Why Are the Poor More Religious?

Map via The New York Times of where Americans are healthy and wealthy, or struggling. Learn more about this map here and learn more about the related web search terms study here.

Last week, the New York Times’ policy and statistics blog, The Upshot, wrote an article about the hardest places to live in the United States. The rankings, by county, included a variety of factors including education, income, unemployment, disability, life expectancy, and obesity. Based on the information, The Upshot identified ten counties clustered in the Appalachian and southeast regions of the country as the worst places to call home.

Interestingly enough, people living in these places are also more likely than those in wealthier sections of the country to Google search terms related to religion. The Google search terms common to these regions, which include “antichrist,” “about hell,” and “the rapture,” suggest that fundamentalism and its hellfire and brimstone visions of the apocalypse play a significant role in the lives of people who live in these impoverished regions.

These findings from The Upshot are reinforced by previous research into the connections between religion and poverty. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, there is a strong, positive correlation between strict adherence to religion and privation. But while the Gallup poll reports a link between religious devotion and poverty, it doesn’t provide any insight into why it exits.

A study by independent research Dr. Tom Rees, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, suggests that in places without strong social safety nets to provide people with opportunities for upward mobility, people are more likely to rely on religion for comfort. As contradictory as it may seem, when someone is suffering it may console him or her to think that the end of the world is near—that God will bring it to a close and reward the faithful with everlasting joy. Doom and gloom predictions about the trials and tribulations that humanity will face before the apocalypse, prevalent in Christian fundamentalism, may also help some people attribute a higher purpose to their suffering, explaining it as “part of God’s ultimate plan.” It’s also worth noting that in areas with little to no social supports, the local church may provide for people’s basic needs through free childcare programs, food pantries, and clothing drives.

Although religion can provide real assistance and a sense of security to disadvantaged individuals, that doesn’t mean it actually solves the problems associated with poverty. In fact, in an analysis of the aforementioned study, the British Humanist Association warned that government promotion of religion as a positive social influence could mask larger social problems that contribute to poverty, such as a lack of access to education.

Humanism, unlike fundamentalist religious ideology, is not concerned with hell or the nihilistic obliteration of a fallen human race. Instead, humanism is committed to ensuring that this life is the best that it can possibly be, since it’s the only life that any of us have. However, if we want to help improve the lives of people living in some of the “worst” places, we’re going to need more than rational arguments. We’re also going to need to ensure that people’s basic needs are met and that they have opportunities for security and advancement.

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  • CJ_in_VA

    So many of the impoverished across the planet are told their reward is in heaven and that they should be thankful for the life they’ve been given. I believe it’s very clearly what Marx meant when he said religion was an opium of the people. If they stopped believing that there would be some reward in the afterlife, they might start fighting for some of that reward now.

    • Friedporkisgood

      Actually it was Nietzsche who said religion is the opaite of the masses

      • Comradebg

        Actually, it was Marx, although the common “quote” is a paraphrase.

        • And Marx’s quote is often misunderstood. He was actually paying religion a compliment (when you’re in pain, you need painkillers) but said that treating symptoms in society only goes so far.

          • Comradebg

            Bob, from the rest of Marx’s commentary about religion as “illusion”, I’d stop short of suggesting he intended to be complimentary. No doubt, however, he spoke with sympathy for those he saw embracing religion as a way to emotionally handle the plight they had no power to escape. His quandary was about how to motivate the common man to stop hoping for illusions and focus on developing logical, realistic plans to escape the oppression of the more powerful who promoted religion to keep the peasants satisfied.

            And that is PRECISELY why he would have no sympathy for the role of religion in today’s society in which the practitioner has every opportunity to develop competence to logically work for the realistic
            betterment of all society yet chooses to avoid that effort by merely clinging to illusory dreams of self-reward.

          • GotScience

            It is absolutely untrue he meant such a thing as he explicitly defines organized religion as an exploitation aid- which it is.

        • Chris Lukaszewski

          It’s quotation. A quote is a verb, a quotation is a noun.

      • GotScience

        No. Marx. And masses is a poor translation of Volkes. People is better.

      • Behr Palomo

        Actually no one ever said “religion is the opaite (sic) of the masses” unless they were a nitwit who corrects other people with false information.

        Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Which would also be hilarious. 😉

        • GotScience

          You are wrong indeed. Opiate of the masses is a (poor)translation of Karl Marx’s das Opium des Volkes.

          • Behr Palomo

            Nice try, dude but you missed the joke.
            While your quote and translation might be spot on, you missed the point entirely.

          • GotScience

            Were you being fussy about opaite instead of opiate? Is that the point? It is not a point, only condescension.

          • Behr Palomo

            I’m not actually that fussy, I was only pretending to be fussy because “Friedporkisgood” was nitpicking on the comment before, while themselves making two errors (wrong person quoted, wrong spelling of the word).

            I don’t know if I would blow it up so far as to say I was being fussy or condescending. It was a joke. So nevermind, I can see you’re on a different level and wow, thanks for correcting me with your brilliant analysis of how to properly translate from the original language, very impressive! <–That's condescension.

          • GotScience

            I am glad you are properly thankful. “Dude”

    • Haler44

      Perhaps other than Buddhists, I really don’t think that many people living in poverty are satisfied with it, despite the role of religious belief in making it a little less painful. I think that what they mainly lack is a predictably reliable strategy for increasing their earning power. That generally involves acquiring higher levels of skill and “marketing” them on the job market — perhaps by relocating — and not by engaging in the negative sum game of “fighting” for rewards via the political process.

    • Just Thinking

      Marx also had two desires in his debauched life…”to kill God and destroy capitalism”…now think through how much of your “opinions” about the world around you have been influenced by his thoroughly failed world view…this is nothing to celebrate…in my opinion.

      Also, Christians don’t gravitate to the Church to get their material or psychological needs met…they get together because they have seen their sin before a holy God and have found that they can have their sins forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ…this is such a thrilling thing to know thus we love getting together with those who love the one who brought us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

      • GotScience

        well, that’s a bunch a nonsense! Seen their sins and can be forgiven sounds like a mind game, and it is one. As to Marxism, I’m not sure it is a failure as it has never been tried.

