Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Club - God is Back #5

At the close of their book, God is Back, the authors point us to the future of religion. I want to highlight two particular points made in their conclusion.

The first is that religion is not inconsistent with modernity:
The great forces of modernity--technology and democracy, choice and freedom--are all strengthening religious rather than undermining it. Give people the freedom to control their lives and, for better or worse, they frequently choose to give religion more power... The triumph of pluralism means that all religious beliefs (and indeed all secular beliefs) become competitors in the marketplace. (Pp. 355-356)
This discussion fits in well with the economic approach to religion. Many religious goods do not have close substitutes, and the fact that religion has persisted for so long ought to clue us to the fact that religion provides something valuable to many of people's daily challenges.

A second point of the authors is that America has failed to appreciate "the ability of religion to solve problems as well as create them" (p. 362). They consider the USCIRF, which we will study more in this class, to fall short in this respect because it is focused too much on American policy and "does not make a robust intellectual case for religious freedom as a fundamental building block of a civilized and successful liberal society" (p. 362). On the second point, I think the authors expect more from the USCIRF than it was designed to accomplish. Its policy focus is intentional, and a government agency should not be expected to make intellectual arguments--intellectuals and academics should.

But here, then, is the challenge for you: can you make a case for why religious freedom is a fundamental building block of a free society? Or can you make a case for why religious freedom is a stumbling block for a free society?


  1. Religious freedom is indeed a fundamental building block of a free society because the ability to choose a faith perpetuates pluralism, which leads to a greater supply of religions and religious products for consumers. The religious choices that one makes mirrors the economic choices that individuals make.

    As mentioned in chapter six: The God Business: Capitalism and the Rise of Religion, more and more businesses are taking on a religious direction, ranging from Christian bookstores located within financial hubs to songs such as "Jesus, Tkae the Wheel" on American Idol, religious freedom is overlapping with the cultural decisions of society.

    Because religious freedom closely follows the concept of capitalism, there is bound to be competitive advantages between religions that self-sustains a religious economy: competing religious firms utilize resources that cannot be substituted to create an innovative product that can then be exported from America, as an idea noted in chapter eight.

    According to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, the globalization of America's religious template is leading to better religious infrastructure not only in the American society, but in societies across the globe as well. This can range from religious and educational institutions to religious broadcasting. The idea of perfect competition in which there are no barriers to entrance to a religious market embodies religious freedom in an economic context; features such as economies of scale through combined resources, marketing, management, professionalism, technological advances, consulting, cash flows, and product proliferation all contribute to a free society.

    As an example by which religious freedom and leadership are closely related to societal ties, it is important to note the segmentation of the religious market as indicated in the text. Just as the economy is broken down into sectors, religious organizations are broken down into small groups to strengthen individual core beliefs. As part of a branding campaign, churches are able to convert seekers through such methods who are then able to recruit more believers - this is an effective growth mechanism that is both low cost and self-sustaining.

    As a last note, religions are furthermore penetrated into local traditions by adopting the economic tactic of adaptation and marketing. As the authors state, religion and modernity are compatible and going toward a similar direction. As religious organizations are utilizing demogratic strategies to target consumers in select parts of the world, it is transforming the very society that seeks to integrate the religion. Such is the effect that a religion with the capability to enter a market has upon the society.

  2. Jessica, Thanks for the your comments. I'm curious to know more about what you are thinking in your 3rd paragraph.

  3. Generally, successful religions apply the economic concept of exploiting resources and thereby obtain a larger share in the religious market via competitive advantage. The idea of one religion having a competitive advantage in an area such as philanthropic successes while a competing firm excels in exporting short-term missionaries come together to strengthen a religious market so that consumers are provided with an array of options and goals to focus upon.

    However, a difference between a religious market and a other goods market is that a consumer generally does not choose segments of multiple religions to believe in; in other words, a believer does not choose Christianity based on its globalization abilities to export America's God through Christian media and pastorpreneuralism while simultaneously indulging in Islam's competitive advantage of high levels satisfaction in his or her faith.

    Thus religions not only exploit their competitive advantage, but also try to expand the market share by improving in the competitive advantages of other religions, leading to the continuous tweaking of religion as modernity continues. For example, as Christianity exports its religion out to parts of the world such as Dubai, Islam is taking on a more modern form.

    As a result of the competitive advantages and the creation of innovative products in the midst of competition, the religious economy is able to sustain itself during the process.

    -Jessica Wong

  4. Thanks, Jessica. Interesting thoughts.

  5. Michael Chan (14741172)November 21, 2009 at 11:52 AM

    I would say religious freedom is a fundamental building block for a free society. It forces the less strict religions to put some effort into their services because they would be losing potential members to competitors. Competition is a strong motivator in a religious market, and it keeps each group in check. It stimulates the economy in different markets that include films, television, religious products - you name it.

    By having a free religious market, it allows those in trouble or in need to find safe haven in a particular group that they seek out for themselves. By granting people the choice between numerous substitutes, you encourage them to research the group that best matches their desires and in turn maxes out their religious capital.

  6. I believe that religious freedom is necessary for a free society. When there is no freedom, then people are afraid of being themselves and working to their full potential in society. They have fear in letting their beliefs be open for everyone else because they are afraid of dissaproval.

    The first amendment, which is the most important amendment in the Constitution, not only gives the right of free speech but also gives people the right to practice religion freely. There needs to be comfort among people for society to feel free and for people to be able to work to their full potential.

    In a free society, you need creation of equality. When there is no religious freedom then this inequality leads to unfair advantages in society and limits peoples capabilities. If people are not hired based on religion, production may be brought down because the more capable person is shunned down. When production is lowered, then society is not benefiting from the best resources possible and not advancing as a whole.

    Religious freedom brings a diversity of views into the market, allowing everyone to find their place in a religion as there are many substitutes. This leads to less discrimination and hate. When there are regulations to one religion and favoritism to another, this prohibits a balance in society. Everyone should be entitled to their own beliefs and no one should be put down because of the way they feel.

  7. Michael and Michan, Thanks for the comments. I think most people would agree with you. Actually, I don't think I've ever heard a detailed argument for why religious freedom would hinder a free society.


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