great time to do volunteer work.

  4. 4
    Katherine says:

    I am a Christian and believe very strongly that God loves all people, created all people in God’s image, and means for us to love and care for one another, and to love and honor God above all things. I believe that we are here to seek God, who is truth and mercy and justice and compassion, and that we should fight poverty out of a sense of justice and out of love for one another, and not because poverty itself diminishes people’s lives. If you have the love of God, what else do you need?

    What we can work towards is the breaking down of barriers between people that lead to conditions of poverty, isolation, and desperation. Your graph shows that the people of Africa are religiously comitted and materially poor- I would argue that they have what is truly valuable, and what they have cannot be taken away from them. Perhaps the wealth of secular nations is an obstacle to our experiencing God in a humble and honest way.

    In regards to the starting idea of this post, that religious people, particularly Christians, are responsible for the passage of Proposition 8, I cannot deny that much of the Church, historically and currently, has been less than welcoming to the queer people in our communities. Yet I also want to give recognition to the many Christians and Christian churches that are wholly and radically supportive of our queer sisters and brothers, who worked tirelessly to prevent the passage of Proposition 8, and who continue to work for justice for the queer community.

    I want to express my thanks for the work you have done and continue to do on this blog in bringing people together and promoting justice for oppressed peoples. Please consider my thoughts, which are offered with a humble heart.

    Blessings,
    Katherine

  5. 5
    Vidya says:

    As a Hindu, I echo everything said by Katherine, above. (Unfortunately, even the parts about our faith being historically lacking in queer-positivity.) I, too, see my social justice work and advocacy as motivated by my faith.

    Also, as a sociology person, I am actually less interested in the facts/statistics/statements provided in this post then with how they are here being deployed and mobilized for particular ends, and also with how they could potentially be read and used differently. (And I also share the other commentators’ concerns over how religiosity is here being ‘measured’.)

  6. 6
    Nomen Nescio says:

    If you have the love of God, what else do you need?

    food? shelter? clothing?

    conversely, most of the atheists i know — myself included — live quite well while lacking only that “love of god”. ergo, in actual practice, it seems to be neither necessary nor sufficient, but rather superfluous.

  7. 7
    Lexie says:

    we are here to seek God, who is truth and mercy and justice and compassion, and that we should fight poverty out of a sense of justice and out of love for one another, and not because poverty itself diminishes people’s lives. If you have the love of God, what else do you need?

    See, here is the thing about that which has always bothered me. It is possible, and in fact many people strive for the morals of truth, mercy, justice and compassion and also fight poverty based on the princible of justice and still not believe in god.

    Also, we all know people who believe strongly in God (i.e. the prop 8 supporters) who do not follow these moral tenets. So when it comes down to it, belief in God does not determine really anything about spiritual wealth. The fact is, the people of Africa do need food, clothing, shelter and health care and are not getting it. They don’t have to trade basic human rights for a belief in God. Job is one of the stupidest stories in the Bible, IMHO.

  8. 8
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    live quite well while lacking only that “love of god”.

    Christian doctrine is that God loves the atheists too.

    I’m just sayin.

    (Not sure about the other faiths.)

    Also, as a sociology person, I am actually less interested in the facts/statistics/statements provided in this post then with how they are here being deployed and mobilized for particular ends, and also with how they could potentially be read and used differently. (And I also share the other commentators’ concerns over how religiosity is here being ‘measured’.)

    Me too, especially the predictable jab at the south. (Wondered when that would happen–you almost made the through the whole post without it.) Mississippi and Connecticut’s relative wealth and poverty has jack shit to do with religion, but WHO lives there and WHO DOESN’T.

    How that is supposed to prove that the rich New Englanders are morally superior, is beyond me… but as usual, of course it does.

  9. 9
    Radfem says:

    There was this atheism bill board in my region and it didn’t last very long before getting taken down. You’d think the 9.5 official unemployment rate which will be 13-`14% this time next year plus the fact that my region is apparently been voted the worst in the country to ride out the recession (due to its explosive growth and having an economy built on the housing market) would be bigger concerns than an atheism billboard. Apparently not.

  10. 10
    Sailorman says:

    Lexie: +1. i don’t know who else here is an atheist, other than mandolin I think, but morality and justice do not require religion by any means.

  11. 11
    Mandolin says:

    “Mississippi and Connecticut’s relative wealth and poverty has jack shit to do with religion, but WHO lives there and WHO DOESN’T.”

    Care to support that?

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    “Christian doctrine is that God loves the atheists too.

    I’m just sayin.”

    Also, this reads as seriously rude, and terribly irrelevant. FSM doctrine is that you don’t drink enough beer, Daisy (and I do mean you personally, I had a revelation about it last night as a result of too much pasta). So what?

  13. 13
    Tom Nolan says:

    Daisy Deadhead

    Christian doctrine is that God loves the atheists too

    Is there anything in the Bible which would support such a teaching? Specifically: that those who, in the full possession of their intellect, reject the possibility of God’s existence, are nonetheless loved by Him and can expect His mercy?

