So it’s a new blog, it’s my first real post – I figure now’s a good time to tackle the existence of God. (Posts two and three will resolve the Meaning Of Life and World Peace, respectively – then we can pack up the blog and go home.)
The economics profession hasn’t settled the existence of God(s) just yet – but I was struck by this paragraph in the Financial Times yesterday (registration or somesuch awful thing possibly required):
But there may also be economic reasons for the decline in churchgoing [in Poland]. Ditching communism and joining the EU has made Poland wealthier. In 1989 per capita income was about $6,000; last year it was more than $17,000.
“Polish religiousness tends to be based on turning to God to escape distress. When that disappears, so may God,” says Tadeusz Bartos, a theologian.
What model of religion is the FT invoking here? That poor countries are more religious than rich ones? Or poor people…? Surely the United States is a pretty hefty outlier for any theory linking low GDP with high faith in God.
I’m pretty sure the economics of religion boils down to more than “poverty = faith”. Indeed, Robert Barro has a paper which suggests that faith leads to growth. As long as it’s a certain kind of faith:
We find that economic growth responds positively to the extent of religious
beliefs, notably those in hell and heaven, but negatively to church attendance.
And Laurence R. Iannaccone of the Centre for the Economic Study of Religion has long argued against those who assume that religion will just fade away under the glare of modernity. (Many of those people are economists…)
Still, I guess what surprised me about that quote in the FT (”When distress disappears, so may God,”) wasn’t the sentiment, so much as the profession of the speaker. I’m sure lots of smart people believe the poverty = faith meme. But a theologian…?