If Religion Is So Good for Society, How Come Catholic Countries Are Economic Basket Cases?

Alternative title: Cultural Determinism is Tricky.

I have not been alone on Ricochet in calling for a conservative reconquista of The Culture (TM). And not alone in insisting on the vital importance of churches as mediating institutions to stand against the suffocating embrace of the modern bureaucratic state. Or in insisting upon the vital resource that centuries of Christian thinking about ultimately important things brings to discussions about public policy today.

But how doe…

  1. Barkha Herman

    Arguably, it is not religion but government (the right kind) that allows for prosperity of a nation.

    According to Niall Ferguson, here’s what allows a nation to prosper:

    1. Competition

    2. Scientific Revolution
    3. Property Rights
    4. Modern Medicine
    5. Consumer Society
    6. Work Ethic

    Some religions inherently align with the above mentioned ideas, i.e. Judeo Christian philosophy and a strong work ethic.  But is’ not exclusive to it.

    UPDATE: link to Niall’s talk added.

  2. Roberto
    genferei: But how does one meet the objection that those countries where the religious institution with the most self-confident social teachings – the Roman Catholic church – has dominated civil society are not countries that are marked by a stellar economic (or governance) record?· 30 minutes ago

    A cultural renewal is necessary, but not sufficient. Several of the nations you listed have unusual circumstances, Haiti, others have suffered the scourge of communism/socialism.

  3. FireLeaf

    I agree with Barkha on the main cultural drivers of economic prosperity. I’d also add that, to the extent religion follows culture (and I believe it does, not the other way around), the differences between Roman Catholicism and most Protestant denominations can be instructive. RC exalts poverty, which isn’t conducive to economic well-being, and makes wealthy Catholics feel at least somewhat guilty for their prosperity. Protestants, while still generous givers to charity, tend to see wealth as something that is earned and thus deserved.

  4. Mendel
    FireLeaf: I agree with Barkha on the main cultural drivers of economic prosperity. I’d also add that, to the extent religion follows culture (and I believe it does, not the other way around), the differences between Roman Catholicism and most Protestant denominations can be instructive. RC exalts poverty, which isn’t conducive to economic well-being, and makes wealthy Catholics feel at least somewhat guilty for their prosperity. Protestants, while still generous givers to charity, tend to see wealth as something that is earned and thus deserved. · 2 minutes ago

    I agree.  The principles this country was built on align much more closely with the Northern European Protestant values of our first settlers.

    And to Genferei, if you read the comments of the Catholics on Ricochet, most of them seem to be equally frustrated by the politics of their co-congregants as they are with the politics of non-believers.

  5. MichaelC19fan

    This is an interesting and complicated question. There are huge regional variations within countries. For example, Catalan and Northern Italy were and are as capitalistic and productive as any Protestant region. The heart of the industrialization in Germany was the Ruhr Valley with a majority Catholic population. Even in Protestant regions there are huge variations. A disproportionate share of the people involved in the Industrial Revolution in England were non-Anglicans.  

  6. No Caesar

    While not discounting any comments above, I’d like to point out that the Protestant northern European core took off and did very well, when they were more observant.  Their falling off matched with their lowered observance. 

  7. Red Feline

    The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain shortly after the uniting of the Parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707.

    Wikipedia: “The Industrial Revolution was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times. It began in Great Britain, then subsequently spread throughout Western Europe, North America, Japan, and eventually the rest of the world.” …

    “Great Britain provided the legal and cultural foundations that enabled entrepreneurs to pioneer the industrial revolution.[4]

    The Church of Scotland was set up by John Knox in 1560 and universal schooling was introduced at the same time so that everyone could read the Bible for themselves. This produced a literate, educated population, with a strong work ethic, that helped drive the Industrial Revolution. Glasgow became one of the largest centres for engineering in the world. 

  8. Innocent Smith

    I know this will sound kind of bad, but anyone contradicting this point is more than welcome to speak up:  I would question the actual state of the religion in those countries.  Mexico is a catholic country… many Sundays my Mexican friend posts on her facebook page “in church right now; need to make up for last night!”  Leaving aside the fact that she is updating her facebook in church, the point is that she knows absolutely nothing about catholic doctrine.  I think the same could be said for many catholics, and an honest discussion can be had as to why that seems to be the case.

    Christianity, I have long argued, is very libertarian in its political leanings (if it can be said to have political leanings).  Catholicism has always tended toward an almost socialistic perspective, because it has a structure that resembles government, it was once actually involved in governance, and it is rather “charity” oriented.  It is easy for a lazy (pardon the term, but it is appropriate) parishioner to mix all of that up and think that Christianity is liberalism.  Also, remember that liberals very dishonestly present themselves in this way…. and people buy it.

  9. Devereaux

    I would submit that there are only 2 needs for prosperity – faith (not religion) and liberty. Liberty goes back to many of the points Barkha makes in the initial post. IF you have liberty, THEN (to use computer-speak) you get: competition, property rights, scientific progress, etc. The component missing is virtue, which allows liberty to be exercised with proper responsibility. That comes from faith.

