While we’re on the subject of religion, and its misinterpretation, there appears to be a lot of folderol coming out of Harvard from Clay Christensen, the disruptive innovator guy.
In this video, Christensen relays a story about a graduate student economist from China who spends a year visiting American on a Fulbright.
Christensen then elevates this mysterious, unnamed source into a guru to be fervently followed, as if his views are somehow miraculous because they come from a Marxist.
This young man notices that in America, people tend to obey the laws, and he intuits that we follow the laws because we are highly religious. Upon this he decides that religion is the foundation of democracy. According to him:
Americans are “not just accountable to society, but to God” and “if religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans, what will happen to our democracy?”
The reason why democracy works, is because most people most of the time “voluntarily choose to obey the laws. If you take away religion, you can’t hire enough police.”
Okay, I’m willing to say that there is a foundation of truth here. But I wish Christensen had quoted the actual source for this, Alexis de Tocqueville’s insights on religion and democracy from the 19th century, rather than an unnamed graduate student.
Many people do fear the afterlife, and that is a powerful force for developing self-control. Adam Smith certainly thought so.
But using this logic, if religion is the source of democracy, why is there so little democracy in the Middle East, a region with lots of religious fervor? And most of Christendom lacked democracies for most of its history going back 2,000 years. So this theory clearly relies on the existence of something else—perhaps a lot else—to create the context for democracy.
Adam Smith provides a whole book on the psychology of self-restraint, based on fellow-feeling and the moral norms that arise from them. Properly socialized individuals in America do not run amuck stealing every chance they get. And it has nothing to do with religion, except insofar as religious practices are an adjunct to community socialization mechanisms that internalize feelings about right and wrong.
Most Western Europeans are atheist these days, but that doesn't mean there is a lack of ethics. The murder rates and crime rates are generally much lower in Europe than in the U.S. These societies also have thriving democracies without the reliance on religion.
Readers of this blog know that I am an Episcopalian and love religion in my life. But it is bad logic to argue that religion is the only thing keeping anarchy at bay.
In China, for example, they may have little religion but a long history of Confucianism that helps people to develop self control.
So sorry… I'm not buying it that atheists or non-religious people are necessarily evil and amoral.
[Thanks to Bill Beville for the link.]