    • GotScience

      I like Heine’s soporific drops of spiritual opium’

  • Anonymous1

    My dad’s family was from rural southern Kentucky, and I can corroborate these findings. Most of the people my dad’s family knew were poor and extremely religious. They didn’t believe in education or bettering themselves at all other than to go to church more, and most of their counterparts felt the same way. Most of the people my age were hooked on meth or involved in petty crimes. I left when I was 18 and never looked back except to visit sometimes. It was the best decision I ever made.

    • Marco Alessio Di Giovanni

      It takes some balls to abandon everything you’ve known and loved for the better. I salute you, sir.

  • Einelorelei

    I think it’s because their lives are so horrible that they turn to religion to try to make things bearable only to get caught up in the manipulation and lies that push them further into poverty.

    • dbwindhorst

      My 80-year-old widowed Baptist mom (I escaped religion more than three decades ago) has told me as much: “If it weren’t for the hope of heaven, I wouldn’t have any reason to live.”

      There’s not much you can say to that. I mean, it’s not like she’s going to listen to reason now.

      • Einelorelei

        It’s so sad. 🙁 It is also infuriating that these monsters in clergy and politics exploit those feelings.

        • Just Thinking

          I agree that when people pretend to be Christians and rob and enslave people in rules they make up that aren’t supported in Scripture should be punished…it is interesting to see you frustrated that people who are doing what “you” consider to be “wrong” but are not being punished for their “wrong”?

          When you show this contempt towards these people you are supporting a worldview that demands justice to be meted out to those who violate a standard?

          Would you then not be required to acknowledge that there is a right and wrong?

          And if you believe there is right and wrong would you say that everyone one earth should live to your standards?

          Just thinking.

      • Just Thinking

        Are you sure she said, “If it weren’t for the hope of heaven, I wouldn’t have any reason to live.” because this phrase appears to contradict itself and true Christianity where understood thoroughly doesn’t.

        If she believed in Heaven, then she would want to get out of this rotten sin cursed world and be where there is not sin or pain; consequently, what she said was what those who reject Christ’s sacrifice as a payment for the penalty for their sins would say as they hold tightly to this crumby, floundering planet where man can’t get it together.

        Do you think she was maybe meaning to be talking about staying here to serve and glorify God as long as He sees fit since King David said in about 950 B.C. in Psalm 34 (which I suppose you know since growing up in a Baptist Church), “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away. My life is no longer than the width of my hand. An entire lifetime is just a moment to you; human existence is but a breath”. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you”?

  • sara

    That kind of community can be very, very closed off. When someone tries to leave in order to better their situation they risk being ostracized by everyone they ever cared about.

  • Jackson

    Small typo: exits instead of exists

  • Hans Rosenschwein

    It’s worth analyzing this situation more closely. Do people from these regions turn to religion because of the despair of their impoverished lives, or do people fall into and remain in poverty as a result of their fundamentalist religious ideology? When I moved from a large northeastern city to the southeast I was exposed to fundamentalist christians for the first time. I was shocked at the number of otherwise seemingly intelligent, educated people who had no control over their lives because “it is in God’s hands.” These people’s sole method of making major life decisions – where to go to college, whether they should stay in a job, whether they should move, where they should move – and even ridiculous decisions like what their daughter should wear to the prom, was to “pray on it.”

    • Doubting Thomas

      That’s a good question. When you’re taught all your life to distrust higher education because it teaches things like evolution, an earth older than 6,000 years, and the Big Bang theory, then you’re likely not ever going to better yourself and will either end up in a very low-paying job or on welfare.

      • Just Thinking

        uw….dt…look up “Christian Pulitzer prize winners” in wiki…you will find that more “Christians” have been awarded Pulitzers over the years than our current group of arrogant Marxist bullies that have infected American education today.

        In fact, carbon dating has a real big scientific problem because the half life of carbon is 5,700 years, so if you run the math nothing on earth could be older than 100,000 years (which would be total depletion with is not feasible); consequently, millions of years is “scientifically” impossible.

        I have a close friend who after college took a job at a major pharmaceutical company here in the US. when he was being shown around during his first days, he asked the scientist that was assigned to get him up to speed how many of the scientist there believed in evolution…the man said “no one here believes that stuff…if evolution was true we couldn’t do our jobs each day…no, no one believes in that”.

        My stunned friend then asked then why did they teach it over and over in school? The man just shrugged his shoulders and said, ya the educators really like that, but no one here believes it”.

        So understand the only place Macro evolution exists today is in your high school and college classrooms so don’t let them intimidate or shame you into thinking you are a hick if you question them…they are religious zealots who bully you kids into drinking their Marxist (he had two goals in life…”to kill God and destroy capitalism” and every prof you have loves Marx) cool-aid.

        I run successful companies and know many very very wealthy and successful men who think evolution is a scientifically flawed religion also.

        Darwin himself said that if evolution were correct one couldn’t step out their back door without stumbling over a transitional life form; however, there is no fossil record to support transitional life forms…except on the pages of their textbooks… if it were true our museums would be packed with them.

        So don’t let them bully or shame you for they are clearly, scientifically on the wrong side of these subjects but they masquerade around as if they are the enlightened ones and anyone who believes in a young earth creation are holding back the progress of mankind… now go to wiki and see how wrong they are for over 60% of all Pulitzers have been awarded to Christians…but they won’t tell you this.

        • GotScience

          The successful men (no women? Interesting in itself.) you mention are better qualified than scores of scientists? Please, spare us the nonsense. Obviously you are a follower not a thinker. Have fun, and leaves us alone. Peace brother.

      • Dear Doubting, i believed in evolution, the 4,500 billion year age of the earth, because that’s what i was taught in public school. Always liked science, (and still do). Then a few years ago…long story. Now i know the global flood happened some 4.5 thousand years ago, because that’s what the Bible says. Yep, i fear the Lord! He holds all the cards. Now if you’ll excuse me, have to get some stuff ready to take along to that low-paying job i do five days out of seven.

