Posts tagged: education

Are Public Schools the Cause of Secularization?

Lyman Stone has just published a massive new article on secularization in the United States and much of Western Europe that’s worth a read. But I’ll summarize some of his key points since you may not want to read the whole sixty page piece. First, some choice quotes about where we stand.

I. Religiosity in the United States Over Time

Stone begins:

By any measure, religiosity in America is declining. As this report will show, since peaking in 1960s, the share of American adults attending any religious service in a typical week has fallen from 50% to 35%, while the share claimed as members by any religious body has fallen from over 75% to about 62%. Finally, the share of Americans who self-identify or report being affiliated with any religion has fallen from over 95% to around 75%.

However, 1960 really was a peak in American history:

At the dawn of the American republic in the 1780s, probably just a third of Americans were a member in any religious body, and just a fifth could be found at church on a given Sunday. [In some ways, the US is more religious today] than it was two centuries ago — and indeed at any point between 1750 and 1930.

So we are less religious than we once were, but we’re far from a historical low. And we haven’t always been a stand-out, internationally. Between 1800 and 1950, the US was not especially religious relative to other countries, but it didn’t secularize as fast, which has made it exceptionally religious today.

Interestingly, our church attendance rates between 1930 and 1990 were really stable; the US fell from 62% to 59%. So in that sense, we didn’t grow much more secular over that period. A lot of our religiosity patterns are long-standing. I was also surprised to find this is true in other countries as well. In 1930, only 14% of Swedes went to church regularly, a figure that fell to just 11% by 1990.

We people of faith are down, but not out.

II. The Causes of Secularization

Stone doesn’t just present interesting data on religiosity. He also discusses the literature on the determinants of religiosity:

Research on determinants of religiosity has found two contrasting results. First, explicitly sectarian governance, such as having a state religion, tends to reduce religiosity, because it reduces the competitiveness and diversity of the religious marketplace. Second, expansions in government service provision and especially increasingly secularized control of education significantly drive secularization and can account for virtually the entire increase in secularization around the developed world. The decline in religiosity in American in America is not the product of a natural change in preferences, but an engineered outcome of clearly identifiable policy choices in the past.

Religiosity is determined early in life; Stone says that kids “raised without religion tend to become nonreligious adults, and vice versa.” And, fascinatingly, “[c]hildhood religiosity was heavily affected by government spending on education and, to a lesser degree, government spending on old-age pensions.” [I don’t know why the latter would decrease religiosity, but my guess is that less government spending on pensions means more religious grandparents living with their grandkids.] Similarly, “societies that spent more public money on education were less religious.”

It also seems to be true that having a religion monopolist reduces religiosity, which I think isn’t terribly surprising. Monopolies can be sluggish, and state monopolies most sluggish still.

Relatedly, here’s what didn’t matter.

Across many countries and a long time span, they found that higher educational attainment did not predict lower religiosity: More and less educated people were similarly religious. Nor did they find that industrialized, urban life reduces religiosity: A more urban and industrialized population was associated with greater religiosity. Theories that religion has declined because urbanization is hostile to religiosity–or because modern, educated people are inherently skeptical of religion–get no support in the actual historical record.

Worship styles don’t seem related to religiosity either. It’s unclear whether religious competition increases religiosity. In the US, more religious diversity means more religious volunteering, and more religiously diverse states have higher average rages of church attendance but the association is not that strong. On the other hand, sometimes religious competition leads to political changes, such as the Reformation generating the large secular states that played a role in secularization.

Also of interest is that attempts to discriminate in favor of certain branches of Christianity probably didn’t help, and arguably hurt. For instance, the tools that some religious people used against others (Protestants against Catholics) like Blaine Amendments are being used by secular legal elites against all religious schools.

III. Religion as a Club Good

Stone argues that religious affiliation occurs when a religious group offers club goods – services to members that can only be provided to members by the group as a whole. You can exclude people from a club good, so it’s not a public good, but the club has to work together to produce the relevant good. Historically, religious groups have provided all kinds of critical social services on the condition that members follow their rules, goods that are limited to members but can only be provided by a large group whose individual contributions may not matter much on their own.

An extensive social democratic state can compete with religious service provision, often successfully because the government can force people to purchase its services, and provide it to others without requiring anything of them. As a result, the social democratic state can generate a crowding out effect. As the elderly rely on state pensions, they rely less on their churches, and so play less of a role, contribute less time, don’t set examples of piety and devotion, etc. And as the government takes over more and more of education, children are less and less exposed to religious education and religious people.

Another connection is that marriage increases religiosity, but since education is delaying marriage, the effect is delayed.

Stone follows many others in arguing that churches that water down their requirements tend to perform worse than those that are more demanding. Churches grow, he argues, “when their members are deeply committed to them” but if there’s nothing to deeply commit to, there’s not much point.