    Or does this particular “Christian doctrine” completely lack Biblical authority?

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Tom, from the book of John :

    “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. [...]

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

    Now certainly, like everything in the Bible, it’s subject to differing interpretations. But one legitimate interpretation is that God loves all humans, and hence made the offer of salvation to all humans — but of course, not all humans accept the offer.

    This als0 seems, frankly, like a very off-topic fight to pick. :-)

    (Just to be clear, I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe that what the Bible says is true.)

  15. 15
    Tom Nolan says:

    Wait on, asking a question with reference to a point raised in the thread isn’t asking for a fight, now, is it? Nor, as it happens, does the citation from John answer my question: atheists have rejected God’s “offer of salvation” – where’s the Biblical text which would suggest that they are nonetheless the objects of His divine affection? My layman’s understanding of the matter was they they could look forward to an eternity of agony in the fiery pit.

    However, given that you feel this matter to be off-topic, I shan’t insist (and am indeed in no position to insist) on an answer.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Me too, especially the predictable jab at the south. (Wondered when that would happen–you almost made the through the whole post without it.) Mississippi and Connecticut’s relative wealth and poverty has jack shit to do with religion, but WHO lives there and WHO DOESN’T.

    Here’s the quote you’re referring to:

    Overall we see a positive correlation between income and religiosity in poor states and a negative correlation in rich states: To put it another way, in Mississippi, the richer people attend church more. In Connecticut, the richer people attend church less.

    I don’t understand how you can say that has “jack shit to do with religion.” Religiosity is associated with wealth in one region, whereas more secular beliefs are associated with wealth in another region. I certainly realize that it could be a case of correlation without causation (and said so in the post), but it still has something to do with religion.

    Contrary to your accusation, I didn’t quote that because I was looking for a way to slam the south. I quoted that because I thought the finding was interesting. Unless you take it as a given that I consider being churchgoing an insult – and, to make it clear, I don’t — I can’t see how the factoid can be construed as a jab at the south.

    How that is supposed to prove that the rich New Englanders are morally superior, is beyond me… but as usual, of course it does.

    Of course, I didn’t say anything at all like that, I didn’t imply it, and I don’t believe it.

    I don’t think it’s possible to say “this group of people is morally superior to that group of people,” in most cases. There are too many variables. Nonetheless, I do say some values (for example, equal marriage rights) are morally superior to other values (for example, opposing equal marriage rights).

  17. 17
    Nomen Nescio says:

    Christian doctrine is that God loves the atheists too.

    that’s unfair of you, Daisy; us atheists don’t have any doctrine i could quote back at you.

    but if we did, it’d say there is no god to do the loving.

  18. 18
    Sailorman says:

    Ampersand Writes:
    November 22nd, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I don’t understand how you can say that has “jack shit to do with religion.” Religiosity is associated with wealth in one region, whereas more secular beliefs are associated with wealth in another region. I certainly realize that it could be a case of correlation without causation (and said so in the post), but it still has something to do with religion.

    Actually, no…. if there’s no causation in either direction then wealth has as much to do with religion as pickle sourness (or pirates) have to do with the stock market. The claim that it has “jack shit to do with religion” is simply a (somewhat rude) way of stating that there is no causation.

    And if there is causation there remains the fascinating question that you addressed, of specifics: whether poverty or wealth causes people to look to magic to save them, and/or whether a belief in magic causes people to become impoverished or wealthy.

  19. 19
    thebigmanfred says:

    Religiosity is associated with wealth in one region, whereas more secular beliefs are associated with wealth in another region. I certainly realize that it could be a case of correlation without causation (and said so in the post), but it still has something to do with religion.

    I actually think it’s a case of correlation and not causation. If you look at the regions with more money, one thing they have is common is a higher population density. States/countries with higher population densities tend to have jobs that pay higher, as they tend to have more manfacturing/technological jobs. Agriculture based jobs and retail jobs don’t pay as well as engineering, health care, manufacturing, or generally technology jobs. Higher paying jobs require workers to reach a higher lever of educational attainment generally speaking. Also many of the states with the greatest population densities are the smallest of states i.e. – Mass., Conn., Rhode Island, New Jersey, etc. In order for religion to be the causation it would had to specifically bar higher paying jobs on religious grounds. I can’t think of many fundamentalists that have a problem in general with technology jobs on the basis of religion. I’d also like to point out that in the case of the South, it never recovered fully from the Civil War and that it’s poor education is also tied to the integration time period (I’ve heard that a lot of kids were pulled from public schools and put into private schools during the integration period).

  20. 20
    PG says:

    thebigmanfred,

    I can’t think of many fundamentalists that have a problem in general with technology jobs on the basis of religion. I’d also like to point out that in the case of the South, it never recovered fully from the Civil War and that it’s poor education is also tied to the integration time period (I’ve heard that a lot of kids were pulled from public schools and put into private schools during the integration period).

