Huffington Post: Why Americans Are More Religious Than Europeans
Religion declines with economic development. In a previous post that rattled around the Internet, I presented a scholarly explanation for this pattern: people who feel secure in this world have less interest in another one.
The basic idea is that wealth allows people to feel more secure in the sense that they are confident of having their basic needs met and expect to lead a long healthy life. In such environments, there is less of a market for religion, the primary function of which is to help people cope with stress and uncertainty.
Some readers of the previous post pointed out that the U.S. is something of an anomaly because this is a wealthy country in which religion prospers. Perhaps taking the view that one swallow makes a summer, the commentators concluded that the survival of religion here invalidates the security hypothesis. I do not agree. ...
...In my own (as yet unpublished) research on this question, I have looked at several other facets of the security hypothesis that go some way toward explaining why Americans remain more religious than their European cousins.
The conclusions are not very flattering so far as the quality of life in this country is concerned. In her recent book, Third World America, Arianna Huffington made the case that this country is regressing to the inequitable conditions more typically found in a far poorer country.
Despite having great wealth, the riches are unevenly distributed. Such income inequality is typical of developing countries and it has worsened considerably in recent decades. Moreover, we lack the well-developed welfare state found in Europe that serves to redistribute wealth and provides a safety net for the poor. ...
... The bottom line, then, is that Americans feel far less secure economically, and in relation to their health and well-being, than would be expected given the overall wealth of the country in terms of GDP per capita. This existential insecurity provides a fertile ground for religion. Scholars might appeal to historical factors such as the Puritan founders but history counts for little in these matters given that virtually every country has a devout past. ...
My reponse in a comment was:
You might do well to read a book like Larry Witham's, "Marketplace of the Gods: How Economics Explains Religion," or Robert B. Eckland, Jr. et al's "The Marketplace of Christianity," or any number of other books that touch on the same topic.