Losing Your Religion Doesn’t Make You Rich – The Research Is Being Badly Reported

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According to science – or according to newspaper reports of the science which is not quite the same thing – a country which loses its religion then becomes rich. This is not in fact what the science has shown. Rather, it shows that a classically liberal society becomes rich, a not-classically liberal one does not. This is something of a distinction, isn’t it?

It is a debate that has raged between scholars for more than a century: does a country become less religious after it grows richer or does secularism help capitalism to flourish?

Now a study has provided an answer: rejecting God can significantly boost a nation’s wealth. Academics at the universities of Bristol and Tennessee set out to test the theory that nations become more secular after becoming more prosperous and found that the process takes place in reverse.

Nice story and not what that science has found at all. Instead, what they did find is:

The findings revealed that secularisation precedes economic development and not the other way around. Although this does not demonstrate a causal pathway, it does rule out the reverse.

Furthermore, the findings show that secularisation only predicts future economic development when it is accompanied by a respect and tolerance for individual rights.

That “only” shows us that it is the individual rights part which is what creates the riches, not the lack of religion.

This accords with a more general observation of the world of course. Individual rights were not greatly in evidence in the Soviet Union, an officially atheist country, and it sure as hell wasn’t rich. I know, as you do, nothing about religion in North Korea but we’d both suspect a certain absence and it’s most certainly not a rich place. There’s also not much evidence of those individual rights.

Countries where abortion, divorce and homosexuality are tolerated have a greater chance of future economic prosperity.

Where those rights exist is also where people are likely to have individual economic rights. Not exclusively so, obviously, but we’d expect an association.

We could also call into evidence other places, say Hong Kong. A place which appears to have 50% of the population believing, largely in Chinese folk religions. And is also one of the richest spots on the planet.

Those individual rights thus being the thing in common, no?

Or as we might put it, it’s not the anti-clericalism which makes a place rich, it’s that libertarian version, classical liberal if you prefer, of freedom which does. You know, that version which says you can believe any damn thing you want to as long as it’s not done in the streets to frighten the horses? The limitation being that your beliefs cannot be imposed over the rights of others to do the same?

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Pat
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Pat

My observation is that people increase their religious devotion in response to bad luck. I would expect that the less people’s lives are exposed to disasters outside human control the less people appeal to divinities.
And the more people manage to solve their own problems, the less reason they have to appeal to divinities.
I would remark that no two religions are identical, so the effect of religion on wealth creation will depend on which religion we’re talking about.

Pat
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Pat

Developing on the above the function of all religions is to raise morale, but the practical effects vary considerably. If your religion dictates that you ask God for guidance when their is a problem, then humans will devise a solution and have more faith in their solution as it is likely to be seen as divinely inspired. If your religion dictates that sacrifices are made that is at best pointless and mostly counterproductive. If you religion dictates the expulsion of people from society that is only helpful in the rare cases where harmful people are correctly identified. Usually it is… Read more »

John Galt
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Also think what Nazi Germany would have achieved had Nazism welcomed Jews, and thus had Einstein and others working for it.

I shudder to think about the consequences of that since it would probably involve a radioactive London, Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad.

In fact this was examined in some detail in Stephen Fry’s comic alternate history “Making History” where Hitler was erased from the timeline and a less anti-Semitic leader became Führer.

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

Would think it depends on which religion. My experience with Latin Americans has made me thing that Catholicism has completely buggered their appreciation of cause & effect. Pat talks about “bad luck”. There’s no such thing as luck, bad or otherwise. There are only events & whether they can be influenced by your’s or other’s actions. If you believe in fortune that can be influenced by prayer, interfering deities & the rest of the rag-bag of superstition, you’re f***ed before you’ve started.

Spike
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I concur with Bloke in Spain. Latin American Catholicism makes the common man more patient in the face of injustice and more willing to accept concepts such as unknowability and fate. And also with Tim: The common antecedent is the tendency for the society to tolerate the deviant. Some of these will discard society’s deities and some of these will innovate to make the race more productive. There are prominent atheists in a dynamic society, and likewise few innovators in an Islamic Republic. For the American Indians, the rebel had no option except exile and survival on his own. The… Read more »

Spike
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PS – Now, what would this say about a society where people become atheists because doing so is de rigeur? It might suggest that dissent is so costly there as to retard economic progress.

Pat
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Pat

To clarify, by bad luck I meant unfortunate events beyond the current power of man to solve- say a drought or a flood beyond the current capacity for remedy.
Not to be confused with doing stupid stuff, often dishonestly described as bad luck.

Southerner
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A group of people who jointly believe in the same thing is politically more powerful than a group of people who individually believe in nothing. They used to say that getting atheists to cooperate was like herding cats, until some bright spark thought of abortion, global warming and legal drugs as unifying beliefs. People are dropping out of the Christianity thing. Most of the leaders, you really don’t want to be led by them, and it’s gone all wishy-washy. Islam is hard and fierce and there are three main flavours to choose from. Believers like a religion that knows who’s… Read more »