Why Are Americans So Religious?
God and Obamacare
From Rev Dr Derek Suchard
In his review of Ara Norenzayan's Big Gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflict, Michael Bond wonders why the US, one of the most economically developed countries, is still among the most religious. This contrasts with the fact that the world's most secure countries tend to be the least religious.
As a systematic theologian, I have been fascinated by that very phenomenon and have a working hypothesis. This Suchard contention is that, in comparison with much of Europe, the US has an underdeveloped healthcare network and social security safety net, which leaves millions of citizens facing catastrophic illness and abject poverty. Such insecurity, either experienced or feared, means active religiosity and membership in a religious organisation proclaiming that God takes care of his own becomes an attractive source of immaterial comfort and hope, as well as often providing real and tangible material support.
If health and social programmes were implemented in the US to the same level of effectiveness and outcome as in much of Europe, religious society in the US would more closely resemble the unchurched Europeans. Obamacare - which seeks to widen healthcare provision - may provide us with a means of testing this hypothesis.
I am willing to predict that, if implemented in full, it will contribute, probably within one child-bearing generation, to the decrease in church attendance and literalist religious beliefs. European levels would be seen within half a century.