I S THERE A LINK BETWEEN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND A COUNTRY’S ECONOMY?
From a business perspective, organised religion offers attractive rewards and has few barriers to entry. But is divine devotion beneficial to a nation’s development?
No, says Gregory S Paul, a US palaeontologist, illustrator and author. He has done scientific research to back up his hypothesis that religion is in fact bad for an economy. Besides being credited for his work as an expert consultant on dinosaurs for Steven Spielberg’s movie Jurassic Park, Paul’s more recent work on the relationship between religion and society has earned him high praise. He doesn’t believe that religion can prosper in wealthy and successful societies, and created what he calls the Successful Societies Scale to prove this. He uses this to analyse 25 socioeconomic indicators against data on religious practices in 17 developed nations. “Only the least godly democracies enjoy the best overall socioeconomic conditions,” Paul states on his website, and adds: “In history, the much more Christian United States is the most dysfunctional First-World nation according to the major indicators.”
Paul looked at a wide range of information to arrive at his results. This includes societal data such as the prevalence of teenage pregnancy, infant mortality and homicide. The most secular societies, he found, were those that had the highest socioeconomic scores.
“No socioeconomically successful and highly religious nation has ever existed, and the antagonistic relationship between benign conditions and the popularity of religion probably make it impossible for one to come into being,” Paul says. tables on page 11.)
Nigeria comes in at 41 with a GDP of $235 923m on this list; Ghana at number 84 with $39 200m and Armenia is at number 125 with a GDP of $39 200m. Conversely, China, Japan and Germany top the atheist rankings, and score amongst the highest in terms of GDP rankings, showing a strong nexus between economic prosperity and a lack of religion.
The WIN-Gallup survey shows that the poor are more religious, and people in bottom-income groups were 17% more religious than those in top income groups. “It is interesting that religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises,” the survey states. “While the results for nations as a whole are mixed, individual respondents within a country show a revealing pattern. If citizens of each of the 57 countries are grouped into five groups, from the relatively poor to relatively rich in their own countries, the richer you get, the less religious you define yourself,” said the WIN-Gallup authors.
“Religion becomes less central as people’s lives become less vulnerable to the constant threat of death, disease and misfortune,” Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart wrote in their book Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide.
If you are in the business of religion, however, there’s still a fortune to be made from the faithful masses.