    Depends on the technology, doesn’t it? For example, if your beliefs cause you to be highly skeptical of the morality of interfering with God’s creation, you’re not going to be much inclined to work in biotech, which was one of the knowledge-rich growth sectors of the economy at the end of the 20th century.

    And it also depends on the type of religiosity that is prevalent, which is why I pointed out that Amp isn’t consistent here about what “religiosity” means — churchgoing? belief that theism is necessary to morality? If your religio-cultural background is one that values secular as well as religious knowledge, then religion has the potential actually to increase your desire for and thus attainment of education.

    For example, from what I understand about Judaism and Jewish culture, a very high priority is put on literacy; this has the religious motivation of being able to read the Torah, but it also contributes to use of education in other areas of life.

    In contrast, the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation was very opposed to making the Bible accessible to the people, because the Catholic Church is hierarchy-oriented and puts priests in a crucial role of bridging between the laity and the Word of God. Therefore it didn’t make sense for the Catholic Church to push for common people to learn Latin, the language of the educated, because then the laity would try to interpret the Bible for themselves. Since the Bible often was the only reading material around, especially pre-Gutenberg, this meant there was little chance for commoners to read anything.

  21. 21
    thebigmanfred says:

    PG I do agree that it depends on the technology. Stem cells are the first thing that comes to mind (well anything that somehow deals with abortion). Despite that most of the religious take advantage of modern technology. Most of them, to my knowledge, haven’t barred someone from becoming an engineer or a doctor or any other scientific profession per say. They may say that you shouldn’t become a particular type of doctor on religious grounds (I can’t think of an example of this though). It seems to me they have problems with what one does with that knowledge, not the knowledge itself.

    I also agree that the type of religiosity isn’t identified but assumed, and that as you pointed out religion can actually help one to increase their education (or the opposite). Overall the main thing that accounts for the lack of wealth differences we see are a number of factors. The main thing is what kinds of jobs are in the region? In places with lower population densities there tends to be more agricultural/manufacturing jobs, which don’t pay as well. Places with higher population densities tend to have more tech related jobs, these are the ones that pay better. From an economics standpoint people increase their education to meet the jobs that are available. The more education you get the better pay one will receive. So it’s likely that religion is just a correlation and not the causation.

  22. 22
    Kevin Moore says:

    I guess it depends on how one defines “happiness.” Would you substitute “relatively less suffering”?

    I should also point out that Oregon is one of the least church-attending states in the union, but by golly, we got one of them fancy constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. :-P

    And lastly, I think the salient point is diversity. Enforced religion or enforced atheism oppresses freedom of conscience, pushing other belief systems underground and fostering neurotic conformity. Not to mention seething resentment. In areas of the country where one religion is dominant to the point of effectively silencing the others, perhaps a certain group-think settles in, with conditions similar to a state-enforced belief system.

    A secular society and culture, combined with a functional democracy, promotes freedom of religion – and from religion – allowing citizens the opportunity to exchange ideas and keep the larger culture from getting stale. That has some impact on the innovativeness and creativity of the workforce, I think.

    What? Statistics backing any of that up? Er, yeah – I gotta get a toddler to bed now.

  23. 23
    Happy Herbivore says:

    Separation of Church and State. It’s that simple. I live next to the LA Mormon temple where all the protests take place (the ones making national TV anyway) — I’ve seen several signs that say “Being Gay is the new black.”

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    Hm. I stay off the blog for a couple of days while I’m at the Diocese of Chicago’s 171st annual Diocesean convention and I come back to this.

    Interesting that no one seems to be challenging the idea that happiness can be measured by measuring wealth. Certainly at odds with the Christian philosophy, that’s for sure.

    Much of what we talked about related to the social services that the Diocese provides in the Chicago area. If you’re interested there are some details here. Apparently 10% of all children in transitional housing in Chicago are in our facilities. The program we run for ex-offenders has a 20% revidicism rate, well below the average. The delegates at the convention sent the Bishop of the Diocese of Renk in Sudan back with a $21,000 check; that’s solely from donations from people at the convention; there were about 450 people there at the time. I went to a breakout session to hear him speak about what it’s like in the Sudan with the civil war and how he’s trying to support both the spiritual and physical needs of his people. And the Diocese is trying to get every single one of our 41,000 members to buy an anti-malaria mosquito net to send there. I’m in charge of this effort for my parish. There were some educational sessions on Saturday morning, but I said screw it and went to choir practice for the 10:30 Eucharist. As far as I’m concerned, if I can’t sing I can’t worship. As usual, there were about 25 people in the choir, and as usual I was the only tenor (although I got help from one other guy on Tallis’ If Ye Love Me.

    You all seem to have a different experience of religion than I do, I guess.

  25. 25
    nobody.really says:

    Religiosity and adversity: one guy’s view of the data.

    Individual liberty is expensive, if often productive in the long run; collectivism is cheap, if often less productive in the long run. Societies under stress need stronger tools of social cohesion to ward off total disintegration into a Hobbsian/Mad Max war of all against all. Think of Mutiny on the Bounty: the mutinous crew sets Captain Bly adrift with his most loyal lieutenants. Bly & Co. cling every more tenaciously to rules of orthodox hierarchy and command as their situation grows more desperate — even as those rules grow ever less relevant.

