October 6, 2008
Blame the Universalists!
One strange explanation of the economic crisis.
Blame is flying as the U.S. economy continues to dive.
Lest we put the blame on ourselves - where at least some of it no doubt belongs - here's another possibility: Feel-good theology is causing the financial crisis.
When belief in God is prevalent in a society, the values of honesty and integrity are more prevalent as well, economists Kevin Kliesen and Frank Schmid noted in a 2004 article echoing German sociologist Max Weber's classic "Protestant work ethic" argument.
But the relationship is complex: A 2003 study from Harvard University's Robert J. Barro and Rachel M. McCleary found that the economy strengthens as belief in heaven or hell increases, but weakens with increased church attendance. And as a country's economy gets stronger, faith in God and interest in religion declines.
This leaves the economy - and religion - in a catch-22. Economies thrive in a semi-religious atmosphere, but are hurt if countries get too religious or too secular. A country needs a strong religious base to build the economy, but as soon as the economy is built up, religious faith drops off.
In case you're wondering, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says belief in hell has declined in the last eight years. In 2001, 71 percent of Americans said they believed in hell. Today only 59 percent do. No wonder we're in financial crisis.
Shoring up the numbers of people who believe in hell without actually getting them to increase church attendance is simple enough: get them to watch horror movies, not listen to sermons.
Shoring up the numbers of people who will stay out of hell? That's a different question.