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Spinning Against Religion
11/25/2003

The other day, Donald Sensing noted a University of Michigan study of religious trends. Giving evidence of the tremendous arrogance of Western intellectuals, the study's authors come across an apparent paradox:

In the book, Inglehart and co-author Pippa Norris put religion and spirituality in the U.S. in a global context by showing that while virtually all post-industrial societies have been moving toward more secular orientations for many decades, the world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before.

"Though these two propositions may seem contradictory, they're not," Inglehart said. "Secularization has a powerful negative impact on human fertility rates, so the least religious countries have fertility rates far below the replacement level, while societies with traditional religious views have fertility rates two or three times the replacement level." As a result, those with traditional religious views now constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.

The underlying presumption, perhaps not a conscious one, that academics seek in vain to reconcile with the facts is that secularization represents a more-correct way of viewing the world. Advanced nations (read: Europe) learn that God is a myth, so it is, therefore, a little puzzling that the trend should be toward increases of traditional religion.

Of course, "virtually all post-industrial societies" leaves out a huge wrench: the single post-industrial superpower society. That religion in the U.S. is the subject of the study perhaps presents evidence of the degree to which arrogant assumptions undermine rational, analytical thought. They've got two and two, but four is an answer that they reject out of hand.

Ah, say the academics, the ignorant religious people around the world breed like rabbits, and the U.S. has pushed its inhabitants toward the comfort of God because it withholds the comfort that ought to be offered by the socialist state! Therefore, you see, it is a paradox of the inherent superiority of the non-U.S.-post-industrial world that its worldview will decline in relative number of adherents.

This doomsday scenario of the Western elite fighting against the tide would seem to put paranoid rants about world overpopulation (and the need for global "family planning") in a whole 'nother light, wouldn't you say?

Stepping away from the presumption that the elite are not tragically deluded, one can see that the various theories and proclamations are but so much paint over the huge crack through their ideology. If the welfare state destroys religion, it is because it saps its victims of their humanity, not because it answers their bodily needs. As Rev. Sensing points out, "religious people are not merely more generous to religious causes and charities, they are very much more generous." Moreover, Michael Williams notes that "we [in the United States] export charitable giving all over the planet."

Somewhere in my daily reading, although I can't find it now, I came across another big piece of this puzzle, as explored in a New York Times article:

To put it bluntly, we are witnessing the decline and fall of the Protestant work ethic in Europe. This represents the stunning triumph of secularization in Western Europe the simultaneous decline of both Protestantism and its unique work ethic. ...

All this is the real reason that the American economy has surged ahead of its European competitors in the past two decades. It is not about efficiency. It is simply that Americans work more. Europeans take longer holidays and retire earlier; and many more European workers are either unemployed or on strike. ...

So the decline of work in Northern Europe has occurred more or less simultaneously with the decline of Protestantism. Quod erat demonstrandum indeed!

There's no need to get mired in the sectarian battle, although there is a discussion to be had among Christians. For the purposes of comparing secularism with religiosity, it is enough to note that European Protestantism has declined more dramatically than European Catholicism. At any rate, there has been a general decline in Christianity.

To summarize, people in less-religious post-industrial societies have smaller families with fewer children, don't work as hard, have slower economies, give less, demand more, and yet, I've seen no evidence that they're happier. In contrast, people in the more-religious United States have larger families, work more, give more, have more productive economies, and have more international confidence.

Somebody explain to me why our leading class looks to Europe for guidance?

Posted by Justin Katz @ 03:23 PM EST