IV. Increasing American Religiosity

If you think that, generally speaking, religiosity is good for persons as I do, these are lamentable trends. But if Stone is right, there are policy solutions to some of the problems. The main thing to do is to weaken the government’s role in education, expand voucher programs, support home schooling, and (Stone argues) make it easier to build churches and schools closer together.

Religious progressives, people of faith who favor an extensive welfare state, should be concerned. If the social democratic state functions as a kind of huge, unfair competitor to your religious group (because the state can provide services with force, whereas churches typically cannot, and on a massive scale), you may have to choose between your faith and your politics. Religious integralists should also not be especially pleased, since they favor religious monopoly.

Are Liberal Regimes as Coercive as Integralist Regimes?

A week or so ago, Dave Atenasio published a nice reply to my post arguing that integralist regimes will have a hard time generating requisite levels of stability without lots of coercion. The piece is well-done, so check it out, but I’d like to jump right to the heart of the matter. I concede freely what integralists often say, which is that liberal regimes are coercive. My claim is that liberal regimes are less coercive in allowing a wider range of opinion to flourish. And if there is a natural tendency in the free use of practical reason for people to disagree, integralist regimes will therefore have to employ more coercion to achieve coordination around their comprehensive doctrine than liberal regimes, which are at least somewhat neutral on these matters, and much more than integralist regimes.

Atenasio argues that it’s just not clear whether integralist regimes are more coercive than liberal regimes, and then he proceeds to outline various ways in which liberal regimes are coercive and points out that the coerciveness of both liberal and integralist regimes, even construed as ideal types, come in degrees, and are based on a range of factors, the variety and magnitude of which will make it difficult to show definitively that liberal regimes are less coercive.

I’m pretty sympathetic to the idea that it is hard to determine which regimes and policies are more coercive than others. That’s a big point in my forthcoming book, A Liberal Democratic Peace: Creating Trust in Polarized Times, in Chapter 5. However, I don’t think we’re should be as skeptical as Atenasio believes. My argument begins with a ceteris paribus comparison between the two regime types following three restrictions on how the comparison should proceed.

First condition: I’m going to assume that liberal regimes and integralist regimes can have the same foreign policy and economic policy, within broad limits. So in comparing the two regimes, we can hold these policy classes constant. I know that integralist regimes will, on average, have a narrower band of economic policies, since liberal regimes can vary a lot in this regard, but let’s set that aside for the sake of argument.

So this means that the main comparison between the two regimes will be on social policy.

Second condition: we can hold lots of social policy constant because the degree of coerciveness of these policies are somewhat independent to what is essentially different between integralist and liberal regimes. First,  and most controversially, I think we can hold abortion policy constant because, while liberal regimes tend to permit abortion, and while integralist regimes would seek to end it, nothing about a liberal regime forbids it from adopting pro-life legislation (here I disagree with Rawls that reasonable people have to be at least somewhat pro-choice). There is no inherent instability in a pro-life liberal constitutional order, as long as it is not suffused with a pro-choice ethos. But I admit that if you’re pro-life, there’s a way in which integralist regimes will tend to be less coercive, because they almost always will forbid people from coercing the unborn into an early grave. So if liberal regimes must be pro-choice, then that is a point in the integralist’s favor.

But there are other forms of coercion that go in the other direction, since integralist regimes will embrace far more legal moralism and paternalism, and liberal orders will tend to eschew those practices, so that’s a clear way in which liberalism will be less coercive.

Third restriction: I’m going to hold the degree of pluralism in the populace constant as well. Perhaps integralist regimes will create more Catholics (though they may generate a backlash (which is how integralist regimes created the Reformation, imo: they were too violent and repressed too much disagreement). If so, then integralist regimes will become less coercive because the populace will agree with the policies of the integralist state. But liberal regimes will also not be very coercive if everyone is Catholic. But if everyone is not Catholic, then integralism will be much more coercive than liberalism, and that seems to me pretty clear.

That’s because of the big essential constitutional difference between an integralist regime and a liberal regime: the integralist regime basically has no first amendment. There is no robust right to freedom of speech, press, or religion in an integralist regime. Speech that promulgates heresy and apostasy must be restricted. Publications that promulgate heresy and apostasy must be restricted. And, obviously, the state will use coercion to promote adherence to Catholic belief and practice, even against Protestants and, maybe, Orthodox Christians, not to mention Jews, Muslims, and atheists. There are limits on such coercion, as people cannot be forced to become Catholics against their will. But, if you have been validly baptized, even as an infant, and you decide to speak what you know to be heresy or you apostasize, you’re to be held criminal liable in accord with your level of guilt. So an integralist state can imprison and perhaps even execute recalcitrant heretics.

I recognize that some will want to reject one or more of the three restrictions. But they all seem fair to me. And if they are, it seems clear that integralist regimes will be much more coercive than a regime with first amendment-like protections. Perhaps with enough time and force, the transition to integralism will produce such resolute Catholics that most people won’t even want first amendment rights. But that claim seems in tension with what we see even in heavily Catholic countries. You see lots of disagreement about all kinds of things.