    David Goldman (How Civilizations Die) argues that Christianity was killed in the 30 years war by pagan-Christianity as represented by the nation-state. Faith, however, was living in the East Anglia protestants, who moved to Holland for religious reasons, then to America as their first settlers. With them came a more evangelical kind of Christianity, as well as the English reformation philosophy that was based on it. Thus we end up with the unique version of freedom that we have – and no other land (Canada may be close to us, but they still have that whole French thing). If you believe any of Goldman’s argument, then it is obvious that Europe doesn’t really have faith as much as simple religion.

  10. Red Feline

    As a matter of fact, Quebec, which is French-speaking and is Roman Catholic, is the poorest province in Canada. 

  11. genferei

    The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace reacts to the financial crisis:

    After the Second Vatican Council, in his Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio of 1967, Pope Paul VI already clearly and prophetically denounced the dangers of a liberalist conception of economic development because of its harmful consequences for world equilibrium and peace.

    I can only hope that “world equilibrium and peace” makes some sense in the original.

  12. Pilli

    Niall Ferguson has it right.  Except I would place property rights at the top of the list.  Most of the countries mentioned were once based on the idea of  land ownership by the ruling class and worked by non-owner peasants.  The peasants were ‘converted’ to Catholicism.  The Industrial Revolution brought England and Northern Europe away from this and they flourished.  When property is concentrated in the hands of a few, the economy languishes whether the ‘few’ are Dukes or Politburo.  China is a perfect example.  When Chinese citizens were allowed to own property and the fruits of some of their labor, their economy boomed.

  13. Aaron Miller

    Many of those countries are Catholic like so many millions of Americans are Irish or Italian. The way people identify themselves often has more to do with fond ancestries than with what they actually believe and do.

    America is as full of Americans as it was in the 1800s. So why isn’t America the same?

  14. Karen

    What about Catholic states like Maryland? If not for the federal government keeping the cash coming in, it’d be in an even bigger mess. Having lived in a largely Catholic community for a few years, I think the problem is the hierarchal and centralized structure of the church absolves most Catholics of the personal responsibility and accountability that Christians are called to in the Scriptures. But in my religious discussions with Catholics, most are disturbingly unfamiliar with the Bible. So they pick and choose what they like based on what certain clergy members have written or said, which doesn’t always jibe with Biblical teaching. Social justice and ultimately socialism itself is supported by many Catholics worldwide, because they believe not the individual, but the governing body, the collective church or government, should care for the poor. Many have a “somebody else will do it” attitude.

  15. KC Mulville

    Catholic states like Maryland?

    As a Catholic who lives in Maryland, I can assure you that this is not the case.

  16. Ed G.

     

    Barkha Herman: Arguably, it is not religion but government (the right kind) that allows for prosperity of a nation.

    According to Niall Ferguson, here’s what allows a nation to prosper:

    1. Competition

    2. Scientific Revolution
    3. Property Rights
    4. Modern Medicine
    5. Consumer Society
    6. Work Ethic

    Some religions inherently align with the above mentioned ideas, i.e. Judeo Christian philosophy and a strong work ethic.  But is’ not exclusive to it.

    UPDATE: link to Niall’s talk added. · 21 hours ago

    Edited 21 hours ago

    What predicate is required for competition and property rights? I concede that it’s a complicated matter dependent on innumerable factors, but I assert that things like respect for human dignity and the golden rule are essential. While these concepts can certainly arise separate from faith and religious belief (and while people of faith sometimes fall short of these ideals) they are the earthly end of religion faithully observed – specifically the Judeo/Christian tradition. It isn’t at all obvious that the golden rule is a good rule or even a practical one for people with an advantage to press and a conscience absent or muted, and no care for God. 

  17. Matt Bartle

    Someone once said to me, “The Protestant Work Ethic made the USA  what it is, and the Catholic Work Ethic made South America what it is.”

    (I’m not endorsing, just passing along FWIW)

  18. Jimmy Carter
      Barkha Herman: Arguably, it is not religion but government (the right kind) that allows for prosperity of a nation.

      · 8 minutes ago

    I was taught that, in America, it is We the People that “allows” the government to do what they do, not the other way around.

    Edit: My apologies, Ed G.

  19. Ed G.
    Karen: …..I think the problem is the hierarchal and centralized structure of the church absolves most Catholics of the personal responsibility and accountability that Christians are called to in the Scriptures. But in my religious discussions with Catholics, most are disturbingly unfamiliar with the Bible. So they pick and choose what they like based on what certain clergy members have written or said, which doesn’t always jibe with Biblical teaching. Social justice and ultimately socialism itself is supported by many Catholics worldwide, because they believe not the individual, but the governing body, the collective church or government, should care for the poor. Many have a “somebody else will do it” attitude. · 10 minutes ago

    I too live in a largely Catholic community. I can attest that self-described (ie nonpracticing) Catholics aren’t absolved of their personal responsibility by the structure of the Church or any of its tenets; I think rather that they are numbed to and ignorant of their responsibilities largely as a result of the consumer culture that Mr. Ferguson touts.

  20. Ed G.
    Jimmy Carter

    Ed G.:  Barkha Herman: Arguably, it is not religion but government (the right kind) that allows for prosperity of a nation.

      · 8 minutes ago

    I was taught that, in America, it is We the People that “allows” the government to do what they do, not the other way around. · 3 minutes ago

    Because the quote box disappeared I’m not sure that it’s clear: those are Barkha’s words, not mine.

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