A new study confirms what conservatives have long maintained: bigger government kills religion. While it's not always a deliberate targeting of religion — though the 20th century is replete with examples of just that — the bigger a government grows, the more religiosity declines.
"Researchers call it an exchange model of religion: If people can get what they need from the government (be it health care, education or welfare) they’re less likely to turn to a divine power for help," reports the Miami Herald.
The new paper from psychology researchers, "Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role," shows that the stronger role government has in people's lives, especially in providing material needs, the less people are likely to seek comfort in religion. This makes perfect sense, especially in light of religion's continued capitulation to liberalism by billing itself as a social services club rather than an outlet for eternal salvation.
Written by Miron Zuckerman and Chen Li of the University of Rochester and Ed Diener of the Universities of Utah and Virginia, the research suggests "that if the function that religiosity provides can be acquired from some other source, the allure of religion will diminish."
Between 2008 and 2013 in the U.S., the researchers found that "better government services in a specific year predicted lower religiosity 1 to 2 years later."
"If a secular entity provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from God or other supernatural entities. Government is the most likely secular provider," the researchers concluded. "We showed in two cross-sectional analyses, one using world countries and one using states in the United States, that better government services were related to lower levels of religiosity. If the benefits acquired in the religious exchange can be acquired elsewhere, religion becomes less useful."
The paper suggests a bias in favor of bigger government as a means of eradicating religion, as seen in the language of the text, including phrases with embedded value judgments like "better government services." The paper's lead author, Zuckerman, previously published a study allegedly showing that the more "intelligent" one is, the less religious they become.
However, none of that means the researchers did not discover something true. In fact, Church leaders (I'm looking at you, Catholics) could take a valuable lesson from this. For instance, the researchers had a tendency to use the word "useful" regarding religion in the face of big government. Since the 1960s, both Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism have largely conducted themselves as charitable organizations with a cross on it, opting to show their "usefulness" to people rather than presenting a more spiritually-focused message.
Religion, like all the finer things in life (art, music, philosophy), has no utilitarian "use." The act of going to church, listening to music, and staring at a Rembrandt is to specifically engage in something "useless" in the worldly sense, but infinitely useful in the spiritual. If churches want to stop seeing the government take their sheep, then they need to get out of the business of being "useful" and focus on being more spiritually engaging: preach the truth, encourage people to turn from sin, create artistic masterpieces, build strong communities.
Though the researchers did not touch on this, another reason that big government kills religion is that it takes away an individual's incentive to create for themselves, which requires a tremendous amount of faith to undertake. Building one's own business from scratch, for example, and facing the fear of failure that involves, requires some measure of faith. The more one deals with the realities of life, its challenges, unknowns, potential pitfalls, the more one is likely to seek answers and comfort from a higher power.