For years, one of the few stereotypes acceptable in polite company was that of the ignorant American Christian. Obama’s “bitter clingers” comments were only the tip of the iceberg. Below the water line, newsrooms and lecture halls around the country are rife with complaints about the backwards religious Americans in the heartland who add to any number of social ills, from poor educational attainment to bigotry to poverty.
In an excellent Forbes piece, Joel Kotkin takes on this pernicious notion. Not only are the religious not contributors to American social dysfunction; they tend to score better on metrics like education and personal well-being:
Many in the pundit class identify religion as something of a regressive tendency, embraced by the less enlightened, the less skilled, intelligent and educated. Yet some scholars, such as Charles Murray, point out that religious affiliation is weakening most not among the middle and upper classes but among the poorer and less educated who traditionally looked to churches for succor and moral instruction. Secularism may have not hurt the uber-rich or the academic overclass so far, but it appears to have helped expand our lumpenproleteriat.
Some might be surprised to learn that religious affiliation grows with education levels. A new University of Nebraska study finds that with each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased by 15%. The educated, the study found, may not be eschewing religion, as social science has long maintained, even if their spiritual views tend to be less narrow, and less overtly tied to politics, than among the less schooled.
The benefits of religion also have an economic component:
Where churches are closing down, most particularly in core urban areas such as Boston or Manhattan, as well as their metropolitan regions, singletons and childless couples are increasing. In more religiously oriented metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the propensity to have children is 15% to nearly 30% higher (as measured by the number of children under the age of 5 per woman of child bearing age– 15-49).
In the future, many high-income societies, whether in East Asia, Europe or North America, may find that religious people’s fecundity is a necessary counterforce to rapid aging and eventual depopulation of the more secular population . The increasingly perilous shape of public finance in almost all advanced countries — largely the result of rapid aging and diminished workforces — can be ascribed at least in part to secularization’s role in falling birthrates.
The evidence so far suggests that a less godly society is not a happier or higher-functioning one.
America’s distinct form of benign secularism — that the government is friendly to all religions without promoting any one over the others and without challenging the rights of those who choose no religion at all — looks even more sensible in the light of this evidence. Efforts by contemporary secular zealots to impose something more, well, French on this country, with an aggressive effort to drive religious organizations and ideas out of the public sphere, are unknowingly attacking the foundations of American prosperity and freedom.