Monday, June 11, 2007

Does Social Democracy Automatically Produce Secularism and Materialism?

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

. . . .

The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

This is the argument of Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman on Why the Gods Are Not Winning, and in case you couldn't tell, they think the rise of social democracy and the slow extinction of religion is a good thing. America is religious solely because not being a social democracy (yet), it has a un-benign and unprogressive socio-economic situation. (You can follow the link to get their Hobbesian view of Middle American life.)

Razib has a fine refutation of their secular predictions, entitled Why the Gods Will Not Be Defeated. You can find further discussion from Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat too.

OK, but none of them really deal with the linked assertion of Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, that 1) that there is a correlation between the policies we call social democracy and intense secularism; and 2) that this correlation goes from social democracy to secularism (and not the other way around).

I've have long noticed both of these things. And yes, it seems that chronologically, welfare states come first and then rapid secularization.

From the point of view of someone who actually sees God as important this would seem to be an important point. If this correlation works, then social democracy kills the church, which for a Christian would seem to be reason enough to anathemize social democracy and all its works.

Does anyone else see this correlation? Anyone have explanations? I am particularly interested in the large tribe of Christian social democrats -- do you see this correlation? Can you point to exceptions? How do you explain it? In recommending that countries adopt policies on welfare and law enforcement that are similar to Sweden, what makes you think you are not also inadvertently encouraging the secularism of Sweden?

UPDATE: OK, I think it might help analysis to break down social democracy a bit. In the list presented by Paul and Zuckerman, there are three broad areas:

1) Anti-retributive measures: abolition of the death penalty, handgun control, pressure against corporal punishment in home and school, rehabilitative vs. punitive incarceration, etc.

2) Sexual liberty measures: sex education in schools, encouragement of contraception, legal abortion funded by national health plans, legalization of pornography, removal of any stigma on homosexuality, pressure against fixed sex roles.

3) Welfare state measures: national pension system, public housing, national health care for all citizens, high marginal tax rates on the wealthy, free pre-school and day care, etc.

Note: what Paul and Zuckerman mean by welfare state is particularly measures that remove whole areas of life from private funding for everyone in society. Thus, any measures directly specifically at the poor, such as Medicaid or food stamps, do not really count. (Such measures can be seen as continuous with the long-standing tradition of "poor laws" and hence do not seem new enough to explain the new phenomenon of mass secularization.)

Together these three areas form a group, in that most of the active proponents of one will also support the other. Christian social democrats generally support 1 and 3 most actively, but are more ambivalent about 2.

The US is less social democractic than the European Union on all three. Curiously, though, the sharpest contrast is in no. 1, and the least contrast is in no. 2, with no. 3 in between.

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