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These are interesting observations but are difficult to assert when referring to non-christian europeans.

It then forces one to ask whether the factor isn't plurality of sects and competition but the degree to which religions hold highly normative doctrines and furthermore, their relative ability to dissuade transgression.

Christianity in Europe lacks normative weight - even Catholicism. However, Islam in Europe extends its normative strength from its centers in the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia.

Evangelical Christianity is more normatively focused than mainline Protestantism - it is a facet of it's conservatism and authoritarian orientation - which it shares with Islam.


Why are Americans more religious? It's Genetic. Most Americans were kicked out of Europe for being either Religious Fanatics or Zealots. I know some of my forbears came to this country after being kicked out of the New Model Army for being a little out of sorts with the dominant Theology and having had to hide out in the Marches of Pembrokeshire for a time.

At least that's my theory and I'm sticking to it... ;)


Becker's aim in publishing this post is unclear. He appears to be lobbing a grenade for the sake of observing the reaction it provokes among the readers of this blog.


I tend to agree with the comment by NEH about the genetic component - a lot of religious fanatics (white trash) immigrated here from Europe.

Regarding Becker's post, I'm not following his arguments about social interactions and parents-to-kids transmission. Perhaps somebody else can explain it more clearly.

Where's Posner's post on this topic?

Kevin Dixon

Posting from Torquay, England.

Church attendance in my town is around 5% of the population and falling. The membership of the state church, the Church of England, has fallen by around half in 20 years. It's said that a majority of English Anglicans are now over the age of 60. For the first time in 1200 years statistics now suggest that a majority of the English are no longer Christians.

I would suggest that one of the main reasons for this change is due to the introduction of the welfare state in Britain post-1945. The provision of welfare, health, social services and education by the state largely eliminated the need for faith-based charity. People had no need to be connected to any religious institution.

It was interesting that when Poland joined the European Community, Catholic churches in the UK attracted Polish immigrants for a short time. They used the church as they did in their home country: for economic support, advice and social networking. As these new arrivals integrated, many quickly drifted away from the faith of their homeland...


This is somewhat exaggerated.

I have lived in both USA and various EU countries. Yes, the US has "jesus loves you" billboards along the highway and abortion clinic wakes.
On the other hand, the EU "appears" more religious, primarily because of the many people with Islamic beliefs with conservative religious dress (which you rarely see in the US).

Also, Judaism in the US seems far more moderate than in the EU.

On the whole, educated Americans are just as religious as educated people from the EU.Just visit an American university.

Less educated people are more likely religious, and possibly, levels of education in some parts of the US are not as high as in the wealthy EU countries that we often discuss here (as the author says, not Ireland): The Scandinavian and north EU countries, who all have spend much on education.

If you want to make a country more religious, first thing is to make sure that you fund education less and make educational access more difficult.


PS it is spent. Sarcastically, you say that they haven't spent it on my education :)


It seems to me that religiosity is associated with breeding. As a child grows into an adult and begins to reason for himself, he tends to drift away from religion and other superstitions. Only when he marries and begins to breed do his thoughts turn again to religion and church attendance, which, along with public "education," are thought needed to enforce the prevailing myths of the culture. The effectiveness of the conspiracy of parents, schools and churches to keep the American kid dumb is one of the themes of Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman.

Americans are also far less sophisticated than Europeans when it comes to science and math, politics and world affairs, and thus far less exposed to alternatives to their cultural superstitions.

Furthermore, the powerful force of americanization that immigrants are all to glad to accept in order to gain a part of the American Pie serves as an impediment to the cross-fertilization that new immigrants, such as Poles in England, Albanians in Italy and Turks in Germany bring to the people of Europe.


I just asked my visiting German friend why it is that Americans are so religious compared to Europeans, and his answer made a lot of sense:

Personal security.

Latins are notable for being religious and superstitious, baptizing cars, and so on. Why? Disease, violence and other random acts of bad fortune are likely to befall them. Same, to a lesser degree in the USA.

In Europe, on the other hand, there is cradle-to-grave security: healthcare, the certainty of being stuck in the same job with the same wife forever, far less street violence, etc. The Germans don't have to rely as much on religion for succor and commiseration and false hope of a secure future.

Christopher Calton

@NEH -- While I agree with what I think the sentiment of your comment is, your argument is fantastically flawed. There is not a scientifically shown "religiosity" gene, there are certain characteristics that might lead someone to be more religious: lower I.Q. (not to say people of high I.Q. are not religious, simply that the statistics seem to show a moderate correlation), low socioeconomic status (with the strong, albeit statistically insignificant, outliers being the U.S., Kuwait, UAE, etc), Low HDI or simply having metal projectiles aimed at you on a semi-regular basis. There simply is no "religious" gene and invoking it does absolutely nothing to further the conversation. Perhaps talking about the religious cultural memes of our early ancestors would be a better use of time...

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Simon Gilman

I think having wars on your own soil - the sheer slaughter of the fields of France, the London Blitz, the firebombing of Dresden - sows the seed. The transition from being empires to being modern democracies happened quickly, where the horror of war bred political philosophies that have never taken hold in the US. I know the sacrifices that America has made, of course, but the experience of war in Europe goes back centuries before the American nation existed.

