Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #1 Winter 2011

Micklethwait and Wooldridge end the introductory chapter of God is Back with the following thoughts:
The Founding Fathers' clever compromise over religion not only allowed God to survive and prosper in America, it also provided a way of living with religion--of ensuring that different faiths can coexist, and of taming a passion that so often turns the religious beast to savagery. This was one of the Founders' greatest gifts to man: getting rid of the established church, establishing a firm distinction between public reason and private faith, and consigning theocracy to the past along with monarchy and aristocracy.
But later, in Chapter 3, they write:
By 2000, the country was split just as dramatically over religion as it had been in 1900--but this time the split was not between different denominations (Protestants for the Republican Party and Catholics for the Democrats) but between people who were hot for religion, whether they were Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and people who were cooler, whether they were atheists, modernists, or infrequent church attendees.
Understanding how these quotes can be reconciled will get you a good way to understanding the authors' main arguments. The key is understanding the connection between religious vitality. What is that connection?

You may also want to review my book club posts for the Introduction and Chapters 1-4 from last year.


  1. The separation of church and state essential broke up a monopoly. With a state-backed religion, any opposing religion will not only be seen as a competitor for religious following but as a threat to the governing body and status quo. To prevent this the market is held hostage, shutting out any rival religion. This lack of competition leads to several undesirable effects, including low quality production and rent-seeking (indulgences?). Breaking up the state endorsed religious monopoly opens up the market and allows other firms to compete for followers. In this new market, religions can only survive by supplying high quality religious goods and reducing manipulations that could undermine their credibility.

    They also must market their goods to the public. Religions do not exist in a vacuum. Social and political movements make for great mutual partnerships. In 1900 it was the political divide, later it was the civil rights and anti-war movements, and in 2000 it was the divide between secularists and religion.

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  3. I like Clarence's points about Church and State as a monopoly. It is interesting (and scary) to imagine the power of the Nation State when these two institutions were one entity!

    Nowadays, the competition between different Religions has provided a plethora of choices for the average 'religious consumer' to browse through. As we discussed in lecture, several Religious institutions discourage religious diversification, even going as far as to attach a certain stigma to this more recent practice, in an effort to maintain the loyalty of their adherents. History has shown us that when a powerful institution attains the unwaivering devotion of a large group of followers, social stigmas are naturally created against those who are not in line with the beliefs of the institution. Think Nazism and the holocaust, Vietnam, and the Iraq war. Religion is no exception, and so we see the problem of devout followers passing judgement and criticisms against passive believers, atheists, agnostics, etc.

    The problem for American Religious institutions today is one of wavering religious vitality. Data compiled on shows that since 1972, the percentage of people that have never attended church has increased dramatically from 9.3 to 20.7%. Seems like these guys need a new marketing strategy!


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