The Devil Made Me Do It
How well I remember how the revelation felt when I read Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
No wonder I was never going to be rich.
All those years in Catholic school? I never had a chance.
Now, it seems, I have another excuse, errrrrrr, reason why I haven't achieved great wealth: I don't believe there's a hell beyond that which we make for ourselves here on earth.
Okay, I'm only kidding here - not about not believing in hell, but about why I'm not fabulously wealthy.
But there was an interesting article by Michael Fitzgerald in the Boston Sunday Globe Ideas section a couple of Sundays ago that talked about a Harvard study by economist Robert Barro and his researcher wife, Rachel McCleary, that:
...examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies - and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell.
The two collected data from 59 countries - Christian, Islam, Hindu, or Buddhist - and ran economic info and markers on belief in God, belief in the afterlife, and church attendance through a statistical wringer.
Their results show a strong correlation between economic growth and certain shifts in beliefs, though only in developing countries. Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Belief in heaven also has a similar effect, though less pronounced. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.
Now, I can buy the argument that "religion reduces corruption and increases respect for law in ways that boost overall economic growth."
But belief in hell?
That's a heck of a note.
And one not fully explained - at least as yet.
Not to mention somewhat at odds with the Biblical notion that it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.
Ah, well, another one of the joyful and glorious economic mysteries.
Meanwhile, December's Atlantic has a [too] provocatively titled article by Hanna Rosin - "Did Christianity Cause the Crash" - that explores whether and how the churches that preach the gospel of prosperity to poor Latino and African-American congregations got their members to 'go for it' with respect to home ownership, whether they could afford to or not. Rosin cites a couple of banks that went after the faithful who, though poor as church mice, were lured into big sub-prime mortgages. She even talks about instances of kick-backs given to preachers for each person they brought in.
Rosin focused on Fernando Garay, who is pastor of a prosperity gospel church in Virginia. This is how she ended her article:
Once, I asked Garay how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.”
My guess is that there's plenty of real Christians who the recession has knocked out of their homes.
Sure, most of them probably shouldn't have "bought" their houses to begin with.
Oh, what a world we live in.