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zophos
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Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Mar 2nd, 2013 at 5:11pm
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Today I came across some academic explanations for America's religiosity that had interesting implications for libertarian thought.

It starts with the observation that, despite their common Western heritage, America is much more religious than Europe.  Why?  Here are some theories:

The Free Market for Religion

European religious life has been historically controlled by state churches - the Anglican Church in England, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe, and so on.  In other words, state-enforced or culturally-dominant religious monopolies control religious life in Europe.  America, having been populated by persecuted religious minorities, and explicitly founded on the separation of church and state, has no such religious monopolies.  In economics, free market competition drives innovation, and businesses are more in tune with customers' needs.  So it happened in religion also.  The unresponsive, entrenched European religious monopolies could not meet the spiritual demands of the people, and people responded by leaving their churches.  American religions gave people what they wanted, resulting in a more robust religious population.  This is "supply side spirituality" - if a good product exists, people will want it.

Demand-side Religion

Like in economics, there is a debate between the religious supply-siders (described above) and religious demand-siders.  The demand-siders posit that there is a greater demand for religion in American because of a weaker welfare state.  Since the government cannot give people the material security they desire, they turn to God.  And it is certainly true that European nations have much more socialistic governments than the US.

Assuming this school of thought is correct, this means that a libertarian society will be more religious than a socialistic one.  For those of you who are atheists or agnostics, is that something that bothers you?

I don't like this school of thought because I have always seen the lack of religion in Europe as being a result of Europe's violent history - when your city is being fire-bombed or your family herded into concentration camps, it is easy to conclude there is no God.  Americans are more sheltered in that there has never been a national catastrophe on a similar scale as the Thirty Years' War, or the French Revolution, or the World Wars.  And so, Americans are less jaded when it comes to religious belief.

If this is correct, how will a libertarian society affect religion?  Will a libertarian society be more cynical and jaded?  I don't think so, only because I think liberty works better than socialism - as in, liberty leads to peace and prosperity.  Thus, a libertarian population will be wealthier and more secure, making them less cynical about belief in God.

Religion as Statist Propaganda

This one is more confusing to me, but I included the thread that introduced me to this material at the bottom, so you can peruse it yourself.  Anyway, it seems that historically, because European states were ethnic hegemonies (in that, to be a German citizen meant being of German ethnicity, and indeed the vast majority of German citizens are German by blood), religious identification was tied directly to political identification.  For example, to be Irish, one must also be Catholic - for if you were Protestant, you were a British traitor.  Throughout the centuries of political upheaval in Europe, whenever a state was destroyed, the associated religion was also damaged.  So for example, when the deeply Catholic ancien régime of France was overthrown in 1789, French citizens' religious identity was also overthrown.

In contrast, in America, there is no ethnic or religious requirement to being an American citizen.  Religion is strictly personal.  Thus, when the American government fails us, it is a purely political failure, and not a religious failure.  In other words, people blame America but not God. 

It is important to include here that the current American culture wars are a very new phenomenon - dating from the 1980s.  If the above theory is correct, then ironically, people like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham are in the process of destroying religion in America.  Why?  They are trying to force a specific religious identify on the American government, and they have succeeded to a large degree.  When we talk about "religious Americans," we immediately think of evangelistic, fundamentalist, conservative Protestants - the "religious right" of the Republican Party.  In my opinion, and I think I already see evidence of it, when the Republican Party experiences a failure, it is often blamed on the "religious nutjobs."  In other words, when something bad happens to the Republican Party, there is a backlash against religion as well, because the Republican Party is closely associated with it.

According to this theory then, what happens when libertarians replace Republicans?  Does it save religion by dissociating it from politics, or does it damage religion, since religion is already too closely tied into the Republican Party platform, and thus damaging the Republicans will damage religion as well?

The reddit comment which started me on this long-winded series of questions, which I highly recommend if religion in politics interests you: http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/19isi7/why_did_europe_become_less...
  

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Zimobog
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #1 - Mar 2nd, 2013 at 10:17pm
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Sure, the reason worship is so healthy in the US is because of separation of Church and state. Now if people would see how healthy it would be to have separation of marriage and state, justice and the state, defense and the state, education and the state, the market and the state, etc.

I disagree that Europe ever had anything such as ethnic hegemony. Hegemony was, and is, a state appartarus. Germany, for instance, was Hessians, Silesians, Prussians, Pomerainians, Austrians etc just decades before another statist monster turned them into "Germans". Before those many little state identities existed they were Cheruski, Alemans, Jutes, and Angles as defined so by tribal identities and by Ceasar who called them Germani.

