Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Is the US a Religious Outlier?

An interesting graph from Charles Blow:

More on this here.


Napp Nazworth said...

Yeah, Blow didn't stumble onto anything new here. This "American exceptionalism" argument has been around for a few decades now. Some argue that American isn't really an exception to the secularization thesis, but that Americans overstate their religiosity for cultural reasons.

Brian Hollar said...

Actually, while I can believe there is some preference falsification going on, for the most part I think there is a much higher level of genuine religiosity in the US relative to other developed nations. As proof of this, simply look at how many churches "stay open for business" in the US without any state support of any kind. I believe the religious freedom and ensuing competition for adherents helps explain much of this.

thinking said...

Competition for adherents among churches = a secularized consumer culture in churches = a secularized culture with a veneer of religiosity.

thinking said...

BTW, great discussion!

Brian Hollar said...

Actually, in theory (and observation) competition for adherents has the same effect as competition in other markets. It leads to a greater variety of religious "goods" including higher quality religions which often drive the lower quality ones out of the religious market. Compare how vibrant and active churches are in the US to other Western nations and you'll see what I mean. Studies indicate that where you have a greater diversity of denominations, you have much higher rates of church attendance and more involved congregations. Something both fascinating and somewhat counter-intuitive.

I recommend reading Larry Iannaccone's Introduction to the Economics of Religion [PDF] for more on this.

Napp Nazworth said...

I agree that the religious marketplace theory has some explanatory value. But, something else to consider, does vibrancy = depth? I think you saw the story recently on CNN about the young "fake" xians (posted on my FB page if you didn't). I thought the headline had it wrong. They weren't really "fake", they were just oblivious to the teachings of their faith. Those who hold the secularization view sometimes use the analogy of a lake that is "wide but shallow", meaning that religion is pervasive everywhere but doesn't really mean much. I prefer to say that it wide and shallow, with a few sinkholes, meaning there are pockets of depth scattered about.

thinking said...

No doubt that competition increases the "vibrancy" or quality of the religious goods, but my point is that this vibrancy equates to a very secular definition of religion. Note that I am not saying this is good or bad, but merely so.

As Napp points out, popularity does not equate to depth or even necessarily a faithful interpretation of the religion.

The very fact that most churches can be analyzed as businesses proves the underlying secular nature of these institutions.

Turning to a Christian theological perspective:
The New Testament Church was most definitely not "run" like a business. When Jesus walked the earth He called for service and sacrifice, with no promise of reward on this earth. He urged people to count the cost before following Him, and warned that life would not be easier if they chose Him. Not exactly the message of a winning business.

My point is that America is not this outlier, but a very secular culture at its root, regardless of what people state.