In a sense then, America remains ever-optimistic, all the way to Heaven's Gates, while world-weary, cynical Europe has already been through Hell and has stopped caring.


Chris, Actually, the "Genetic Component" was offered in a humorous vein. But since we're on the subject, as for a "Religious Gene", I guess we can all agree that genes affect brain development, brain development affects the development of "Mind", "Mind" affects the "Weltgeist" or World View which includes the insights and understanding of the Divine. Just as "brain" affects "Mind", so "Mind" affects emotional states which create the emotional aspects of the Divine.

Ergo, there may or may not be a single gene controlling "Reliousity", but there is a synergistic affect of genetic development that affects and creates "Religiousity".Then the Cultural aspects of Society, such as education, training, social constraints come into play reinforcing or transforming that inherent "Religiousity" As an old Jesuit saying goes, "Give me child for the first ten years of his life and I will give you back a Christian and a Catholic". Or to put it another way, "If there wasn't a God, it would have been necessary for Homosapiens to invent one". Or my personal favorite, "Don't forget to pray, otherwise, God might come to a bad end and you along with him".


The religious market hypothesis has been tested, and while it explains some variation in religiosity, it doesn't appear to be the most important factor. According to the study, the most important factors are income inquality, and a lower per capita GDP. [1]

These factors are part of what's sometimes called the existential insecurity hypothesis, based on the work of Gregory Paul [2]. Overall, the correlation of religiosity and indicators of a dysfunctional society – such as income inquality, wealth, life expectancy, scores on the Peace Index, infant mortality, homicide rates, levels of corruption, teen pregnancies, STDs and abortions –, is often rather high.

In other words, the less functional a society, the higher existential insecurity, and consequently, the higher the religiosity of the society. These factors not just help explain the difference between America and Western Europe, but also the differences in religiosity within America.

[1] Rees, T. (2009): "Is Personal Insecurity a Cause of Cross-National Differences in the Intensity of Religious Belief?". Journal of Religion and Society 11: 1–24. See also the blog post of the author here: http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2009/07/why-some-countries-are-more-religious.html

[2] Paul, Gregory S. (2005): "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health With Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." Journal of Religion & Society 7: 1-17. See also: Paul, Gregory S. (2009): The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions, Evolutionary Psychology Journal 7 (3): 398-441.

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Any possibility that it has to do with the size of the government? Might it be that church and government are substitutes in some aspects, as services and/or as employers?

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I think having wars on your own soil - the sheer slaughter of the fields of France, the London Blitz, the firebombing of Dresden - sows the seed. The transition from being empires to being modern democracies happened quickly, where the horror of war bred political philosophies that have never taken hold in the US. I know the sacrifices that America has made, of course, but the experience of war in Europe goes back centuries before the American nation existed.

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Abraham a Sancta Clara

It seems to me that there are historical reasons why the attitude toward religion is very different.
To paint the picture with an extremely broad brush, many came to the US to enjoy their freedom of religion by believing what they wanted to believe. Religious belief was an element of freedom. By contrast, in Western Europe religion was for a long time an instrument of governmental oppression. One aspect was the early modern principle "cuius regio, eius religio", under which the prince could choose the required religion for his subjects. The religious yoke remained in place in the 20th century in many places -- think about Spanish and Italian fascism or Austria in the 1930s. Socially, religious oppression lingered far into the second half of the 20th century.
Venturing into the former Eastern bloc, it is not surprising that the Czech Republic is today the most atheistic country in the world, since the predominant Catholicism was associated with the Habsburg monarchy, which had persecuted the local Hussites to extinction. By contrast, in neighboring Poland Catholicism was at the forefront of resistance against the Prussians and later the communists.


The Netherlands are known for its high number of different denominations. Although there is some competition among churches, secularization is very high: due to competition among churches, christians sometimes change denomination, but its effect on secularized people is, if not absent, very limited.
On the other hand, as you point out, Ireland is very religious, although the Catholic churche doesn't face much competition.


Great does anyone want a robot to wipe there ass for them too? Technology has done us wonreds but dont forget the very reason there are less workers needed in factorys is because of technology an yeahh its cheaper for the company but it just means there isnt the money circling the economy as much in the pockets of familys and people who need it instead its in the big bosses pocket, I dont know if a more computerised world is a good thing, yeahh very nice it cleans floors an no one really enjoys

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Depends, for distances under 500km i tend to use tnrias (or car), otherwise planes. But it also depends on where you have to go, from Amsterdam to Paris anything other than the HST (High Speed Train) is a total waste of time and money because its cheaper and faster. For a trip Brussels-Nice (more or less the same distance and the countries) i would fly.


A good article, but I would be craeful around the word intelligence. It's well-known that IQ is an extremely nebulous concept with considerable difficulties in measurement; claiming that intelligence is higher in more developed countries is not only extremely hard to verify but also rather insulting to developing countries.I do enjoy the ensuing conversation with Metacrock, though. It's good to know that we atheists are allowed to have our own secret world-running societies.

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