A strong correlation

Merrill Miller at The Humanist asks why poor people are more religious. She starts with two New York Times blog posts, one about areas of the US where poverty is concentrated and the other about the apparent tendency of those areas to favor religious fundamentalism more than others.

These findings from The Upshot are reinforced by previous research into the connections between religion and poverty. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, there is a strong, positive correlation between strict adherence to religion and privation. But while the Gallup poll reports a link between religious devotion and poverty, it doesn’t provide any insight into why it exists.

A study by independent research Dr. Tom Rees, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, suggests that in places without strong social safety nets to provide people with opportunities for upward mobility, people are more likely to rely on religion for comfort.

People who get a shitty deal in the real world like to think about an unreal world to console themselves. So which is better? A good enough life that other-world consolation isn’t needed? Or a shitty life that can be endured only via fantasy?

Although religion can provide real assistance and a sense of security to disadvantaged individuals, that doesn’t mean it actually solves the problems associated with poverty. In fact, in an analysis of the aforementioned study, the British Humanist Association warned that government promotion of religion as a positive social influence could mask larger social problems that contribute to poverty, such as a lack of access to education.

It could also weaken the motivation to do something about the larger social problems that contribute to poverty. It could stunt the ability to be political about those larger social problems that contribute to poverty, and to fight hard to fix them. It could trick people into thinking it’s all part of God’s Plan and it’s ok because actually God loves poor people the best.


  1. says

    The opium of the masses is a very good analgesic; and it’s unsurprising that people disenfranchised in this world start to think that it’s all going to be made good in the next. It’s nice to see Marx and Nietzsche vindicated every now and again!

  2. RJW says

    @1 Enzyme,

    Agreed, although correlation is not causation, I’d bet on religion functioning as a narcotic.

  3. Scr... Archivist says

    As Joe Hill once pointed out, call-and-response style…

    Work and pray [Work and pray], live on hay [live on hay].
    You’ll get pie in the sky when you die. [That’s a lie!]

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    The danger here, and I can’t believe I’m not seeing anyone pointing this out (not just here), is that virtually ALL our elected officials, the ones deciding social policy, are Christians, and many are outspokenly devout. Look how hard they try to get their jesussing taught in our schools to whatever degree!

    We know – the research has been in for YEARS now – that the poor are more likely to be Christians. We have seen how Western Europe’s humanistic safety nets have corresponded with the virtual evaporation of devotion. All the numbers show Christianity to be in decline. Church research groups have found, for example, that for every 1000 churches that start up, 4000 close their doors forever. The megachurches are growing by gobbling up smaller church congregations, not by persuading educated adults to join in.

    So what’s the answer? Vote in humane social policies and programs that will result in an even faster implosion of the politicians’ favorite religion? Or promote “punish the poor” programs that will cause MORE suffering and reliably result in more Christians? It’s an important question to consider – there are souls at stake (if you believe such childish bullshit).

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    BTW, it’s in the USA that 4000 churches close down for each 1000 churches that start up, and that’s EVERY YEAR.

  6. lorn says

    Unfortunately religion is one of the few institutions that assert that the poor are not worthless losers. In return the poor are expected to donate their time efforts, support of the church and, often, 10% of their income. It isn’t, IMHO, a fair deal. But it may be the best offer they are going to get.

    I would love to see secular organizations step in and provide a better offer.

  7. Esteleth is Groot says

    I’m going to make a shocking argument:

    Poor people are as prone to lack of religious faith as anyone else.

    They just understand that staying afloat in a world hostile to poverty requires them to be seen attending church and otherwise acting pious.

    Churches are very good at the “little things” of taking care of the poor – such as helping someone find a baby-sitter so that they can make that job interview, to bringing by a bag of groceries, to holding someone’s hand while they cry, to the grapevine of available rental units that are affordable and have reasonable landlords.

    Poor people are rational. They see the writing on the wall and many are swallowing something they know to be bunk because they’d rather have a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.

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