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.