An interesting article in the WSJ today about how belief in God is not innate.
Because humans are hard-wired for religion, it must be reformed rather than refuted to better fit the modern world.
People are genetically preprogrammed to be pious because it confers a selective advantage that enhances reproductive success.
If it were so hard-wired, it would be more universal, surely? Unless we’re suggesting it’s only hard wired in some people, an accident of parental convergence like blue eyes, or a disease like Down’s syndrome.
So what is it a factor of?
A growing body of psycho-sociological research has already overturned conventional wisdom as it uncovers the actual leading cause of popular faith: dysfunctional socioeconomic conditions […] It has long been known that prosperity and security tend to suppress religiosity—that’s why the Bible warns against the spiritual dangers posed by material wealth […] The U.S. has the highest financial inequality, is the only Western country without universal health coverage and scores the lowest on the Successful Societies Scale. In no other advanced democracy are cities afflicted by such high rates of murder and juvenile mortality, or are ordinary citizens subject to sudden financial ruin because of overwhelming medical bills.
So that’s that question answered. Belief in God gives the hopeless hope.
The question that remains is why is Islam doing so well? The article suggests that part of the reason is the birth rate, and quite right, too. I can think of one other (less) reasonable explanation. (It’s pretty crappy reasoning, too, but then if you’re happy with ‘God’ as an answer, you’re going to be subject to that kind of error.)
- It’s a risk thing. People in more secure countries believe less in God and attend mainly as Christmas-Easterians. They still tend to describe themselves as Christians, though, never fully forsaking their belief. Why? You could reason that since non-believers go to hell, and obeisance comes at such low cost, that it makes sense it maintain a nominal belief so that you can survive St.Peter’s interrogation at the pearly gates.
- But which God? If you’re going to believe in a God, which one should you believe in? There are lots to choose from. The Christian God is believed to be forgiving and all-knowing, so not only is she going to see through your pseudo-belief, she’s also going to forgive you for trying to trick her. So there’s no need to believe in this God. What about the thunder God, Thor? If we’re doing a risk assessment we should consider likelihood of occurrence: no one believes in Thor any more, so the chances are that he never really existed; following that logic, we should spend our time mitigating the risk against the religions which are most popular and most long lasting. And from that shortlist there’s only one who’s really very likely to send you to hell, and that’s Allah.
- So if you’re going to take Pascal’s wager, go for Islam.
Anyway, it’s good to see this being talked about in the USA. The media pressure on the Pope is good to see, too. It feels like that time in the electoral cycle where journalists spill all the dirt they have on the incumbent Government forcing it to collapse. Religion has served its purpose and is now getting in the way. It’s 2010, let’s kick away the crutches and get going.
Update 12th April:
The Successful Societies Scale came up with these very interesting graphs: