God and Development – Buy or Sell?

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?      







Filed under Pole to Pole Development Posts

4 responses to “God and Development – Buy or Sell?

  1. Joseph

    Interesting thoughts. Firstly, though I haven’t read the Time or Newsweek articles to which you alluded, the US has long been an outlier relative to other industrialized countries in terms of the religiosity of its population. This is not a new or recent trend, so the Time and Newsweek articles don’t seem to be based on current sociographic data, and the WSJ piece therefore is somewhat unnecessary.

    Secondly, given my understanding of US history, I’m not sure your characterization of the chronology is correct. Some of the earliest settlers in the US were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. The Constitution came substantially later in time, probably a couple of centuries. Thus, religious trends in the US substantially predated the Constitution, and your connection of the two isn’t supported by historical fact.

    The separation of Church and State in the US was advantageous for religion in that it allowed religion to flourish (or not) on its own merits, and didn’t expose religious trends to the credibility of political structures. But given the implicit religious-based motives of the earliest settlers, and the consistently unique nature of US religiosity, I don’t think it’s correct to say that any Church or religion has ever been in a “survival” mode.

    So again, I think your comments are interesting, but I have some doubts as to your depiction of historical facts.

  2. Hi Joseph. Thanks for your comments and insight. Yes, indeed the U.S. is an outlier in this arena. Similar to end of the world prognostications, I suppose it is rather simplistic to hypothesize on the decline of religion. Nobody is going to chastize you for being wrong.

    Regarding the separation of church and state, sure the U.S. was always religious as we were founded on religious freedom. But religion as a whole really flourished once separation of church and state occurred. Various churches and faiths needed to attract followers to grow and flourish which would not have occurred under state-sponsored religion.

    The U.S. would not be what it is in terms of religious diversity if there were no separation of church and state. Further, I think U.S. strength feeds off this diversity similar to taking the most brilliant minds from around the world and providing them the space to develop and succeed.

    Thanks again for your comments. Looking forward to more …

  3. Joseph

    I totally agree that religion flourishes in the context of a Church-State separation.

    My question to you was more about your factual historical evidence vis-a-vis the chronology, or the cause-and-effect which you suggest. In other words, while conceding that the US has always had a religious base, your argument is that it took the Church-State separation outlined in the Constitution to allow religion to flourish (“religion as a whole really flourished once separation of church and state occurred. Various churches and faiths needed to attract followers to grow and flourish which would not have occurred under state-sponsored religion”.)

    These statements are really hypotheses without evidence. Again, I agree with your generalization that the separation benefits religion. But do you have evidence (in terms of religiosity per capita, or numbers of churches per capita, etc., prior to and after the ratification of the Constitution) supporting your belief that there was a direct cause-and-effect chronology associated with the flourishing of religion subsequent to the ratification of the Constitution?

    It’s all well and good to offer a generalization about religion in the context of separation from political affairs, but when you suggest a direct cause-and-effect chronology (i.e., Prior to the Constitution, religion existed in the US but wasn’t flourishing—then ratification of the Constitution—then Religion flourished—then churches were able to attract increasing numbers of followers, etc.), you need to offer evidence for your perceived pattern. Otherwise it’s just speculation. So is your argument speculation or observation?

  4. Thanks, Joseph. I see your point. For the sake of brevity this post of course is designed to bring others like yourself into the conversation with distinct opinions and insight. It would be interesting to look at the numbers, etc. pre and post Constitution, but I unfortunately do not have the time.

    I will say that the impetus to write this post did come from research published in John Micklewait’s (Editor in Chief of The Economist) new book on the subject. While I haven’t delved into the book as of yet (although it is on my to-do list) his reputation for sound journalism leads me to believe he has data to back up his assertions. But right you are that perhaps Micklewait’s data is flawed which would make my point pure speculation as well. If you ever come across any numbers forward them my way. Take care and thanks again.

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