Bill Hobbs emailed me a link to another article (in addiction to the one in my previous post)on the the religiosity of America (is that a real word?) based on a study by the University of Michigan. The researchers have some data, and they attempt to explain what they see as some of the underlying causes.
About 46 percent of American adults attend church at least once a week, not counting weddings, funerals and christenings, compared with 14 percent of adults in Great Britain, 8 percent in France, 7 percent in Sweden and 4 percent in Japan.Fair enough. Why?
Moreover, 58 percent of Americans say that they often think about the meaning and purpose of life, compared with 25 percent of the British, 26 percent of the Japanese, and 31 percent of West Germans, the study says.
Some possible reasons cited for the results: (1) Religious refugees set the tone long ago in America; (2) religious people tend to have more children than non-religious groups; and (3) the U.S. has a less comprehensive social welfare system, prompting people to look to religion for help.(Numbers mine.) The first 2 seem like valid possibilities to me, and (2) and (3) are particularly interesting.
“Secularization has a powerful negative impact on human fertility rates, so the least religious countries have fertility rates far below the replacement level, while societies with traditional religious views have fertility rates two or three times the replacement level.” As a result, those with traditional religious views now constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.This is well known, and many people have written that religion is an advantageous trait in social evolution for this reason, among others (such as promoting group loyalty and cooperation). As I've written before, free-riding problems tear apart all known social contract scenarios, and perhaps religion is advantageous because it warps the cost/benefit analysis of believers.
As for (3):
Another possibility for the high degree of religiosity in the U.S. is that the nation has a less comprehensive social welfare safety net than most other economically developed countries, leading many Americans to experience the kind of existential insecurity and economic uncertainty characteristic of highly religious populations.Ha, right. America is the richest nation in the world; we export charitable giving all over the planet, and just because we don't have a "comprehensive social welfare safety net" (read: socialism) doesn't mean that anyone's going hungry. You can eat in America for less than $1 per day.
What's interesting is that the article doesn't address any of the costs of religion, which may not be strongly felt in America but which can be powerful disincentives in other parts of the world. For example, hundreds of thousands of Christians are killed around the world every year because of their faith. (Ok, I'll try to find a source to support that, later.) Perhaps America is more religious because we have more religious freedom and tolerance than other industrial nations?