        • GotScience

          Well dear. I suggest you go back to school. Revelation does not a truth make. Evidence neither but it gets us closer. Sweet dreams to you of the Redeemer, the AntiChrist and whatever else excites you. You deserve peace, but it sad that it is at the expense of what makes us Human: Critical thinking.

    • Reluctant_Atheist

      It’s a tremendous waste of potential to wander aimlessly in life.

      • Just Thinking

        RA…if one thinks they are a “sack of protoplasm and chemicals” how could one not be “aimless” when nothing really matters does it?

    • Ben Munford

      Tradition is a powerful invisible trap. Tradition exerts a tremendous social pressure that is often impossible for the uneducated mind to overcome. However, I was a church pastor. I watched educated people, who were normal outside of the church, become complete jerks once inside it. It is hard for educated people to escape the power of wrong tradition. I think the central problem comes from people turning their minds off when they walk through the door of a religious building. They have been taught to do so since they were little, such that they can swallow anything that is said as truth. Effectively, religion makes educated and uneducated people mindless. The result may be a disaster for the world in the 21st century.

      • I am WAY late to this conversation. I’m also not a “religious” person (I don’t go to church, I’ve only ever read the New Testament, I don’t know whether I was baptized Catholic or Protestant, I think it’s pretty arrogant to make claims one way or the other that a God does or does not exist, etc.). But, I’m asking you this question because you stated you’re a pastor:

        Wasn’t the teaching of Jesus that you SHOULDN’T rely on tradition or even trust it? That if the tradition flies in the face of the what he preached then the tradition wasn’t worth saving or following, which is why he went against what the temples at the time forced upon its adherents? Didn’t he also say there would people who would take his message or use their power to pervert the people?

        I ask all this because I agree with you, that people turn their minds off at church. If they used their minds when reading they’d understand the message for themselves. However, perhaps it’s the church corrupting its power to keep its parishioners from acting on what the Bible tells them. Therefore, they treat the Bible as this complex book that can only be understood through their official decrees and push these kinds of tradition to keep the flock from knowing better and moving away from the church.

        Or, I could be wrong entirely due to misinterpretation of my reading. I guess it depends on the answers to my previous questions.

        • GotScience

          That’s a darn honest and opened eyed statement you just made. 🙂

        • Ben Munford

          Jesus preached at the last supper. He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28).” In doing so, he despoiled the pure spiritual image of God with a requirement of human sacrifice for forgiveness. The God I know is far too loving to make such a requirement. I do not agree with the central teaching/mission of Jesus. Further, he preached at the last supper, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” I do not agree with his exclusion of others from heaven if they don’t follow him. He replaced a bad tradition with a worse tradition. I believe we need to shake the dust of Jesus off our feet and leave him – along with all religious tradition – behind. I am no longer a pastor. I am a human. I endorse your right to individuality of belief without calling you to follow anyone. I humbly request that you keep you mind turned on. Too many have sacrificed individual thought at the altar of organized religion, including Jesus’ organized religion.

          • GotScience

            I would “refine” your comment by specifying that organized religion as we usually think of it is really revealed religion based on hallucinations by “prophets”. Terribly silly stuff, that is silly but terrible. The malfeasance of` especially Abrahmic religion is staggering in its extent and viciousness through history. We are much better off looking straight on at the world with a controlling crutch. Atheism is good.

          • Just Thinking

            hey got a problem…if those many Prophets were hallucinating then how did they get over 300 hundred prophecies between 600 and 1000 years ahead of Jesus’ birth correct?…since you’re into science, talk to some of your mathematical scholar friends and ask what the mathematical probability of just a handful of these prophecies being fulfilled by one person (Jesus of Nazareth) would be?
            I’ve been told that it would be like taking the state of Texas and dumping silver dollars two feet deep across the entire state, then mark one coin and bury it anywhere in the state.
            Then start walking in any direction from the center of the state blindfolded and pick one coin which has to be the correct coin…this is the mathematical probability of less than 50 of these prophecies being fulfilled in Jesus Christ..I actually tend to think the one who denies this would be the one moon walking if you ask me.

          • GotScience

            if those many Prophets were hallucinating then how did they get over 300 hundred prophecies between 600 and 1000 years ahead of Jesus’ birth correct?.

            This a tautological statement as you assume these prediction were made; this assumes that the old testament is correct, of which there no believable evidence- just blind and unreasoning faith. The revelations you mention are non existent and based on after the fact imagined creations.

          • Just Thinking

            Guess you haven’t yet studied the dead Sea Scrolls…once you study them come on back and update your comment…just as “Science” moves along and we have to be aware of new developments, geology also discovers more and more that reveals that only ignorant people quoting old data say the Bible is unreliable…hit the books again and then lets talk.

          • GotScience

            I read the thing 40 years ago. Just as believable as the old and new testaments. Blind faith, and inability to think critically describe your reflective processes. As I said you are a follower.
            As to geology discoveries that substantiate you comments, I’d laugh if it were not so sad.

          • GotScience

            Glad you know the truth even absent evidence.

          • GotScience

            I have: Religious texts do not mean anything outside of their limited boundaries.

          • GotScience

            “If those many Prophets were hallucinating then how did they get over 300 hundred prophecies between 600 and 1000 years ahead of Jesus’ birth correct, blah, blah, blah…..” That the thing they did not. Legend, my friend, legend and credulity. Believe it for yourself, please, that’s great, but abstain from conflating belief and factual evidence. Bad for the soul. Don’t bother citing these “proofs” I read many; they only convince the already convinced ones. Be all that as it may, have faith in whatever, just don’t argue it is valid for everyone. Revelation does not exist, and Abraham was hallucinating.

          • Dear GotScience, if we came into being from nothing (and by cosmic accident) and are headed back to nothing, then what is the point in helping anyone? If the luck-of-the-draw landed a plate of cookies on your lap, enjoy them. If your neighbor is hungry, oh well…inhales to be him.