    If I see my peers doing better than I am, I will be filled with envy and frustration. If I’m introverted, I may adopt a world view that rationalizes my situation. If I’m extroverted (and most people are), I may adopt a world view that promises me vindication and triumph over my peers. And people who seek to rally the support of these extroverted people will trumpet just such a world view. And nothing rallies people as much as a good us-vs.-them story, with a divine guarantee that the long-suffering us will triumph in the end.

    So, who is my “peer”? That varies over time. Sociologists observe that most revolutions occur not when oppression is at its worst, but to the contrary, when oppression is lessening and people’s expectations are growing. That is, revolutions tend to occur when oppressed groups come to regard the next rung up on the social ladder as peers, but feel frustrated in getting what that group has.

    Thus, the civil rights movement did not arise during the height of the Jim Crow period, when blacks were less likely to regard white as their peers. Rather, it occurred during a period when more people were expressing ideas about the comparability of the races. Desegregation had the curious consequence of depopulation black neighborhoods of professionals and black businesses of clients. When cultural norms permitted affluent blacks to shop at the same stores and live in the same neighborhoods as affluent whites, those blacks changed their concept of the relevant “peer group” for purposes of shopping and housing.

    Thomas Friedman has discussed the “dignity gap” in the Middle East. While life in the Mideast may not have grown more oppressive, the growth of broadcasts of Western (especially American) popular culture has made people more aware of how the other half lives. Significantly, the 9/11 bombers were not the most oppressed members of Saudi Arabia. Rather, they were educated professionals who had come to regard themselves as peers to their Western neighbors but who had grown disillusioned with the West.

    Finally, consider contemporary America. If you check any statistic of social decay, you will find that the Red States lead: Poverty; unemployment. Crime in general; violent crime in general; homicide in general; murder in general; murder with specific weapons; incarceration; recidivism. Chemical dependency; chemical-dependency related disease; driving under the influence. Low education. Pornography. Divorce. Even obesity and related disease (which I’m quick to acknowlege is not a sign of social decay, but is nevertheless a widespread source of anxiety and shame, for better or worse).

    In the face of such pressure, who wouldn’t adopt as risk-avoiding posture as possible? Is gay marriage a threat to my marriage? Unlikely — but can I afford to take that risk? Guns may or may not provide me with comfort, but the idea that anyone would try to take them away only adds to my uncertainty. I live in a state of constant anxiety about my violent, drunk neighbors, my tenuous job and my unstable marriage; I know religion is not a panacea, but it’s the most stable raft I’ve got! Of course, churches are voluntary associations, and not all members of society will feel the need to join in the civic project of promoting social cohesion in the fact of social decay. The drunks, the drug dealers, the loners may be less likely to join, for example. Unsurprisingly, they may also be at the lower ends of the socio-political spectrum.

    People living in Blue States experience fewer signs of social decay. Not coincidentally, there is less social pressure to join churches as a sign of solidarity in opposition to such decay, and people feel less threatened by the existence of alternative world views.

    Of course, urban living is full of its own form of social decay. Most stable, suburban schools are fine letting kids wear blue jeans; the trend toward school uniforms with boys in ties and girls in skirts is more common in troubled urban settings, where school officials and parents look for models of “traditional” values to which to appeal.

    But if the recession lasts long, we may well observe changes in Blue States, with an an upsurge in church attendance, social conservatism, militarism and scapegoating.

    Thus, the prevalence of “religiosity” is like the prevalence of hospital visits. If you have no reason to suspect a widespread illness, the fact that a large portion of the population feels the need to go to the hospital is cause for concern. But if you already know that the population is undergoing an epidemic, the fact that a large portion of the population is availing themselves of the services of a hospital is merely an adaptive behavior.

  26. 26
    PG says:

    In the face of such pressure, who wouldn’t adopt as risk-avoiding posture as possible?

    If only Obama had know this was the proper way to refer to people’s being bitter and clinging to their guns and religion.

  27. 27
    thebigmanfred says:

    Interesting that no one seems to be challenging the idea that happiness can be measured by measuring wealth. Certainly at odds with the Christian philosophy, that’s for sure.

    I agree happiness is not necessarily determined by wealth. Good point. Many people have used the bible to specifically to demonize being wealthy. For the love of money and all.

    If you check any statistic of social decay, you will find that the Red States lead: Poverty; unemployment. Crime in general; violent crime in general; homicide in general; murder in general; murder with specific weapons; incarceration; recidivism. Chemical dependency; chemical-dependency related disease; driving under the influence. Low education. Pornography. Divorce.

