Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Faithful Poor

From a recent Pew Forum survey:
Two thirds of Americans who earn under $30k per year pray daily, on the other hand just under half of rich people who earn under $100k per year pray daily. The correlation is consistent throughout the data. The poorer you are, the more you pray.

Shouldn't the rich thank God every day that they are rich? And shouldn't the poor to be annoyed at God that they are poor? Or perhaps one could equally make the case that the rich feel that they don't need God, whereas the poor are constantly hounding God hoping he will make things better for them. Considering that Church's get better attendance during recessions, I would favour the latter. Average people are likely to pray for selfish reasons - so that things are better in their own life. (I'm sure there are more plausible explanations too)

When I was younger and believed what I was taught about the Bible and God, I never prayed to God asking for things because I was taught that is not the way God works. Prayer was used for thanksgiving, and we were to "ride it out" until the end of time, or when we die, and after that we get a new Earth, a new Eden.

Why Christianity is Successful
I see the story of Jesus as a battle-of-the-classes story. Under the Jewish system, God was for the Jews and in particular the priests who were often wealthy, holier-than-thou people who had the keys to God. When Jesus died, he took God and gave it to everyone, Jew and Gentile. He also took the power away from the priestly class and gave it to the people. The irony being that hundreds of years later the Roman Catholic Church came along and resumed the class distinction. This is one of the (many) criticisms Protestants have against Catholics in that they have become that which Jesus taught against.

What made Jesus different is that he came from a lower class family (a carpenter), hung around with nobodies (fishermen, prostitutes, etc) and was persecuted by "the man" and later killed only to defeat them all by rising again after three days, giving God to all peoples. Couple this with the promise of everlasting life in heaven and one can see why those who suffer the most in this life (such as black female poor people - the group with the highest levels of faith) have a greater propensity to believe.

Moral Hazard
One of the goals of the "New Atheism" is to show the world that atheists are not inhuman monsters and are generally smart, normal people, the type who you would let you child marry or let run the country for you. By doing so there are going to be many who will be "atheist evangelists" who will actively try to "deconvert" Christians from their "delusions".

In "Breaking the Spell", Daniel Dennett asks the question whether we should study religion as a natural phenomenon. Considering anthropologists have already been studying religion one might forgive Daniel and assume he was talking about taking it mainstream and in the process knocking down the sacred cows, aka PZ Myers and anti-compatiblism. (Which is to say the results of science cannot be logically reconciled with religion).

So how can we white intelligent rich males (the main atheist demographic) encourage the black disadvantaged poor female (the main Christian demographic) to give up what might be their only crutch in life? One might argue that by doing this, we are doing her a disservice. On the other hand, perhaps this is the only way to stop the cycle of suffering? To the atheist its clear that Christianity has been a strong influence which has kept women's equality down all these years (although to be fair, the same goes for most religions) and which has fuelled the divide between races and the haves and have-nots. Yet on the other hand, it is Christianity which offers hope to those oppressed!

The Solution
I believe the easiest solution is to give everyone a decent secular education. A smart society is going to function better, will be richer, and will favour disbelief over belief. I don't mean that we should actively teach anti-religion, but instead we should do what Daniel Dennett advocates and teach religions in a fair way (that is to say, show the students the different beliefs of the world).

The great thing about this solution is that we are fairly confident it already works and does not require force, intimidation or brainwashing. The only people who would object to this are those who believe it's easier to control a population who do not think for themselves...


Makarios said...

Of course, since a lack of reason, logic, wealth or education aren't the cause of our personal, relational, communal and global problems, neither can they be the basis for our solution.

You are perhaps not old enough to remember the great awakening when it was believed that all we needed was education and stupendous wealth to cure our social ills. Yet here we sit with more education and wealth than most people in the world will ever experience. AND here we sit with greater levels of depression, anxiety and relationship breakdown that ever before experienced.

Perhaps our problems lie on a different level than what you suspect?

Oh, right, I forgot. The world's problems are all the fault of Christianity.

Reasonably Aaron said...

I would say a lack of wealth most certainly is the cause of many global problems. Humans by their very nature are irrational and unreasonable, and yes this is a cause of personal and communal problems.

It used to be the case that people would work themselves to the bone so there wasn't enough time to be depressed or anxious or to get obese. We are at a stage where we literally don't know what to do with our free time and wealth. This runs contra to our evolutionary history so of course there are going to be problems.

As to the notion that there is more relationship breakdown than ever, perhaps you are forgetting that people are finally able to leave abusive relationships without the social stigma associated with it. A low divorce rate might make you sleep well at night but at the cost of abused women.

The world's problems are neither the fault of Christianity nor Islam nor any other religion, but the solutions certainly wont be coming from them and what you have written is far more ideological than evidential based.