          • GotScience

            There is something called empathy, a natural occurence- see for example, elephants, donkeys, crows, dolphins, whales, dogs, etc. Furthermore, we are a social species where cooperation foster survival better than indifference. We also developed consciousness and a question awareness of death. This what this question you ask addresses. I was not born with love empathy caring in my cells. I learned it from my parents who learned it from theirs, etc. Religion tries (Unsuccessfully for me) to explain both death and purpose. Death in my view is not explainable: it just is. As to purpose though, it is a personal thing developed as we grow and learn; it has a concrete referent, success (effective reproduction). In humans, who have consciousness, the purpose emanates from a sense of self and the definition thereof through living. Of course, it precludes television, and to me preachers. I object not to religion as a personal thing, but I strenuously object to it as a giver of purpose, a motivator, an explanation, a window unto truth- all the aforementioned as truth FOR ALL. For you, you sister Mildred, my cousin Fred, etc, personally, knock yourself out. BUT do not pretend to say it is for me as well. Peace sister in humanity. Love and good will to you, and everyone.

        • GotScience

          Exactly. Peace sister in the middle of resolute obscurantism.

  • dslaby

    Handouts from heaven.

  • Voice in the Wilderness

    Not sure you can extrapolate Christian fundamentalism to all religiosity. Note that an area thick with another flavor of Christianity, Utah, does pretty well on that map. I suspect there’s more correlation than causation here, though it’s plausible that fundamentalism stunts education.

    I will grant that people under stress are easier targets for evangelism. In a previous life I was a Mormon missionary, We had more success among the poor, and deliberately targeted people going through life-changing events such as marriage, pregnancy, death in the family, etc. So while there’s something to the notion that religion provides false comfort, some flavors of it come with a culture that encourages education and hard work, while others actively oppose good science education.

    • Doubting Thomas

      I would say that that’s why prison ministries are so successful at converting people if at least nominally.

    • Haler44

      You make a good point, that there are examples like Mormonism of where religious people are more successful than average. Judaism is another example. I think that comes from the social bonding that occurs among these people, particularly as it extends to “doing business” with one another. Unfortunately, that can also result in people like secular humanists being “shut out” to at least some degree.

    • klhayes

      I remember being in a Bible study and hearing people talk about how frustrating it was to evangelize to people who were “comfortable” but it was so easy to evangelize to those in war-torn countries, and that spreading the Gospel was more important than ending those conflicts. Made me sick.

  • Religion offers a sense of hope, and it helps keep the poor from total despair. If it thwarts their drive to improve their lot, though, it creates a social disincentive for progress. It’s really a two-edged sword. Depends on the religion and the “preacher,” I think.

  • Callmps

    Well said: ” if we want to help improve the lives of people living in some of the “worst” places, we’re going to need more than rational arguments. We’re also going to need to ensure that people’s basic needs are met and that they have opportunities for security and advancement.”

  • Sarah V

    While I agree with what you’re saying, I’m a little put off by your description of these places as the “worst.” If someone privileged background referred to my impoverished hometown like that, I’d get defensive. If you really want to reach out to people and help them improve their situations, don’t alienate them before you even begin.

  • Dan

    Religion is only one factor that can be correlated with poverty. Many wealthy and the majority of middle class Americans are church affiliated in some way or another as well. But, the rural life is generally a poorer life. My experiences have shown me that rural life is one of greater contentment as regards materialism. Nothing wrong with that. Rural communities, poor as they may be, have a social structure and inter dependency that barely exists in larger cities, that is, unless church associations or other institutions like universities create those opportunities for socialization. The “church” creates avenues for human interaction that otherwise might not exist at all and this is especially true for the poor. Is the conclusion then, poor people are gullible and depend on the god delusion? I don’t think so. As so many have noted, it is not the godliness of the poor that cause them to care about religion since they too steal, cheat, lie, and engage in addictive behavior.

    I have not noticed that the poor are openly dependent on a “god who is going to fix it all after this life.” As a matter of fact, the poor are pretty normal when it comes to living for today. I think the correlations are loaded in favor of an anti religious view rather than a genuinely well researched commentary on the need for the poor to depend on god just so they can content themselves with poverty. Frankly, Appalachian poverty, if you haven’t experienced “ain’t” so bad. You can live off the land. Deer meat is excellent as is rabbit, squirrel and ‘possem. Fishin’ is good almost anytime. The forest has ramps, apples, and sassafras root makes great tea. Tobacco grows easy as does weed. Ginseng brings in a great price for cash crop (as does weed). Shine is easy to distill. What else is needed comes from the government. Collect unemployment and food stamps. Welfare does a great job of taking care of medicines, emergency medical needs and diapers.

    And when all else fails, go to church and soak them suckers for anything else you need.

    IF you really get frustrated, Google heaven and hell to discover there ain’t no such place as hell, the Bible never said so, and all them rich fellas ain’t so happy after all.

    I am amazed at how gullible some humanists are as to the nature of poverty, ESPECIALLY as it exists in the hills. And you want to blame God for your stereotype of the poor?

    • Haler44

      My wife was born in Appalachia and grew up as one of 5 siblings living in an urban housing project. Her mother in particular was a highly religious Baptist. My wife fortunately had the intelligence and ambition to take religion lightly and obtain a substantive college education, and the two of us have achieved a lifestyle, living in upscale suburban communities, that is both reasonably wealthy and healthy. We both agree that poverty sucks.

      I have an academic background in economics, and subscribe to the standard economic principle that money has declining marginal utility. In other words, the first thousand dollars per year of purchasing power is extremely valuable because the lack of it is so painful, and that holds true up to an income somewhat above $50,000 per year or so for a family of four. But by the time that people reach an income level of, say $200,000 per year, additional money doesn’t usually bring much more happiness (except possibly in the form of donating it to charity). That is a fact of human nature that supports a policy of progressive taxation (although there is something to be said for the counter-argument that people should have a right to keep what they earn).

    • Deanjay1961

      If we actually had a stereotype of the poor (which is itself a stereotype about humanists), why on earth would we blame God for it?