    While this may all be true, I don’t think religion is the cause of it. There are completely different economic factors between wealthy States (I”ll refrain from using Red and Blue since I don’t think it accurately describes the political situation of the country) and poor States, of which religion probably has little to do with. If you look at Mississippi for example, it was once one of the wealthiest of states, pre Civil War. After the war, the state made poor economic decisions. It didn’t invest in it’s infrastructure, it didn’t change it’s economy to something more profitable (i.e. non – agriculture based),etc. Cotton lost out to India, as other nations learned to become less reliant on the South’s cotton, so cotton prices remained low after the war. Add to that the destruction that resulted during the war and natural disasters and you’ve got a recipe for poverty. Wikipedia sums things up:

    Mississippi’s rank as one of the poorest states is related to its dependence on cotton agriculture before and after the Civil War, late development of its frontier bottomlands in the Mississippi Delta, repeated natural disasters of flooding in the late 19th and early 20th century requiring massive capital investment in levees, heavy capital investment to ditch and drain the bottomlands, and slow development of railroads to link bottomland towns and river cities. The 1890 constitution discouraged industry, a legacy that would slow the state’s progress for years.

    Poverty is more or less the cause of all the other problems. If you have no money, crime will rise, education will suck, people will not be as healthy, so on and so forth. The wealthier states we’re the states that moved from agriculture to more manufacturing/tech jobs. Overall religion describes very little of how wealthy a place will or will not be. For example, the South was wealthier before the Civil War, when they were probably even more religious. It’s always a matter of what economic resources one has at their disposal. Take a look at some of the oil rich countries like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. They rank pretty high on the religiosity scale but they also have a high per capita GDP relative to their country (factor in the the cost of living one probably makes more money there then say in the South). I’d still maintain religion is a correlation not necessarily a causation.

  28. 28
    nobody.really says:

    If you check any statistic of social decay, you will find that the Red States lead….

    While this may all be true, I don’t think religion is the cause of it.

    That was my point: People who face chronic adversity (including the adversity of feeling inferior to their peers) are more prone to need/desire the social cohesion that religion provides. It is the adversity that prompts increased religious observance, not the other way around.

    All of which says NOTHING about the merits of a belief in God, or about any particular religion. Thus I’m not seeing how anything said in this discussion conflicts with anything RonF describes.

  29. 29
    nobody.really says:

    On a tangent:

    Interesting that no one seems to be challenging the idea that happiness can be measured by measuring wealth. Certainly at odds with the Christian philosophy, that’s for sure.

    I agree happiness is not necessarily determined by wealth. Good point. Many people have used the bible to specifically to demonize being wealthy. For the love of money and all.

    To be sure, the word “happy” only appears in the post’s pithy title, not in the body of the discussion. Amp presents the thesis that areas with conspicuously religious populations are areas with low per capital GDP, and vice versa.

    That said, the Bible seems replete with stories about suffering associated with lack of material goods, the virtue of sharing material goods, and the sin/shame of waste.

    A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19

    A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children…. Proverbs 13:22

    Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord… Wealth and riches shall be in his house…. Psalms 112:1-3

    But if any provideth not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. I Timothy 5:8

    [Jesus said,] “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace….” Luke 14:28-32

    [Jesus said,] “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” Matthew 25:13-30; see also Luke 19:11-27.

    Thus, I read the Bible to chastise people with money who refuse to share it as well as people with talent who refuse to exploit it — that is, people who forgo opportunities to increase productivity or avoid waste. Apparently loving your neighbor means making the most of your God-given gifts, financial or otherwise.

  30. 30
    RonF says:

    The Bible seems to have conflicting views on money, celebrating wealth in one area and then condemning in another. But in looking at it the key seems to me to be that it’s not that money is the root of all evil; it’s that the love of money is the root of all evil. Accumulation of wealth because you have done as you should have done (used your talents, tilled your fields) is not wrong. But ignoring or violating your duties to the Lord and your fellow man to accumulate it is. Have money, use money and be joyful. But don’t love it. Don’t use it as a measure of who you are or what someone’s worth is. Don’t make obtaining it the main focus of your life. Don’t equate it with happiness.

  31. 31
    RonF says:

    Most stable, suburban schools are fine letting kids wear blue jeans; the trend toward school uniforms with boys in ties and girls in skirts is more common in troubled urban settings, where school officials and parents look for models of “traditional” values to which to appeal.

    Nobody, I think your analysis of the use of school uniforms as a model of traditional values is too simplistic and ignores much more important factors. Outfitting kids in school uniforms solves problems. It masks economic differences among kids. It’s a whole lot cheaper. It cuts down over conflicts over appearances, stealing of clothing, etc. that leads to violence. I doubt that modeling traditional values is what school clothing is about.

    Basically, you make it sound as if the move to school uniforms is made on the basis of a moral construct. I think it’s simply a way to solve practical problems.

  32. 32
    Sailorman says:

    RonF,

    While I am at least somewhat understanding of uniforms, i think you’re a bit off in your assessment. At heart, uniforms represent a determination that it is OK to suppress some student choice and individuality in order to attain some benefit to a group. While that may be a valid argument, the fact remains that suppression of individuality to achieve group gain is, in the school system, considered a traditional practice.

