Mirror of Justice

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Daly on religiosity and welfare-policies

In response to my post, just below, about religiosity and G.D.P., Lew Daly -- author of, among other things, "God and the Welfare State" (here), writes:

The US is far less of a religious outlier among advanced countries if one takes into account our "existential security" deficit, as political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart argue.

 

I reviewed the book where they advanced this theory here:

 

 http://www.acton.org/sites/v4.acton.org/files/pdf/8.1.134-136.REVIEW.Norris,%20Pippa%20and%20Inglehart,%20Ronald--Sacred%20and%20Secular.pdf

 

Here is an excerpt from the review, describing their thesis, which they posit as a critical advance beyond the rationalist and functionalist theories of secularization advanced by Weber and Durkheim respectively:

 

"They argue that the varied decline and persistence of religion in the world today is most strongly correlated with differing levels of "existential security."

Essentially, religion persists where people bear high levels of risk due to inequality, poverty, and inadequate social provision by the state. Conversely, more equal, less impoverished societies, especially those with comprehensive welfare provisions, have become increasingly secular by every relevant measure. The authors' complex regression analyses show these correlations to be very robust across more than seventy countries-agrarian, industrial, and postindustrial."

 

In the U.S. case, the evidence shows that our welfare exceptionalism--with higher levels of poverty, violence, inequality, and private risk--goes a long way toward explaining our religious exceptionalism.

 

Hmmmm.  Is this an argument in favor of our welfare exceptionalism?  That it helps religion to "persist"?  (I kid, I kid.  Sort of.)  Or (more seriously), are there things that a political community could / should learn from the findings Daly relates about how public-welfare and other (one hopes) existential-anxiety-reducing policies can be designed so as to avoid bringing about, as well, a reduction in public religiosity (assuming one thinks, as I do, that public religiosity is not necessarily something we should want to wane).

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2010/09/daly-on-religiosity-and-welfare-policies.html

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Doesn't this

"Essentially, religion persists where people bear high levels of risk due to inequality, poverty, and inadequate social provision by the state. Conversely, more equal, less impoverished societies, especially those with comprehensive welfare provisions, have become increasingly secular by every relevant measure."

Bring to mind this

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo."

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 6, 2010 5:26:39 PM

Who is Marx to talk about bringing happiness to people? Every Communist state has, without exception, wreaked havoc on the happiness of its citizenry. The despair in Communist countries is by no means material only. Communist countries are marked by a bleakness and hopelessness that are not found in the poor yet religious countries that occupy the upper left hand quadrant of the NYT chart. Likewise in Western societies material satisfaction obviously does not fulfill man, who is ever in need of meaning. Spiritual discontent is profound among the upper middle class, to the extent that it has not been completely numbed by its hedonism.

No Catholic should be surprised by any correlation between poverty and God. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Posted by: Dan | Sep 6, 2010 6:30:34 PM

I would also add that I find incoherent the ideological materialism that underlies, explicitly or implicitly, many secularization theories. The notion seems to be that wealth makes religion go away (which is true to some degree)and that, therefore, this demonstrates that religion is false and, in wealthy societies, useless. The latter part of this proposition is illogical. That rich people tend to not be religious proves nothing about the truth or falsity of religion, or about the spiritual well being of rich people.

The more important questions are: Can Western civilization survive the demise of Christianity (most serious Catholics think not as without Christianity Western civilization has no pre-political moral foundation or unifying spiritual essence) and, if it cannot, how do we preserve Christianity in the face of the forces that are undercutting it? Borrowing from Toynbee, Joseph Ratzinger has posited the importance of "creative minorities" in preserving culture and civilization. His notion in this regard assumes (explicitly) that ideas, and not economics, determine culture -- and is thus in opposition to the presuppositions of many secularization theories. Interestingly, the Daly review notes certain "outliers" that suggest a determinative role of culture over economics. It points out that the influence of the Vatican has kept religion more alive on a relative basis in Italy and the effects of the French revolution have had the opposite effect in France. This corroborates Ratzinger's views concerning the impact of cultural groups. In this regard also it is interesting to note that all the countries that are in the lower left hand quadrant -- poor yet not religious -- are current or former communist countries. This again suggests a strong cultural component to secularization: the overt persecution and destruction of religion by Communist regimes appears to have had a lasting influence.