  • Tyro

    There shouldn’t be a comma in “strong positive correlation”. Good article 🙂

  • Johnny Cambridge

    “Blessed are the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. It sums it up pretty well. Christians have been brainwashed for 2000 years to expect poverty and oppressed lifestyles as part of the promise God is giving them eternal perfection in Heaven. Funny how that directly placates the masses, and instantly frees the power classes to take even more from them.

    Religion is, and has been, a tool of slavery. However you want to disguise it, it has been used to control people for the monetary gain of the few.

    • Damien Vukovic

      You have to admit, when god told his followers NOT to eat from the tree of knowledge — they listened — WELL.

    • klhayes

      I often wonder what Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers and others who got rich off religion think about that verse?

    • Just Thinking

      JC…a closer look at the word meek in the Sermon on the Mound as we know it in Mathew 5, you will find the Greek word meaning “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit”…nothing to do with wealth.

      In fact King David (950 B.C.) wanted to build the Temple in Jerusalem; however, God said that because David was a man of war, that God was going to let his son Solomon (the son of Bathsheba) to build the Temple.

      Calculations were done at 1997 dollar values of the building materials David contributed to Solomon to help build the Temple and it equated to 65 billion dollars in value in 97 dollars.

      Nothing in Scripture tells us we can’t be rich; however, it does say we should not “love” riches.

      As a young man working in industry I was fortunate to start making large sums of money before hitting 30… for the first year or two it was kind of fun; however, both my wife and I agreed that we wished everyone could have all the money they ever wanted for a couple years just to see it is a mirage…it doesn’t make anyone happier…in fact…everything in this life is a mirage…we chase after something and once we obtain it we realize it wasn’t what we thought it would be.

      I do agree that some use religion to control people but if you were to look at all communist and Islamic countries this is not true…they want us killed…think about that, we are commanded to, and desire in our hearts to obey the Bible which says, we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we are told to obey all ordinances and laws of the government, and pay our taxes, to never steal, or slander, or extort…sounds kinda like “model” citizens doesn’t it? Then why do these many groups (humanists included) want to see us silenced?
      Is there a conscience thing going on that no one wants to talk about?
      Just Thinking.

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    It appears that Marx was right at least about one thing.

  • Damien Vukovic

    If you allow the church to decide your morality – the same frauds who caused the dark ages, holy wars, inquisitions, crusades & witch hangings. The institution that spawns & covers up the systematic RAPING of children in their own house. Those loving ‘children of god’ that detest every other religion, every homosexual, every agnostic, every atheist & every free thinker who will not buckle to their violent fist – then you are as delusional, hypocritical, disgusting & insane as they are. If you are involved in an organization that divides the human race on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation & color while denying them the rights that you, yourself enjoy – why do you continue to call it ‘religion’ and not what it really is? A hate group!

  • Jennifer E Rogers

    I live in the south and barely make above min wage. Although I do not consider myself as ‘living in poverty’ I’m sure there are many people who have been lucky enough to have more money then I do would not be happy going without all that I do. I never go without a meal, I have a decent. place to live, have nice clothes in my closet. However, I am very much a Christian and it is my opinion that the seemingly mysterious connection is really no mystery at all. People of faith are taught there is only one God, the Creator of the Universe, and the Bible teaches to worship only Him. People with wealth worship their money and things they have. poor people do not have that temptation therefore poor areas are more religious.

    • Comradebg

      Jennifer, I would have said exactly the same thing. That would have
      been when I was a child who’d been indoctrinated to adopt that thinking and hadn’t yet developed sufficiently to understand that responsible thought demands that we question all assertions, particularly those we find most comfortable.

      Now, I consider religious practice a cultural phenomena which serves society only in the sense that, if people persist in refusal to function to the extent of the intellectual capabilities they’ve been given, thank goodness the low, overly-simplistic standard religion represents isn’t even worse. Thank goodness it’s better than nothing. The person who is satisfied to merely adopt claims assembled for his benefit by others who offer a dismally low showing of competence in their own right obviously has done little to develop competence for responsible, capable self-direction. Thank goodness, for the sake of society, they at least embrace a low standard of moral behavior that thwarts social chaos and preserves order. Even Karl Marx recognized religion’s benefits as the opiate of the masses.

      What’s not a cause for rejoicing is the extent to which satisfaction
      with a low standard of mediocrity produces contributions to society far below a person’s natural capability. The extent to which my religious brethren consistently chose token sacrifice that fostered approval over sincere, conscientious effort is precisely why I lost respect for them and the credibility of their religious assertions. At the same time, I’ve known so many people who needed no religious pretense to routinely, of their own initiative, contribute selflessly to the common good AND understand why their moral convictions are logically justified. Those are the people I have respect for. Those are the people who worked to develop competence to understand the logic of which choices contribute to the common good and why. Those are the people who’ve earned respect.

    • GotScience

      Think more; pray less.

      • Jennifer E Rogers

        Our human minds where created by God and are very amazing in how they work. But thinking only gets a person so far. there are things we are not capable of understanding no matter how much we think. Therefore, when my thinking had reached its limits I Will pray to the creator of my mind.

        • GotScience

          That’s the whole problem: religion inhibits your thinking. No clarity of thought in blind belief. 🙂

          • Jennifer E Rogers

            Religion might would yes but I am not religious. I’m simply a Christian. Religion us full of restrictions and ceremonial garb. I believe there is a God and that Jesus died for my sins. I Will play for you to find the clarity that is more clear then you have thus far imagined.