  33. Pingback: Wealth & Religiosity « The Czech

  34. 33
    thebigmanfred says:

    nobody.really:

    That was my point: People who face chronic adversity (including the adversity of feeling inferior to their peers) are more prone to need/desire the social cohesion that religion provides. It is the adversity that prompts increased religious observance, not the other way around.

    Sorry, my comment wasn’t directed specifically at you just at the general idea that religion was the causality for lack of wealth. I agree with your point that adversity will drive people more to religion.

    RonF it would say your point about the bible’s view of money is pretty accurate.

  35. 34
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    Mandolin:

    “Christian doctrine is that God loves the atheists too.

    I’m just sayin.”

    Also, this reads as seriously rude, and terribly irrelevant.

    Oh, sorry. I meant it to be nice. (See how hard it is to approach this topic AT ALL?) I certainly never meant it to be rude and no, don’t see why it is. My point is that we are to treat everyone with respect, regardless of how we believe. I would like the same, as I think the people in Mississippi also would.

    Tom Nolan:

    Is there anything in the Bible which would support such a teaching? Specifically: that those who, in the full possession of their intellect, reject the possibility of God’s existence, are nonetheless loved by Him and can expect His mercy?

    Now, we are getting a bit St Thomas Aquinas here, aren’t we, Tom?

    But okay, if you insist, and no quoting Meister Eckhart, right?

    1st John 3:10-14:

    In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

    For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

    Not as Cain, [who] was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

    Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.

    We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death.

    I don’t see any exceptions listed, so I take it that means everybody, atheists, bullies, Republicans, in-laws, whoever.

    If you are a Calvinist and believe that means ONLY SOME PEOPLE, I refer you to Hillaire Belloc’s writing on why Calvinism is a heresy. (No, not saying that, just referring you to it. :P)

    Mandolin:

    “Mississippi and Connecticut’s relative wealth and poverty has jack shit to do with religion, but WHO lives there and WHO DOESN’T.”

    Care to support that?

    Well, the population of Mississippi has been very poor since slavery, and has never been able to climb out of that. To blame Christianity for poverty is a bit much, doncha think? There is a large African-American religious community in Mississippi and their poverty is not due to belonging to the Church–are you saying it is?

    The wealth of the Buckleys and other rich Connecticut white people, is due to their whiteness and privilege, not being Christian.

    (Surprised I have to explain that to atheists, but oh well.)

    I’m stunned to see the conflation of wealth and belief. This would make a great late-night commercial here in the south: Hey, stop believing in God, you idiots, and you can get INSTANTLY RICH–just like those educated and erudite agnostics in Connecticut!… I am put in mind of Flannery O’Connor’s infamous “Church of Jesus Christ without Jesus Christ”–somebody should get on TV and advertise this as another way to Get Rich Quick overnight…

  36. 35
    DaisyDeadhead says:

    I’m still in moderation, Mandolin and Tom, or I’d have answered you by now. :P

  37. 36
    Mandolin says:

    “Oh, sorry. I meant it to be nice. ”

    Okay. That’s cool. Sorry I misinterpreted.

  38. 37
    Tom Nolan says:

    I’d keep punching till the bell, Daisy, but Ampersand wouldn’t approve. So instead I shall have to watch “Revenge of Frankenstein” to help this Tuesday evening pass. (Great film, by the way – Christopher Lee was the best.)

    Tom

  39. 38
    Nomen Nescio says:

    I certainly never meant it to be rude and no, don’t see why it is.

    it’s rude because, to us who have no god-beliefs, it reads as a dismissal and erasure of our entire viewpoint. it’s as if i, having just listened to you stating your beliefs in pick-a-deity, were to walk up and tell you something dismissive about how cute your childish invisible friends are, but i’m sure you’ll grow out of them eventually, you silly little thing you.

    …well, actually, of late i’ve taken to doing the equivalent of just that. ahem. in my defense, i do try to explain how the analogy works and just how it’s meant to hold up a mirror to believers’ own rudeness. even so, it’s harsh medicine to be dealing out and it does tend to generate more heat than light unless handled very carefully.

  40. 39
    Katherine says:

    I know the conversation has moved around quite a bit since this post was made, but I want to respond to a point that I think is important (this point made in response to the idea that God is all you need):

    food? shelter? clothing?

    Yes.

    Yes. Absolutely. And clean water. And an environment free of violence. And the support of caring friends/family members. And countless other things that enable us to survive and thrive in the world while we seek out spiritual life. These things are important. God knows they are important. The thing is, without God, we are essentially, spiritually, nothing. Which is NOT to say that non-religious people are nothing. According to what I believe, even the most ardent atheist is made in the image of God and has the spirit of God working in her in some way or another. So even though the necessities of life are necessary, they do not make up who we are at the most fundamental level.

    These are some ideas I’m exploring. Another is the idea that the injustice of poverty is not that there are people who lack sufficient resources, it’s that some people lack these resources, while others have plenty. So if we were all living on the edge of survival, as people have done for most of human existence, there would be sadness in this situation, but not the component of evil that shows itself in the current system.

