NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 24, 2004

The United States is unusual in that it is a highly religious nation in a mostly secular group of industrial democracies, says the New York Times' Eduardo Porter.

Contrary to popular perception, religiosity is not based on economic development, but rather the supply of religious services. Based on sociological studies, he argues that:

  • Americans are religious due to the active competition among churches and different denominations -- the more there are people working to expand their congregation the more people will go to church.
  • In Latin Europe, after the Catholic monopoly was weakened, there has been an explosion of religion and new Christian churches.
  • Conversely, secular Europe suffers from an uncompetitive market with lazy, quasi-monopolistic churches protected by the state.

Therefore, says Porter, in order for religion to thrive it must remain clearly separate from the state -- assuaging fears of those concerned about too much religion in government.

However, he notes that Islamic states strongly support churches and retain high levels of religious participation. Also, the most religious states in the United States are those most dominated by a single denomination, not those where there is more competition.

Source: Eduardo Porter, "Give Them Some of That Free-Market Religion," New York Times, November 21, 2004.

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