Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some Observations and Hypotheses on the Social Democracy-Secularism Connection

Here's some other interesting ideas on how and why social democracy strengthens secularism:

Mary Eberstadt here suggests that the correlation of fertility and religion goes the opposite way than what we think: it's not that loss of religion causes lower fertility, but that lower fertility causes loss of religion. The piece seems more suggestive than definitive, ef="">university press release:

Reiss said that each of the 16 basic desires outlined in the book influence the psychological appeal of religious behavior. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility.

His research is not the usual reductionist stuff (it's also not that incisive, alas) and emphasizes how all sixteen desires interact in religious experience.

Reiss has already done some initial research that suggests the desire for independence is a key psychological desire that separates religious and non-religious people. In a study published in 2000, Reiss found that religious people (the study included mostly Christians) expressed a strong desire for interdependence with others. Those who were not religious, however, showed a stronger need to be self-reliant and independent.

The study also showed that religious people valued honor more than non-religious people, which Reiss said suggests many people embrace religion to show loyalty to parents and ancestors.

Reiss defines "honor" here in a somewhat special way as the idea of living up to one's family, continuing their legacy, and not shaming them.

If he's right, my sense is that most people in Christian societies have little sense of what is psychological drives are strong in the religious.** If asked, my guess is what people would say is that religion fulfills desires for idealism or tranquility (pro) or order or vengeance (con).

OK, put it all together and here's what my general hypothesis:

Religion (or at least the Christian religion) increases when people live in stable, interdependent families that have thick, multi-generational identity, and where good and bad deeds are sanctioned by highly personal punishment and reward. (The best picture of what I mean is here).

How does this relate to social democracy? Here are my detailed hypotheses:

1) Social democracy weakens the sense of family (and other social groups) as lineage from past to future. First a universal pension system makes having children (hence the survival of the group) optional. This is also encouraged by removing sex from procreation -- but I would guess the effect of this is relatively minor, compared to that of universal pensions. Second, by insulating children from the bad decisions of their parents, they remove that sense that my decisions now have consequences for future generations. In other words, egalitarianism, by seeking to eliminating being born in one family rather than another as a generator of life outcomes, comprehensively diminishes the consequences for future generations of one's actions now. Finally, the tendency to replace marriage with cohabitation denies the child a sense of being born into a fixed and named social group (the Joneses, the Smiths, etc.) that is formed and continued by definite ritual incorporation via marriage.

The decoupling of the present generation from the past or future can be seen in the increase in disposal of the bodies of the dead in ways that leave no site for personal remembrance (grave, shrine, columbaria, etc.) which seems to be a prominent feature of European social democratic societies. (That's what Bottum is talking about.)

2) Social democratic values are hostile to shame and guilt as a sanction for bad behavior. The anti-punitive measures focus on the idea of good behavior as rational and bad behavior as resulting not in punishment from some one who loves you, but rather in the impersonal consequences of one's behavior. To put it very crudely, if you've been spanked as a child the concept of sin as an offense against a loving God, rather than a foolish act that results in impersonal consequences, becomes much more plausible. But again social democracy is comprehensively hostile to the concept of punitive sanctions, as opposed to rehabilitation and/or experiencing the automatic consequences of one's unwise actions. As a result sanctions for good or bad actions are systematically depersonalized, i.e. separated from the anger or joy of someone you love.

3) By removing key functions from the family, the social democratic system removes the effect that forces people to live in intense, long-lasting relationships. In more practical terms, household size declines because people can afford to move out. As an adaption to growing up under these conditions, the desire for independence grows and the desire for interdependence declines. Where school and day care are extended to ever greater percentages of childhood, this effect is intensified.

To summarize, all other things being equal*, religion in Christian countries** makes most sense for people who belong to defined and named social groups (families and larger) with a recognized multi-generational past and future, who can bring on themselves and that family intense feelings of honor or guilt/shame by bad or good actions, and who in order to make a living are pushed into intense, permanent, and deeply interdependent relations with the other members of that family.

It makes least sense for people raised as individuals who have individual parents but no sense of a corporate family past and no sense of an obligation to have children in the future, who experience the results of good and bad actions only as an impersonal outworking of actions in the nature of things, and who are financially able to freely move in and out of family groups and live alone or with new persons.

Social democracy devastates religion in Christian countries because it sets about deliberately and systematically to turn a society made of the first type of persons into a society made of the second type of persons.

*Which they almost never are.
**This indirect phrasing is deliberate. Someone might say "Well, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion!" OK, if that's how you define it. But strangely enough, I bet you'll find getting people into your "relationship" will be easier in a society that stimulates "religious" values of interdependence and family honor, than in one that sees these as bad things.

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