    But these are just my thoughts. There’s a good passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus touches on these issues while preaching to a crowd of (as I recall) mostly folks without a lot of money/property:

    25″Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]?

    28″And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

  41. 40
    Nomen Nescio says:

    The thing is, without God, we are essentially, spiritually, nothing. Which is NOT to say that non-religious people are nothing.

    how is that not to say that? it seems to me that that is to say exactly that.

    thing is though, if you’d leave out the word “essentially”, i’d agree with the sentiment. i’ve never seen a good definition of the word “spiritual”, except as a referent to a musical genre; much like the word “holy”, i don’t think it means anything nearly as important as what religious people seem to think it means. i would fully agree that i have no “spiritual” side to me, and that this does not matter.

    the essential parts of a human life have none of them anything to do with that.

    According to what I believe, even the most ardent atheist is made in the image of God and has the spirit of God working in her in some way or another.

    and according to what i believe, all that is delusion on your part.

    normally i try not to call religious people deluded to their faces, since it’s a rude thing to do to people. they very seldom return the courtesy, however; i’m supposed to ignore their delusions without comment all the time.

    but let’s not just trade insults. some constructive criticism: how does this not directly contradict your earlier quote? you said that without god we’d be nothing, only to then render that academic by insisting we never are without god — well, how could you know we’d be nothing without something we can never lack?

    i want to run this experiment, and i volunteer to be the test subject. exorcise god from me, see if i turn into nothing. i bet i won’t!

  42. 41
    Katherine says:

    Hey Nomen,

    It seems this conversation could us to a working definition of spirituality. Maybe what I’m saying is that spiritually=essentially, i.e. our spiritual selves are our selves at the most essential, most core level- without the fears and distractions and charades that keep us from expressing who we really are in everyday life.

    If that’s the case, there’s really no such thing as having a spiritual “side”, because that which is spiritual is at the very core of your being. I think everybody has that sort of core self whether or not they think about it that way. You are who you are. You are not the labels other people have put on you (or the labels you’ve put on yourself for that matter). You are not how you act in particular situations, although I think a spiritually attuned person will reveal that spirituality in their actions.

    And yes, we are never without God. God’s love and presence are always available to us. Although I’ve heard hell described as a state of being without God- so maybe the result of your metaphysical experiment would be something like that? That to be without God would just be this terrible disconnected state.

    Sorry you’ve felt silenced by religious people, or have been in situations where there’s a double standard for saying what is or isn’t delusional. Hopefully we can all reach out to each other in love and humility and create an environment where no one needs take offense at others’ thoughts.

    All the best to you,
    Katherine

  43. 42
    Nomen Nescio says:

    by that definition, your “spirituality” would probably be synonymous with what i would call “personality”. that this exists is undeniable, but why refer to it with an overtly religious term? that risks bringing in the unspoken assumption that this thing we’re labelling is somehow supernatural, which a person’s (or animal’s) personality clearly isn’t.

    other times, i’ve heard religious people speak of “spiritual experiences”, and they seemed to be talking about a sense of numinous awe. i get that emotion too, of course — empty seashores will do it every time, for me — but again, that seems a perfectly normal part of a person’s emotional life. labeling it with a term often associated with the supernatural seems to invite confusion.

    and i’m sorry, but the notion that a deity is always present with us — and that we’d be noticeably worse off it it wasn’t, no less! — makes me smirk. i assure you, no deity has ever been present with me, and the absence is not at all traumatic.

    the silencing and double standards are not overt or violent, in the western world — not usually, anyway, and so far never to me personally. but those factors are there, and they might make good fodder for the new thread on christianism. i’ll see if i can come up with a worthwhile post for that thread.

  44. 43
    Jake Squid says:

    You are not how you act in particular situations, although I think a spiritually attuned person will reveal that spirituality in their actions.

    So you can only reveal your true self if you’re “spiritually attuned?” And what does “spiritually attuned” mean?

  45. 44
    FurryCatHerder says:

    In re 40:

    Yes. Absolutely. And clean water. And an environment free of violence. And the support of caring friends/family members. And countless other things that enable us to survive and thrive in the world while we seek out spiritual life. These things are important. God knows they are important. The thing is, without God, we are essentially, spiritually, nothing.

    That belief is true in CHRISTIANITY. It is not true in other religions. The G-d I worship doesn’t teach that people who don’t believe in G-d are “nothing”.

    But then, my religion doesn’t send missionaries to under-developed countries and refuse to provide all that food, clothing, shelter and clean water unless someone believes in that particular deity.

    This is what bugs me about these “A Godless Society Is A Happy Society” — whose deity are we bashing today?

  46. 45
    Robin says:

    Never thought it would happen, but I’m gonna have to side with the theists on this one. The post merely comments in simplistic generalizations on a statistical correlation, without any depth or analysis to justify the provocative thesis.

