In his new book, Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict (Princeton University Press), social psychologist Ara Norenzayan writes of how well-run governments lead people to lessen their attachment to, or need of, religion as they trust and feel secure with their government. Douglas Todd’s article in the Vancouver Sun explains the thesis quite well, which shows that religion holds the most sway in countries that are weak and filled with a worried populace, like in many African and Middle Eastern countries.
Interestingly enough, the most religious first world country, the US, matches this as well. Their GDP may be huge, but there is a large disparity between rich and poor, a poor social safety net, and areas of poverty that lessen people’s feeling of stability and safety. I would argue that a rampant feeling of distrust of the federal government (Tea Party and right-wing media feeding this), prejudice towards minorities, and the ignorance around “socialist” programs like Medicaid also increase people’s instability and fear.
Overall, their findings support the idea that religion is the “opiate of the masses.” And if the government is well run, that opiate is not needed, for people feel safe and secure without it and can put religion and spirituality in its proper place, “like a hobby.”
Check out Todd’s article for a lot more interesting findings about how words like “judge” and “police” can positively effect people as much as religious words.