A recent Wall Street Journal article by the Editor in Chief and the Washington Bureau Chief of the magazine, The Economist, touched on the age-old prognostication of the decline of religion in America. The authors remarked on the number of reputable publications (Time, Newsweek) over the years (50 +) that have prominently announced with utmost certainty that “x year” will mark the subsequent decline of religion in American society. It hasn’t happened nor does it appear to be heading in that direction either. Rather, the number of major organized religions in the U.S. (200 +) is striving as is the freedom and tolerance to reside and coexist in the most heterogeneous civilization ever created.
But what does this exactly mean outside of the fact that religious freedom is firmly in place? The strength of religion in America lies in its diversity which in turn is transmitted around the world. From a development perspective, regardless of the faith, massive movements have been taking place in very important countries that are in critical need of new perspectives. There are close of 100 million Christians now in China and more of them attend church every Sunday than are members of the Communist Party. Even more amazing, at this rate, China is on pace to become both the largest Christian country AND the largest Muslim country in the world.
For the most part (“most” being the operative word) religious faith is a bonding force. Again, for the “most” part, this often results in citizens coalescing in a positive environment which in turn leads to collective support for a wide range of social issues. Attacking poverty is an internal issue that cannot be solved by external forces. External assistance can provide countries the tools necessary to combat poverty, but the desire and directed action must come from within.
Freedom of religion and thriving religious movements free from persecution typically occupy enlightened spaces. America became religious after the Constitution separated church from state. This kicked the church into survival mode and religion has been a force ever since. This is not to say that a more secular Europe is any less developed or backward – far from it, obviously. But when religious beliefs are practiced responsibly, with moral ethics in place, internal development has a real chance to thrive. Will a decline in Communist membership in China and an increase in church going free up suppressed segments of Chinese society? America is bullish on God, buying year after year. Is the U.S. model a force for development and should it be marketed as so?