If you’ve ever wondered why Western Europe and North America are secularizing, while more and more people are falling for religion in Africa and Latin America, a new study offers at least a partial solution:
Researchers call it an exchange model of religion: If people can get what they need from the government (be it health care, education or welfare) they’re less likely to turn to a divine power for help, according to the theory.
But are people actually more likely to drop religion in places where governments provide more services and stability? In a new paper, psychology researchers crunched the numbers — and found that better government services were in fact linked to lower levels of strong religious beliefs.
Those findings held true in states across the U.S. and in countries around the world, researchers said.
The article, “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role,” was published April 12 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The authors, Miron Zuckerman and Chen Li of the University of Rochester and Ed Diener of the Universities of Utah and Virginia, believe that
“… if the function that religiosity provides can be acquired from some other source, the allure of religion will diminish.”
The study’s abstract reads:
An exchange model of religion implies that if a secular entity such as government provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from supernatural entities. Controlling for quality of life and income inequality, we found that better government services were related to lower religiosity among countries, and states in the United States. [One study] also showed that during 2008-2013, better government services in a specific year predicted lower religiosity 1 to 2 years later. In both studies, a combination of better government services and quality of life was related to a particularly low level of religiosity. Among countries, government services moderated the relation between religiosity and two measures of well-being, such that religiosity was related to greater well-being only when government services were low.
This correlation may be understood innately by many fundamentalist-leaning politicians who seek to tear down social safety nets and education, the better to keep the masses yoked to faith.