          • GotScience

            You will play for me? That as excellent a Freudian slip as one can encounter! Play for me dear! Be that as it may, Christianity IS a religion, Abrahamic as it were. Religion is nothing but superstition stemming from an inability to understand some things. It is a giving up, a surrender to paternal authority,that leads to unconditional acceptance of rules. It is a sad thing to watch a human being sacrificing the beauty of discovery to fear. Abrahamic religions are based on hallucinations suffered by schizophrenic individuals: a burning bush talki9ng and ordering to kill one owns son to show one is worthy! This sounds like the Son of Sam, and other ludicrous but dangerous characters. Please come off the nonsense, and appreciate the beauty of the world without filters. XOXOXO

          • Jennifer E Rogers

            There is no need for sarcasm because my replies to you have not been rude or judgmental of you in anyway. I only stated my belief and how I see things without trying to convince you to change your mind or insult you for how you believe. You are not a stupid person and you know very well I meant pray not play!
            You mentioned you think it is sad; what is sad is how some people can be blind from the Truth. Even Satan believes in God! Oh, but I guess you don’t believe there is a Hell either. I think I would rather take the risk of believing in a Higher power even though I didn’t understand His ways (burning Bush, parting of the sea, etc.) and know that my soul is safe then not and burn in Hell for eternity! That is just ignorance! Very sad ignorance.
            Now I am finished debating with you! If you have anymore replies keep them to yourself.

          • GotScience

            Sarcasm? Look up the definition of the word. There is no sarcasm anywhere in what I said.
            I did not insult you, and I am sorry that you are a slave to superstition. It is indeed sad. Let me reassure you there is absolutely no danger you or anyone will burn in hell. There is no hell, no paradise. There is just us doing our best. Look at all the folks across the ages that were tortured and killed by christians- including other christians because they were not christian in the right way.
            Also XOXOXOXO is not an insult either, is it?

          • Jennifer E Rogers

            I apologize for being defensive but I did feel attacked. For your sake I hope you are right but as for me and my house we Will serve the Lord. At least I know that if I am delusional as you say , I have lost nothing IF you are because if there is no Hell or Heaven then Ill just be in a box in the ground.
            Best Wishes

          • GotScience

            No Ms Jennifer, I did not say YOU are delusional: you are a believer. I am saying that prophets and messiahs are delusional. BIG difference. Anyway, I am an atheist; nonetheless, I love people-as hard as it is at times. So XOXOXO again, and my best to you.

  • Hank Fox

    I suspect the main link tying the two together is an issue of control. If you feel less in control of your life, you seek beliefs that help you feel greater control. Being poor and poorly educated, lacking power in the larger world and solid knowledge of the way things work, the fallback is a belief in magic. In the U.S., magic comes in the package “religion.” For some people, it may be their only source of hope for betterment.

    The greater your education, the greater you understand the world, and the more options you have for moving and succeeding in it. This is power you can see, power YOU create, and it allows you to need less of the magic.

  • OrganSpeaks

    I don’t care who said it- I wish religion had been more like an opiate for me. Har har

  • maserka

    I live in Uganda a more religious country where the poor and rich go hungry (fasting) all in the name of giving thanks to the sky daddy. I strongly agree that religion is more vibrant in poor areas, only bibles and pictures of imaginary god and jesus are seen in the most homes. I personal am not a christian because I don’t see a reason to be one but to only be good and find my rewards not in some unknown heaven/hell but in my daily life. I live good without god.

  • skeptica

    More Religious=less intelligent;less intelligent=less marketable; less marketable=less income; less income=poorer.

    • Doubting Thomas

      Even as an atheist, I have to say that equating more religious with less intelligent is not necessarily true. It seems in general it can tend to be, but there are some highly intelligent people who are religious.

      • Delius

        Not sure what your point is, since you concede that “in general it can tend to be” true. For instance, I could say “female=physically weaker” without denying that “some” women are stronger than some men.

    • Dear skeptica, talk about snob appeal. Wow!

      • GotScience

        Snob appeal? Observation, constatation, and critical thinking. Ouch!

  • Louise

    It’s possible that the people interpreting the surveys are confusing cause with effect (a commom occurrence). The religious may simply be more likely to be poor instead of the poor being more likely to be religious. So the title of the column might have been “Why are the religious poorer?” It would be revealing to investigate why the religious are poorer.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I think it’s quite obvious that when you’re down & out, living in poverty, and it seems like the world is a terrible place, it makes you feel better to think that you are a special person who will get to fly up to Heaven to a paradise of riches just before God destroys the entire planet.

  • Typo? I think “exits” is supposed to be “exists.”

  • Reluctant_Atheist

    I know several churches preached to me that the greater your suffering on earth, the better your “reward” in heaven. So, in essence, there’s no benefit in trying to improve your lot in life.

    • Just Thinking

      It sounds like you are referring to the book of James where we are to “consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials” if the person teaching had studied the passage more closely they would have found the Greek word for “trials” was turbulence or struggles…nothing to do with the creation of wealth.

      I would have to humbly disagree with the conclusion you ascribed to Christians as far as “improving ourselves”.

      I think that many times people don’t understand the simplicity of “salvation” and the subsequent desire to please the one who gave us so much.

      I do perceive that there are many today who appear to raise formal education up to an unhealthy level where they think they can “educate” themselves out of the God made recognition within each of us that God exists and that He created us and the world around us.
      In my opinion.

  • Michael Willems

    I have always thought that this makes obvious sense. Religious people on the whole are ill-educated, since education frees you from these myths. And ill-educated people are surely more likely to be poor. Not at all a stretch to see this. Can we also check if there is a correlation between religiosity and such things as age, IQ, type of car driven, travel experience, and so on? I;d be willing to wager that such correlations exist.

    • tolpuddle1

      Education makes you rich, wealth makes you comfortable; comfortable people are generally selfish and irreligious, with a contempt for the poor and their religious hope.

    • Just Thinking

      You’re not gunna like this I’m afraid, I went to that pesky old Bible for the answer and “bingo” you are right….well actually, as always, the Bible reaffirms that which we are just learning….the book of James chapter 2 clearly says in verse 5 ESV “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”

      As much as this is true, it is dumbfounding how you all are speaking very similarly to Academia in Germany in the mid to late 1930’s…you swerve dangerously close to “dehumanizing” Christians.

      Go to wiki and look up “Christian” Nobel Prize winners…with the world having 33% Christians, you will find over 65% of all winners were those who said they were “Christian”.
      I would have to respectfully disagree with the idea that “education frees you from myths”… I have to say that today “education” has been overrun with Karl Marx failed debauched world view where he had two goals in life, “to kill god, and destroy capitalism”…no stop to think about how perfectly this worldview matches your Profs…the west is the only place on planet earth where Marx has not been thrown onto the scrapheap of history I have been told.