These identities were always a manipulation of people by controlling systems. Religion, in such cases, are only trappings and propaganda. What happens to people who are permitted to pursue religion outside of a managed identity?
  

I'm sure it is, Mr. Lefty Pants. I'll take your word for it.
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #2 - Mar 2nd, 2013 at 11:24pm
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In Australia I think market reform and freedom of information has helped we atheists alot more than religion.

People continue to be leaving faith but now thanks to the internet atheists are meeting up in greater numbers. There are entire areas in book stores for atheism - there never was before. We had our 2nd atheist convention in Melbourne and numbers were through the roof compared to the one before.

My issue with Government is they still allow market distortion of religion here. Religion gets special tax breaks, Religion gets funding for scripture classes in schools while ethics classes do not. And government subsidized religious  schools get special discrimination privileges. They can now choose not to employ people based on religion or sexuality. I have no issue with that except that their decision is funded by my atheist tax paying dollars.

I think secular atheists here like Liberterians want more of a level playing field. And when that happends im sure secular atheists/agnostics growth will continue to grow faster and people will continue to be leaving Church pews in greater numbers then are currently doing so.

I say bring a level playing field on. Let people believe what they want to and monotheism will die a pretty fast death here. Or atleast find itself in a small niche. The same occured to the Unions when we bought in market reform. They just died a natural death.

My question to you is I think Mosaic law is completely opposed to the views of Liberterians. How do you reconcile the old testament barbarism with Liberterian idealogy. Pat Condell puts it very well here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IC-9uJrotC4 and its my guess this is how its done.

Let me know your thoughts.
  

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zophos
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #3 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 12:33am
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Australia is an interesting case to consider - they are like the US in that they too have never experienced a "national catastrophe" or political upheaval that would cause people to leave their religion.  And yet Australians seem less religious than Americans.  I consulted Wikipedia and compared Australia, the US and the UK for religion numbers - the US population has at most 16% self-identifying as no religion - 20% if we include "no response."  In Australia and the UK, the number is closer to 30% (including "no response").

First, I wonder if Oz's and UK's similarity is due to the shared Anglo heritage.

Second, I wonder about Australia's "religion market."  What is Australia's religious history and make up - is the market for religion unregulated there?  Wikipedia tells me that most Christians (if we may focus on Christians for this discussion) mostly identify as Catholic, and then Anglican.  These are both typical "monopolistic" churches, while in America Christianity is dominated by the dozens of "innovative, competitive" Protestant churches.  Including Australia in the data seems to indicate that theory number 1 - the Free Market for Religion - best explains America's religiosity.  That is, if you agree with my uninformed assessment that Australia is dominated by monopolistic churches.
  

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zophos
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #4 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 1:05am
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Changing gears a little, so made this a separate post.

You talked a lot about official government sponsorship of religion in Australia.  If we include tax subsidies (in the US religious organizations are also not taxed), then this could be construed as government support of religion.  (I should note that in the US there is virtually zero government support of religious education programs that I'm aware of.)  However, at least in the US, all non-profit organizations are tax-exempt, so that includes atheist and humanist organizations.  In other words, there is already a level playing field in the US, from the taxation stand point, and religion does quite well here (obviously).  Perhaps this is a case of religion filling the gap left by the comparatively small US welfare state ("Demand Side Religion").  If the welfare state in the UK or Australia were repealed, would we see a corresponding rise in religiosity?  That would be an interesting experiment...

And changing gears for a final time: Mosaic law and libertarianism.  Not quite the focus of my post, but worth discussing.

My primary view of libertarianism is that it is my political philosophy.  It is not my personal philosophy.  Personally, because I am a Christian, I am a socialist: I believe it is required of me to give to the poor, to share my wealth with others, to donate to charity.  Politically, I could never force this view on someone else, so I am a voluntary socialist, unlike every single socialist political party.

That being said, I still do not follow Old Testament law.  There is a Biblical reason for this, and a theological reason for this.  The theological reason cuts more directly to the heart of the matter - why a Christian can "cherry pick" what parts of the Bible he sees as valid.  I subscribe to "liberal" Christianity, which rejects the inerrancy of the Bible.  In other words, liberal Christians believe the Bible may have been inspired by God, but it was written and handed down over the generations by flawed humans, who would have made mistakes and forgeries.  We can try to pick out the mistakes by using our God-given logical faculties - in other words, we use the same rational processes to build our ethics as an atheist would, and probably arrive at similar conclusions.  Religious fundamentalists would try to claim that they have the "true" interpretation of religion, but, as I said in my OP, they are newcomers to the stage.  Liberal Christianity has been developing since the Renaissance, as theologians have tried to rid Christianity of the superstitions, the violence, etc.
  

