Monday, 12 March 2012

An Unholy Alliance

Poverty Religion Education Wilfred R Martin
There appears to be an unholy trinity at work in human populations. This trinity results in people being more overtly religious; more fundamentally religious and more aggressively religious.

The three components of this trinity are:
  • Poverty
  • Ignorance either from under-education or educational under-achievement
  • Fervent or militant religiosity

There are several studies into the link between poverty and religiosity.

This report by Barry Ritholtz, More Poverty = More Religion, used polling data from a Gallop study and represents the results graphically. The conclusion was 'The more poverty a nation has, the higher the “religiosity” in that nation. In general, richer countries are less religious than poorer ones.' The study also noted that 'The United States, which has the highest religiosity relative to its wealth on the planet' is an outlier, as is readily seen on the chart.

A 2009 study by Dr Tomas Rees published in Journal of Religion and Society (Vol 11) found 'Income inequality, and hence personal insecurity, was ... an important determinant of religiosity...'

So the apparent anomaly of the United States shown in the Gallop survey may be because, whilst absolute poverty is less marked there, income inequality (that is the gap between the richest and poorest) is actually higher than in many middle-income countries.

The link between education and religion per se is not so clear cut as that between income inequality and religiosity.

In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals, but religious attendance declines sharply with education across denominations. This puzzle is explained if education both increases the returns to social connection and reduces the extent of religious belief. The positive effect of education on sociability explains the positive education-religion relationship. The negative effect of education on religious belief causes more educated individuals to sort into less fervent religions, which explains the negative relationship between education and religion across denominations. Cross-country differences in the impact of education on religious belief can explain the large cross-country variation in the education-religion connection. These cross-country differences in the education-belief relationship can be explained by political factors (such as communism) which lead some countries to use state-controlled education to discredit religion.

Glaeser, E.L. and Sacerdote, B.I.; "Education And Religion"; Journal of Human Capital (2, 2 (Summer 2008): 188-215)

So it would seem that religious belief is not reduced by education as such, but that the propensity for more fervent, fundamentalist religions is reduced in better-educated societies. However, this data is possibly complicated by the association with the more fundamentalist religions being followed predominantly by the less educated social groups, which invariably are also the lower income groups.

It appears that the link between income inequality, or relative poverty and fundamentalism is the stronger of the two with that between (lack of) education and religion possibly being a consequence of the link between them.

The reason for this is probably to be found in the hope that religion gives to people who really have little to hope for in their lives; people who through a combination of race, social status, neighbourhood and/or lack of education, can see what the better off and the super-rich have and know that it's beyond their reach. People who have, for all practical purpose, no realistic prospect of escape from poverty and hopelessness other than by bringing about a fundamental change in the political system; a system which is dominated by the haves and the have mores and from which they have become increasingly distanced and disenfranchised by its irrelevance to them and their resulting apathy towards it.

Is it really surprising that people from whom all realistic hope for a better life in this life has been taken would fall prey to those who sell them the notion of a better life some day in another one, when all it takes is a donation (to show Jesus how much you love him), an hour or so in church on Sunday, and singing a few songs at the top of your voice to shout down your doubts?

It it really surprising that people who are at the bottom of the social order like to pretend to be superior because they have a special friend in a mega-powerful god and a 'personal relationship' with the creator of everything? And is it surprising that people with little education and from a culture resistant to it, find it difficult or distasteful to learn the science and history which would enable them to understand better the superstition they are buying into?

And is it really surprising that there exists a parasitic class of religious charlatans and snake-oil salesmen practically falling over one another to tap into this lucrative market for easy answers, false hope and a false sense of smug superiority?

And is it really surprising that there exists a class of unscrupulous politicians hailing from the very class which needs a large, poor, politically powerless underclass to supply its demands for cheap and compliant labour, which promotes these primitive superstitions with such enthusiasm, to fool the poor and dispossessed into believing they are on their side.

And therein lies another unholy alliance; that between the ruling class, the priesthood and the religion of the people. It's the same as that between the drug producer, the pedlar and the junkie.

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  1. This is painfully, painfully obvious where I live--in a rural area of the bible belt.
    We are told that education gets you nowhere, and that it's not worth putting money into education--as thus all the money in the school goes to sports such as football, and all the academic or similar clubs are nonexistent.
    Chemistry or similar classes would be large swaths of "free days" and lax learning standards. I'm practically a mediocre student and Science was my best subject because they taught so horribly.
    I'd add to this--there is a relevant attitude against the intelligencia--as "THE MAN" or people you can't trust, because they read books and don't spend their entire lives in Blue Collar jobs--part of it is descended from the idea that "working with your hands" Is holy and good, and doing anything else is dissent from "what god wants all of us to be doing". It's a disturbing trend and it leads to this:
    -Even if you put money into the schools here, it wouldn't go to needed programs or better teaching, instead, it would be funneled into football or used for something else stupid--like the "reward" for our high SAT scores--it wasn't a visit to a play in a city, or something interesting--they sent us to a Baseball game. A BASEBALL GAME. I regularly just skipped this(I hate sports) an d would get in trouble for it.
    -The attitude must be changed first. It has to be changed so that people see intelligencia and education not as their enemy or "the debbil" but as something useful--a tool no different than any other skill that comes into use in this world.
    Until the attitudes are changed, education cannot be improved, until education is improved, there will always be a poor, uneducated lower class that has no idea it's being duped into superstitious nonsense.

  2. This was figured out before the French Revolution. The process of showing people another option -- change in THIS life -- brought about the French, and later the Russian, Revolution and terrified the existing elites. Of course those didn't work out as well as hoped, but that's another story...

    "We are told that education gets you nowhere, and that it's not worth putting money into education-"
    Reminds me of the medieval Catholic Church. Major method of social control, convincing the proles not to learn anything. Enough people don't want to learn that it's not as hard a sell as you'd think, and you can use those people to suppress the people who do want to.


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