      When people within the West’s educational system “preach” that you and I came from blue gills when it violates established laws of nature you are ingesting “myths”….when you are told that Macro evolution is “true”; however, there is no evidence within the fossil record of transitional life forms when Darwin admitted that if evolution were true “you couldn’t step out your back door without tripping over one”, you are being “taught” a “myth”.

      When you are told that various artifacts are millions of years old because carbon dating says so, when they won’t “teach” you the fact that the half life of carbon is 5,700 years; consequently, (mathematically) everything is exhausted of carbon by 100,000 years (and that is based on it starting at 100% carbon and degrading to zero carbon), you are again being taught “myths” that you have to use blind faith to believe.

      I posted above, but you probably hadn’t read, so I will briefly repeat is that within the pharmaceutical industry where research scientists have to rely on scientific laws daily to do their jobs, “no one” believes in Macro evolution.

      Some will quietly give evolution lip service at work just to keep their jobs, but the scientists within the pharmaceutical industry don’t “believe” in macro-evolution but when pressed by one of my best friends as to why is it taught over and over in school? All the older scientist said was, “I don’t know, but we sure believe it” His argument as to why no one believed it was that if it were true they couldn’t do their jobs each day…macro-evolution violates laws of science; consequently, it must be jettisoned from the educational system if it is to maintain even a shred of credibility.

      I hope I have not been disrespectful here; however; I feel that our universities for some reason have lost their way by “preaching” so many things that cannot withstand scientific scrutiny all while scoffing and mocking at everyone who acknowledges that the Bible’s account of creation and a global flood is silly while all evidence supports the Biblical account while science, and the non existent fossil record reveal it to be nothing but myths…ironic hey?

  • Reza Varjavand

    It
    may sound counterintuitive, but there seems to be a positive correlation
    between how demanding a religion is and its appeal to certain groups of people.
    Unlike ordinary businesses and in defiance of the law of economics, religion
    can actually increase price and still retain loyal customers and/or generate
    new ones. This tactic has been successful for the same reason that people
    purchase high price items or join expensive social clubs; they do it just for
    the connotation, the snobbish appeal, achieving a particular life style, and
    cultivating a sense of belonging to certain elites and creating fictive
    kinships.

    It
    can be argued that after lowering the cost of compliance by making requirements
    less stringent, some religions have attracted a massive number of well-off
    followers and effectively prevent them from defecting because of the lack of
    any consequences for doing so. However, in the absence of such an
    approach, most followers just believe in the principle ideas of their religion,
    but may not strictly follow its time-consuming requirements or the inconvenient
    tenets of its theology. According to a public survey by Pew Forum
    conducted in 2007, while 92% of Americans believe in God, only 58% of them pray
    at least once a day. This percentage is inversely correlated to the level of
    personal income, with 64% for those with an income level of less than $30,000
    and only 48% for those with more than a $100,000 annual income. Further
    inquiry into the same survey reveals that the percentage of people who pray
    frequently is high, 70% and higher, in low income states such as Mississippi,
    Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee, while this ratio is much lower,
    between 40 to 50%, for high income states including Massachusetts, Main,
    Connecticut, Alaska, and New Jersey. Such findings lend support to the
    proposition that the degree to which people practice a religion varies indirectly
    with their level of income. These findings also help to explain why in
    economically advanced nations like the U.S., the percentage of people believing
    in core ideas of religion and belief in God is so high. Believing in God has no
    cost, but instead has a lot of benefits. However, when it comes to fulfilling
    the stringent requirements of belief, the percentage of followers shrinks to a
    lower level as the monetary and the opportunity costs rise.

  • Queen of Tea

    It makes sense, in 2012 I was a poor Christian and I hoped the world would end. I wanted to go to heaven and escape my life. Looking back I was like an animal on animal farm. I was dreaming about Sugarcandy Mountain when I should have been fighting for better working conditions.

    • tolpuddle1

      Why not do both ?

  • claynaff

    Many good observations here. I only want to add, good piece, Merrill!

  • Angela M. Mogin

    Religions have one thing in common, contempt for the secular world-it is in the after-life that rewards are found so do not worry if you have too little to eat now or if your children are learning nothing by creationism or to quote the Koran in school. These programs will insure them a spot in heaven. Until then, they will live in Hell but it is all part of god’s plan.

    Therefore, spurn social betterment programs, they are a waste of time. Keep your eye on heaven and you won’t notice the squalor around you. The church will give you used shoes and clothes and expect gratitude for their generosity. They will run a food bank but not lift a finger to help with foreclosures or land redistribution. They will insure your survival and look after your eternal soul but as far as helping to create prosperity by turning over some of their property to the needy or some significant similar action, forget it. Then the mantra becomes, “The lord helps those who help themselves.” The meek may inherit the earth but only after the polluters are through despoiling it while shouting “praise the lord.”

  • 4th paragraph down:”A study by independent research Dr. Tom Rees” should read “A study by independent researcher Dr. Tom Rees”

  • tolpuddle1

    The Lord’s Prayer includes the petition “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” God is compassionate and just, as the Bible points out..

    Fatalism and pie-in-the-sky aren’t genuine Christianity.

  • GotScience

    Poor people are generally less educated, quite so, than rich people- of course exceptions will abound- therefore it is easier for them to believe in the religious drivel that is designed to keep them in their place. The meek will inherit blah blah blah.

  • brad

    plenty of secular people live in poverty also. any one that dismisses education will live in poverty this includes both atheist and christian’s. I graduated high school. I became a Christian/Creationist at age 19. i have a car some money. plenty of atheist and christian’s live in poverty or is poor. with this being said plenty of Christians or Atheist are middle/fair-class even both are wealthy in some cases. 80% of the private schools in america are own by christian s their is 7 billion people living on earth as of 2015-2030. most people are not atheist or christian’s. if add up all 3 Jews, Christians, Muslims then Religious theist make up 65% of the words population. the Catholic & protestant churches are worth tens of billions of dollars collectively speaking world wide. religion is not going to die in it self. some religions will die off. the christian faith is not going to die. christian’s are 25% of worlds population. most people do believe in GOD. being redeemed by GOD’s Holy SON only requires faith. millions of churches world wide have access to computers and internet. church TV is on cable on a some channels.