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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #5 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 9:51am
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Interesting topic, to say the least. I've watched political debates, campaigns, and speeches for many years. One thing that I have begun to notice is our shift from being heavily Christian/Catholic oriented to just fix the damn country. As such, I believe Obama's beliefs are more Muslim and Romney is Mormon. Obama won 2 elections and Romney could have won one. So I think we're beginning to see that mold break, which I believe is a good thing.

As far as historical information on various countries, I've never looked into it. However, what I do know is a lot of countries did have some form of religious ties to it. Those ties bound them through their everyday lives. Whether it's in their personal, professional, or political lives, it is/was there. Where, I believe, this becomes a problem is when they force their views/opinions onto others and begin to make rules around it. More than that, as gerry stated, you begin to make 'special accommodations' to religions so they can continue practicing. All of which, I disagree with.

Take for instance Chick-Fil-A. Since they are a Catholic owned/operated business, they are against gay marriages. I believe it's their right to believe in that because it's their core belief. People began to boycott them as if it's wrong for them to do it. I'm not sure how I feel about them giving money to anti-gay lobbyists, but I do believe they have a right to not believe in it. At no point are they saying their not going to serve anyone who is gay, they are simply stating they don't support/agree with it. In with that, they should be able to freely speak how they feel as those who support it should be able to boycott it.

However, to end this with your topic, I believe free markets will strengthen & weaken religion at the same time. How this is the case is because I believe some people will decide to forego religion while those who remain will strengthen themselves under their religion. I don't mean strengthen in the sense of adding numbers, but by truly soul searching within themselves and determining what they believe in. From there is where I believe folks will determine if a certain religion is right for them or not. That's where the strengthen/weaken will come into place for the various religions.
  
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The Free Man
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #6 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 3:18pm
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The United States is composed of many immigrants from very religious countries like Italy, Ireland, and Latin America.
  
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RubyHypatia
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #7 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 4:51pm
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Places like Saudi Arabia and Iran have state sponsored religion and their citizens are very religious.  But then, I suppose all their Atheists are in the closet for safety reasons.
  
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zophos
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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #8 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 7:32pm
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The Free Man wrote on Mar 4th, 2013 at 3:18pm:
The United States is composed of many immigrants from very religious countries like Italy, Ireland, and Latin America.

It would be interesting to do a more thorough examination of American religion, in terms of race, country of origin and most importantly, number of ancestors who were born US citizens.  I was thinking about this, and black Americans are more or less the most religious ethnicity in America - that certainly didn't come from their country of origin.  Similarly, the typical Christian fundamentalist is Protestant, not Catholic (example: Westboro Baptist, Terry Jones, Mormon fundamentalism, etc).  Ethnically speaking, these people are more likely to be from families that have lived in the US for centuries, and whose ancestors came from the British Isles and western Europe.  For instance, Methodism and Presbyterianism are associated with British and Scottish ancestry, while Lutheranism and Calvinism are associated with German and Dutch ancestry.

What I want to know is, why are Americans of these European ethnicities still religious, when their ancestral cousins in Europe seem to have left their religion a generation ago?  Something happened in modern Europe that changed religion there, but did not happen in the US

I think Baptism may be a key to understanding American religion.  They are the second largest religious group in America (after Catholicism) and they are uniquely American.  I don't know anything about their history, but it could shed light on America's religiosity.
  

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Re: Free Markets Strengthen Religion, and other observations on religion
Reply #9 - Mar 4th, 2013 at 7:37pm
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RubyHypatia wrote on Mar 4th, 2013 at 4:51pm:
Places like Saudi Arabia and Iran have state sponsored religion and their citizens are very religious.  But then, I suppose all their Atheists are in the closet for safety reasons.

True, but its difficult to compare them to Americans because we don't share the same Western culture.  That's why I think only Western societies like Europe and Australia are useful comparisons to the US.  You're absolutely right about atheists being afraid to expose themselves - there are over a dozen countries where atheism and apostasy are punishable by prison time and even death.  This is a very different kind of religious monopoly than in Europe - while Europe might suffer from religious monopolies, they do not kill non-believers (at least, they haven't in the past couple centuries), so people are free to become atheists.  I know it's controversial to say, but I've heard the current Islamic world described as being at the same position, theologically speaking, that the Christian world was at during the days of the Inquisition.  They have a few centuries of maturing to do.
  

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