Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Atheism will Replace Religion, and Why Capitalism Cares

Here's a question that's bugged me for years: why aren't all Christians strong socialists? As Carl Gibson at HuffPost wrote the other day:
Christians would do well to vote for those who actually practice what they preach. While Perry and Paul demand cuts to public programs and health care for the uninsured, President Obama is finding his inner Luke and asking the richest Americans to share their possessions to help lessen the burden of deficit reduction already on the shoulders of working families.
If Jesus demanded a socialistic approach to helping the poor, then why are evangelical Christians almost universally against socialized medicine, unemployment insurance and a decent Social Security system?

Because it's bad for religion, that's why.

Nigel Barber did some fascinating research about atheism. He wanted to know why atheism is so strongly correlated with wealth. Along the way, he discovered the fascinating answer: It's security, not wealth, that drives people to religion.

Barber's abstract puts it succinctly:
Findings show that disbelief in God increased with economic development (measured by lower agricultural employment and third-level enrollment). Findings further show that disbelief also increased with income security (low Gini coefficient, high personal taxation tapping the welfare state) and with health security (low pathogen prevalence).
In a Psychology Today article, Barber elaborates:
[With] better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs.
When I read this, I had one of those "Aha!" moments: it answers the question of why Christianity and socialism are enemies in spite of Jesus' teachings.

Religion hates socialism because it's bad for religion.

If you combine Barber's findings with a study of memetic evolution (how ideas evolve and survive as they're passed through society and down through history) the answer is clear. Religions that support socialism make people feel secure, which in turn makes them lose faith. In the "survival of the fittest" world of evolving religions, the branches of Christianity that don't follow Jesus' teachings about helping the poor are the "fittest."

Churches that teach socialistic principles are in competition with the more Calvanistic "God has blessed the rich" or "God helps those who help themselves" philosophies. Sadly, the latter are the ones that keep their memberships. Their adherents are insecure and thus need faith to sustain them. On the other hand, religions that follow the teachings of Jesus and make their adherents feel secure and safe are (ironically) the ones most likely to lose membership.

As Ghandi famously said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." And now the theory of evolution, applied to memes and churches, helps us understand why.


  1. I think Christians are so unlike Christ because while Jesus is the name on the building, so to speak, it's Paul that has set the doctrine that has lived on to today.

    I have often wondered the same about Christian Republicans, Craig. How can people who are tasked with helping the less fortunate staunchly support a political platform that supports greed? If it's truly harder for a rich man to enter heaven than it is for a CAMEL to pass through the EYE OF A NEEDLE, why do Christians EVER seek wealth? It seems like it would undercut their shot at eternal bliss.

    There's obviously a long and involved answer here, but I'm just going to finish by saying I LOVE articles that break down religion and politics. The hypocrisy is out there, and no one talks about it. The Republican party wants to defund the poor and kill certain criminals (not a judgment, just an observation), and the conservative right votes for these very anti-Christian policies just the same.

  2. This is not apropos the above post, but a response to what you seem to be about:

    It seems to me that religion, as opposed to being a static set of beliefs, is a dynamic search for truth. It is very personal, and therefore subjective - and it can get very passionate.

    As such, it has nothing to do with any preconcieved idea of God. I daresay it has nothing to do with any idea of "God" at all.

    Buddhism is, I have heard, an atheistic religion, although I'm sure by now it has acquired its own set of prejudicial notions which make any true search for truth impossible for a practising Buddhist to undertake.

    In the end it is the individuals professing to be its followers that make religion so hateful, to me anyway.

    The truth remains aloof from all this, remote, inviting, tantalizing.

  3. PhantomBlot - It seems to me you're trying to redefine the word "religion." Religion has a dictionary definition: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and origin of the universe. By their very nature, these beliefs are static (it's one of the themes of my book, The Religion Virus). There are indeed people who are searching for truth outside of the mainstream religions, but I don't think it's fair to redefine the word "religion" to be this search.

    It is indeed the individuals "professing to be its followers" that make religion so harmful. But they're not merely "professing" to follow their religion, because that implies some sort of subterfuge, as though they're just pretending. These followers are 100% committed and can't be dissuaded even with strong evidence that their religion is factually wrong. That's the real problem.

  4. Xians seem to thump a lot about how their religion got started by "elevating the poor," and to their credit, many churches and Xian institutions do help the poor. That's what makes the subject so interesting: how do you explain the wealthy believing Xian driving his Ferrari while voting Republican since universal health care is "evil"? Libertarians sometimes present themselves as greedy and selfish, but at least they don't present themselves as religious, usually.

  5. Craig:

    Of course you're right about religion - that's the variety of it that I call "organized religion". What I meant was the meaning the word has for me.

    And yes, the astonishing blindness of the faithful is what causes serious harm.

    I see from your response that my post was a kind of visceral outpouring, and not very thoroughly thought through - subjective. In my world, I loom large :), and often obscure sometimes perfectly obvious issues.

    I haven't read "The Religion Virus" yet - I disagreed somewhat violently with an article I read by Richard Dawkins, so I approach this kind of subject with caution. Anyhow, your book is on my reading list now.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

  6. There is a difference between being charitable like Christ and voting to have the government force people to be charitable.

    I am a libertarian Christian. I love to donate my time and money to numerous organizations and individuals that need it. I wish I could donate more, but a sum of my income goes to do things like support the war and pay my politician's salary. I am against socialized healthcare, but I would donate to those in need of medical treatment. When I give my taxes over to the government - I am being forced to donate and pay for things that I don't want to support (like the drug war or border patrol). I am told "give us your money or else. WE know what is best for everyone and we don't trust you to help others so WE will do it because we know what everyone needs." right.

    Being a Christian against the welfare programs does not make my a hypocrite. Nowhere does God say "give to others, wait, scratch that. give to the politicians ... and force others to do the same... " Its not that Christians don't want to help people (most of us do), it's that they don't want the government involved in these programs because they don't trust the government to make the right decisions. (not an absurd fear) They want to give money away to organizations and services they trust. Our politicians? NOT trustworthy.

    A lot of Christians are misled to be Republicans, And they're a little more confused about the government, but for us pro-gay marriage, anti-borders, anti-war, etc ones - it's entirely an issue of not wanting the government to have the legal authority to define what's the best way for us to live. Not believing in government mandated alms does not make me a bad Christian. It just means I want to give my government by money. Without economic liberty, there can not be civil liberty. And vice versa.

    Anyway, Penn Jillette describes it well(in his 'Why I'm a libertarian ATHEIST article, btw) when he says;

    "It's amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.
    People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we're compassionate we'll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint."

  7. Hi Phantom,

    In your initial post you stated that “it seems to me that religion, as opposed to being a static set of beliefs, is a dynamic search for truth.” I have to agree with Craig here; what you have defined here is actually science. Furthermore, I really appreciate the tone and openness of your post; I wish that more people could be this way. I have read all of Dawkins’ works and I have read the “Religion Virus.” I highly recommend reading Craig’s book for it places these somewhat complex ideas into easily digested information.

  8. Conversely to your point, why is it that Atheists (who typically believe in biological Darwinism) and more likely to be socialists or left-wingers, and not believe in social Darwinism? Everyone is hypocritical about something, because everyone has faith about something, be it God or government. Faith clouds logic that would otherwise guide all people the same way.

  9. I think it is essential to acknowledge the need for balance between spirituality and materialism...Religion and science are neither right nor wrong, just 2 perspectives that must be reconciled.
    Evolution is real and so is the necessity for spirituality. Read The Big Picture Paradigm


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