Posted by: Dan | Sep 6, 2010 7:30:45 PM

Dan,

I wasn't advocating a Marxist revolution. I was merely pointing out that if there is indeed a high degree of correlation between increased "existential security" and decreased religiosity, there may be something to the idea that religion is the "opiate" for those who lack existential security. To suggest that a few sentences from Marx might contain a partially valid insight is not to endorse Marxism.

If "wealth makes religion go away," then maybe the religion wasn't "real" religion in the first place but rather a substitute for wealth.

What is your answer to Rick's question: "[A]re there things that a political community could / should learn from the findings Daly relates about how public-welfare and other (one hopes) existential-anxiety-reducing policies can be designed so as to avoid bringing about, as well, a reduction in public religiosity . . . ?"

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 7, 2010 9:53:52 AM

What, exactly, did Jesus have against the rich? And aren't most of us rich today?

Someone named Mary on one of the First Things blogs said to me, "Realize that the 'poor' in this country are in fact by historical and global standards obscenely wealthy, luxuriating in goods that most people can only dream of. Merely being in the bottom quintitle for income does not mean you have the blessing on the poor." I don't buy that, but on the other hand, I do think that most of the contributors to Mirror of Justice, as well as most of those who write comments, probably qualify as rich in the sense that Jesus meant it.

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 7, 2010 10:02:19 AM

A few additional observations: One, might there be a correlation between secularism on the one hand, and, on the other, Protestantism and the acceptance of Enlightenment philosophies? Weber’s theory I understand posits such a link. Flannery O’Connor also perceptively observed that Protestantism by its nature is unstable and ultimately outlets into either atheism or Roman Catholicism (more usually the former than the latter). Also, as Christopher Dawson has observed, Protestantism broke the Church’s monopoly on education and state controlled public education was a great spur to secularization. The link between Protestantism and secularization however does not explain the outlier status of the United States, which is a Protestant country founded on Enlightenment ideals. This brings me to observation No. 2: Insofar as the Western nations are concerned, the U.S. is also an “outlier” in that, unlike European countries, neither communism nor socialism ever made serious inroads into the labor movement. In Europe the Church “lost” the working class to communism and socialism and this did not occur in the U.S. This I suspect is a substantial contributing factor to the relatively high religiosity that exists in the U.S. (To be honest, I also have doubts as to whether the difference between the U.S. and Europe is as great as is believed with regard to either relative religiosity or “existential insecurity.” I tend to believe that the U.S. simply lags Europe in intellectual and spiritual trends. But I admit I have no statistics, studies of comparative law, or polling to back up my belief in this regard.)

In response to David Nickols’ questions:

What Jesus meant: Riches are a powerful false security that impede the path to radical dependence on God. Yes, most Americans are rich on a percentage basis and hopefully Jesus was employing hyperbole to some extent. (And also, remember that when the apostles incredulously asked who could be saved, Jesus replied that with men nothing is possible but with God everything is possible.) Jesus had nothing against the rich; he ministered to all, including the rich. In fact, his ministering to the rich included the quotations that I cited. What he said about the rich is a warning for their own good. Also, while I’m not a theologian, I believe that the “poor” are often meant to be the poor in spirit.

What is to be done: The most intelligent assessment that I know of is that of Joseph Ratzinger, who is advocating the importance of “creative minorities” and, in this light, sees a critical role for the Church in preserving the moral and religious foundations of Western Civilization.

Posted by: Dan | Sep 7, 2010 1:41:29 PM