    Also, saying “Prop 8 was caused by Religious People” is about as meaningful as saying “The Holocaust was caused by Religious People.” Sure, it’s technically true, but a whole lot of religious people OPPOSED it as well, not to mention were victims of it (there’s plenty of churchgoing gays, you know). Oppression and hatred arise when people twist religious ideals to justify immoral causes. Granted, institutions based on faith and dogma lend themselves to narrow-mindedness, which can beget extremism and violence, but Mao and Stalin achieved that without any help from God.

    My point isn’t to enter a “who started more genocides debate”, but simply to point out that religiosity itself does not create social ills. Some people, myself included, don’t believe in the existence of the supernatural. A whole lot more people do believe in it. To dismiss their whole belief system as childish delusions, and to blame them as a group for global repression is divisive, unconstructive, and frankly below anyone who claims to love reason and humanism.

    And when some religious people address us by saying, “God loves atheists too,” we shouldn’t take it as an affront to our intellect, but an appeal to our humanity. They’re saying, “Sure, we disagree with your beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we think less of you as people.” Surely the least we can do is reply in kind? If atheists work together with the more tolerant elements of religious communities, rather than lumping them in with the extremists, maybe the world could become a happier place fore everyone.

  47. 46
    vishal says:

    Today’s wold in brief…

    World is helpless.
    Science is fearless.
    Peopel are mercyless.
    Education is baseless.
    Movies are useless.
    Food is tastless.
    Politics is hopeless.
    Youth is jobless.
    Be’coz the SOCIETY IS GODLESS.

  48. 47
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Wait, you think science should be fearful?

  49. 48
    vishal says:

    yes it should be or else their will more hiroshima and nagasakhi, more WTC, global warming, radioactivity, biowepons, neuclear wepons, diseases, obesity, cancer, accidents, etc…
    Scientiest should be fearful about the consequences of their every new invintation.

  50. 49
    vishal says:

    and it seems that u agree with remaning facts.

  51. 50
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Agree? Well, I actually agree with almost none of the statements – and even the ones I do agree with, I don’t agree that the cause is godlessness.

    The reason I only asked about that one was not because of how much of the rest I may or may not disagree with. It’s because all of the rest seem like the kind of generalized negative statements that make for good sound bites without further explanation. The science one surprised me because I saw it and thought “why, that’s a good thing. Why is it on that list of things obviously meant to be bad?”

  52. 51
    vishal says:

    u see the science has benifited less very less and damaged more. Every thing which is product of todays science has some benfiit and more disadvantage. Take any thing eg. Drugs- they have side effect, automobiles-pollution, neuclear science-atom bomb, this electronic devices do you thing they will save u, airplanes have to come down when fuel ends, ur machines can’t work without fuel, u think earth has unlimited to give u , no thats not true, actually u have used ur quota to use it and now ur exploiting the quota of future generation. If u belive in god then it gives feeling that some higher energy is their which can do anything and offcorse it is their, u cant do anything before earthquaks,tsunami,flood, ur science don’t have that power to save them. Yes science is benifitial but to very limited extent. God less society is of animals society.

  53. 52
    vishal says:

    similarity of activities between humans and animal
    1.eating
    2.sleeping
    3.mating
    4.defending
    This are the bascic activities that are most important.
    Diffrence between humans and animals ‘consciousness’ use it to understand God and thats the reason why humans have consciousness to understand him.
    Just b’coz we can’t see God u can’t denai his prescence. we can’t even know whats going in the next room then what to speak of to see God. He is suprem powerful and he is not so easily seen anywere and to any body. We have to get eligibele to see God. Just as we can’t meet President of the Americea so easily but need some eligibelity criteria similarly we need some eligiblity to see God.

  54. 53
    vishal says:

    Consider a hypothetical example. Doctor
    Waterport, the famous scientist, has just
    discovered a sophisticated formula that solves a
    technical mathematical problem. He proudly calls
    his colleagues together and presents them with
    thirty pages of ultra-technical symbols. His fellow scientists pore over the pages and conclude, “Yes,
    this is the answer we’re looking for.” If Dr.
    Waterport were to show the proof to an
    ordinary person on the street, the person
    wouldn’t even know how to hold the pages
    right side up. Because he’s not trained in mathematics, the proof would be meaningless to
    him. Conclusion: Proof demands a qualified
    audience. Certainly, any valid proof must be logical. But
    how we apply logic depends on our previous
    experience. For example, suppose an apple tree is
    growing outside your window. One morning
    you hear a sound like that of an apple hitting the
    ground, and when you look outside you see a ripe apple lying beneath the tree. Logically, you
    conclude, the apple has just fallen from the tree. Your logical statement rests on your previous
    observation that the apple tree produces apples,
    that the apples fall to the ground, and that they
    make a certain sound when this occurs. And
    your statement appears logical to those with
    similar experience.

  55. 54
    Ampersand says:

    Vishal, you appear to be plagiarizing your comments.

    I’m interested in hearing the genuine thoughts of people who disagree with me, but that precludes plagiarism. Thanks for your participation here, but I must ask you not to comment on “Alas” any further.

    (Note: I’ve deleted a few of Vishal’s seemingly plagiarized comments, but left one up so that others can see what I’m talking about.)