Here’s the second of three installments of my interview at TAM with Joel Guttormson of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
In this short clip I raise my favorite thesis, which a while I thought was largely mine, but have discovered that it’s been a going hypothesis in sociology for a long time. I just finished reading this book:
Although it was published in 2004, it’s the most detailed and data-rich analysis of secularization I’ve seen. The authors deal with many aspects of how and why the world is losing its faith, and come to several conclusions I find interesting. The first is their main conclusion, derived from surveys of 76 countries (pp. 4-5):
We believe that the importance of religiosity persists most strongly among vulnerable populations, especially those living in poorer nations, facing personal survival-threatening risks. We argue that feelings of vulnerability to physical, societal, and personal risks are a key factor driving religiosity and we demonstrate that the process of secularization – a systematic erosion of religious practices, values, and beliefs – has occurred most clearly among the most prosperous social sectors living in affluent and secure post-industrial nations.
They also argue, as I have, that the reason the U.S. is so religious—the most religious among “postindustrial” nations—is because our society has high levels of dysfunctionality: high income inequality, poor health care, high teenage pregnancies, high murder rates, and other factors that make people insecure (and, to my mind, turn to God).
It also means that if we want to get Americans to accept evolution, as I say repeatedly, we have to make them less religious.
Norris and Inglehart also consider a popular alternative to the hypothesis I just mentioned: the “religious markets” hypothesis. That one argues that the U.S. is hyper-religious because our “supply” of religions—the number of denominations available and on tap—is high, and religious participation increases with not only more religious pluralism, but also with less state regulation of religious institutions. Their data militates against that hypothesis, though, because statistical analysis of “religious plurality” indices shows no correlation between plurality and religious participation. Countries that lack religious plurality, like Indonesia, El Salvador, Egypt, Brazil, and so on, in which more than 90% of believers adhere to one socially dominant religion, nevertheless have very high levels of religious participation.
The book contains many other analyses and conclusions, but I’ll give just one more. Though the religiosity of industrial and postindustrial countries is waning (we saw the data for this in the U.S. this morning), the religiosity of the world as a whole may be increasing. That’s because countries that are more religious—in particular those that embrace Catholicism and Islam—are simply outbreeding more secular nations. In toto, then, at least in 2004, the total percentage of people in the world who are religious is increasing. Those statistics may have changed in the last 9 years.
Now I’m not arguing that, as atheists, it’s futile for us to criticize religion. Such criticism has clearly made converts. All I claim is that religion is like pesky dandelions on your lawn. Snipping them off at ground level may temporarily get rid of their more obvious manifestations, but to permanently remove them you must kill the roots.