    I do Agree with you humanist on many issues i believe in science and technology. I am socialist my self I do believe the Government should play a role in the economy. but capitalism has also help to by providing hundreds of millions of people on earth jobs and a vehicle to drive capitalism has helped increase home owner ship rates in america and world wide. Civil Government. Only a mixed Economy can bring reduce more poverty. certain types of religion does keep people poor. and those bad religions will be replaced by good religions or a secular culture as time passes by.

    poverty rates in america and in most nations is reducing. violence/wars is reducing world wide also. with internet and computers this will improve things much faster.
    watch CNN or FOX news they will inform you as to what is going on in america.

  • This is a good article, Merrill Miller. Although doing the right thing today may not really require something beyond “rational” as you seem to suggest in your last paragraph – but I understand your point anyway (as “rational” often seems to be some kind of corruption of “reasonable”). If we would all be reasonable however, this “commonsense” would likely bring about a more reasonable world.

    Atheists, since Dawkins so to speak, have often been “uneducated” about religions, down to the point of thinking (and much worse: yelling from every forum) that religion is just crackpot. But of course, it is not – and I’m always happy to see an article giving it some more thought. By the way I’m atheist myself (since about 2010) so I’m not ‘defending my own peer group’ here. But atheists would do well to realize that crackpot is in the eye of the beholder. If someone does not distinguish people’s heritage (be it religion, philosophy, the arts, technology, culture, sports etc.) from the politics that permeates societies ever since societies sprang into existence, then they can find crackpot in everything (and it stands to reason that an atheist will find it mostly in the thing where he got his name from – theism).

    Yet, if we look from the point of view of the 90 percent – which is very often the amount of people that are not ‘politicized’, or not in power – under some conditions even 99 percent, if the middle class is poorly politicized) – then we will soon realize how foolish it is not to distinguish the “theology” of the rulers from the “folk religion” that carries away the true significance of religion for most people – the poor, the outcasts. And of course, those who call religion “opium for the people” are misusing Karl Marx’ words (from his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right) – in line with the ‘new atheists’ but not in line with the author – who had a much better understanding of religion, hence the comparison with opium, which was not used for recreation back then, but one of the best prescription drug in those times.

    The fact is that when a movement in the sacred texts of the monotheist religions is depicted as a great movement, it was always because the leaders of those movements (be it Jehoshua, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus, or Mohammed) did represent hope for the despaired, the powerless, the poor. And it’s not even correct to state that this is what attracted the poor to religion – it is the other way round: this is what MADE those religions, or at least the core message all throughout those books. Because no one could ever start a religion of any real significance by ignoring most of their people. That simply could never happen (except in elite religions, or cults – those would never become World Religions as we know them today).

    So yes, the connection between religion and the poor makes perfect sense. Sociologist studies tell us that when people are kept in poverty (by the rich), they are likely to become radicalized fast – but when a society cares for all its inhabitants (in ways even far from imperfect), those dangers diminish. There is no doubt that when you suppress the poor (who are needy, hence more religious), the fist that will hit the less needy right in their face may feel very “religious”. What else could we expect. When the middle class gets more religious, there is traditionally (and understandably) a better caring for the poor too. Unfortunately, when the very rich (usually = the powerful) get “more religious”, it is – obviously – often a corrupt – politicized – form of religion.

    And when it comes to typical “neocon atheists” like Sam Harris or the late C.Hitchens (who essentially defend or defended Western-supremacist ideas of morality, in which our ‘collateral damage’ in Iraq would still be of a higher moral quality than when Muslims kill their oppressors in anger), when they talk about religion, they are essentially talking like “rich people” who point fingers at a “religion” which is essentially a religion of the rich, not of the poor. They play foul on the back of 3 to 4 billion people-in-the-streets, who would never care much about ‘theology’ but very much about social justice – much like Jesus and Mohammed said. What a hell of a mistake, to understand religion that badly, and hurt the 90 or 99 percent of the people who did not deserve it – by throwing stones in some direction where they thought all the evil of the world came from.

    • GotScience

      Religion is not crackpot. It is institutionalized superstition and a major control tool. Nothing more, nothing less

      • “Religion is not crackpot. It is institutionalized superstition and a major control tool. Nothing more, nothing less” — Than again, that’s just your crackpot oneliner of course.

  • Tim Russell

    Excellent article Ms. Miller!!! Those of us who identify as Humanists really need to step it up and start leading by example more often. I agree that winning arguments via reason is great, but it is only one of many steps in a better direction, towards building a better society……..

  • Henry Ernawan

    From my point of view………” why are the poor more religious ?”……………………………….it’s because poor people have so many wishes, they hope and pray so that their wishes come true and they would do anything to make their wishes to come true (fasting, taboo, etc)

  • Ashan

    This is proof that organized religion can market their products only in poor nations because there is a necessity, rich nations do not have a necessity, so it’s hard to market their products to rich communities, for those who wonder what the product is, that’s bullshit. Also this is proof that god, religion, faith are all just man made bullshit stories. no body can help you but you, get your asses to work…

    • GotScience

      Poor nations like the South in the USA? Or Texas.

  • Carl Garrett

    The Christian Faith addresses the present MUCH more than Heaven. God also asserts more than once in the Bible that he will use the poor and the powerless of this world to confound the rich and the wise. It appears many on this page figure among the latter groups.

  • Gary Epstein

    I have an aunt who is probably the most religious person I know. She has lived more or less in poverty all her life, but has a wide circle of peripheral family. I love her much, but could never trust as she does in her LORD.
    I guess, to survive she has had to keep her thoughts toward a better life after death. Of course, I know its all about here, but never tell her that.

    • GotScience

      Of course you would never tell her. She has something that makes her bear poverty and injustice. (: