Poverty And Religious Devotion Are Closely Tied Together

Just the other day I replied to a comment Joshua left me, and I said,

To a large extent, I think people are religious because they fear death and find themselves in situations in which they feel themselves powerless to overcome. They also live such boring and empty lives, the thought that their life and destiny ultimately depends on them is a scary thought. But as mankind becomes more powerful as a species, and we’re no longer subject to the cruelties of nature in the same degree we are now, I think religious beliefs will slowly fade away. It’ll become irrelevant.

I’d like to bring in a little evidence to support my claim.  Check out this Gallup study on the correlation between religious belief and poverty.


There’s some fascinating charts.  First you find that in impoverished nations, pretty much everyone is deeply religious.  Because these people’s lives consist of little but troubles and toil, their thoughts focus on the afterlife, or psychological techniques to achieve peace of mind in the hell all around them.  Being powerless and subject to the cruelties of this world to a degree we can hardly imagine, most of them place their hope in deities and other religious thought systems.

But as people’s income and quality of life increases, they care less and less about religion.  Once life becomes tolerable, you put and little money in their pocket, and they’re able to rise above bare subsistence and day to day struggle, religious devotion drops off very quickly.  If a person is able to achieve the quality of life of a low-paid custodian here in the USA, over half them will lose their religion.

And in general, if you further examine nations who have a strong focus on social programs which benefit their people, creating a strong middle class, religious belief plummets even further, some even under 20%.

There are exceptions to this.  We in the USA are a rich nation with a very religious citizen base.  Vietnam is a poor nation but its government in the past limited religious practices.  Estonia and Belarus are in there because the former Soviet Union restricted religious worship in these areas.  Overall though, my comment seems to be backed by the evidence – poverty and religion go together.

9 thoughts on “Poverty And Religious Devotion Are Closely Tied Together”

  1. This is a very very interesting study, I’m very grateful for the link. Even more so the exceptions.

    I know little about Vietnam, which is a bit ignorant of me, but I’m curious as to why they’ve managed to move past religion without money.

    But in the case of the USA, this only makes sense to me. Instead of constant fear of “Am I going to eat tonight?” that comes with poverty, they’ve managed to market different and arguably scarier fears. From “If I don’t believe in God, he won’t save me from the terrorists!”

    As for what the bible has to say about wealth, it just sounds like another scenario where people struggle to believe in their own capabilities, and when they are trying to survive daily, they turn to a superiour merciful being that will save them.

    And besides the USA, I’d imagine that if the Lord did reward the povert, they’d either be more or at least consistently religious as they used to be, not less.

    Lastly as the charts show, there are still very poor nations that are noted to being almost entirely religious, yet they remain in poverty even though we’re told that the Lord loves everyone equally.

  2. He loves everyone equally but that doesn’t mean that he will give them tons of money. That’s not really how the passage is meant to work.

  3. From the few verses I’ve found, it sounds like that if you’re poor and devote yourself to God, wealth will come your way.

    “Deut 8:17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” :18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

    1 Chr 29:12 Wealth and honor come from you (God); you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.

    1Sam 2:6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. 8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

    2 Chr 32:29 He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches.

    Prov 10:22 The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.”

    The passage that really stands out to me would be the following. “8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” It certainly promises a whole lot from the Lord.

    It definitely sounds like that’s what the bible is saying. If I’m interpreting it wrong though, I’d like it if you gave more detail on your point.

    1. Trying to merge religion in with this debate just muddles the entire conversation. God doesn’t have anything to do with money. Money is a form economic exchange between one man and another. To desire lots of money is to desire the ability to get other people to do things for you which you couldn’t do (or don’t want to do) yourself. Money is our system of allocation of scarce resources.

      “He loves everyone equally”. “He” will or will not give them money. “He”, “He”, “He”. How arrogant of a person to act like they know the mind of God and speak on “His” behalf. There is no imaginary man up there assigning how much money people should and shouldn’t get. And even if God DID intervene in these affairs, he’d be coercing men into doing things and don’t we have free will?

      Looking at the world through the context of “God’s plan” will blind you to what’s really going on. When things go wrong, religious people excuse it by saying, “Well, it was God’s plan. He must’ve had a reason.” And when things go well, “That’s God’s blessing. You better thank Him for his goodness and mercy which endures forever.” That very sort of thinking keeps people from understanding the true source of their blessings, and the reasons for their pain. Poverty doesn’t exist because it’s God’s plan; it exists because of a lack of an educated and skilled workforce, and an improper economic system. It exists because of a lack of capital accumulation. The goodness we experience here in the United States has been built up over many many generations of hard working folks, and we reap the blessings. It has NOTHING to do with God. NOTHING. Thank your grandparents, and their parents, and so on, for all their hard work and dedication. Thank the scientists and engineers who design all the appliances, cars, heaters, air-conditioners, sanitation systems, etc.

      If you take away our scientific advancements what are you left with? We’re back to stone age times. Science is the primary factor which has made the world a better place, not religion.

      I hate religion. I hate it. it muddles peoples thoughts, confusing them. They don’t see the truth behind what’s really going on. Instead they ramble on and on about imaginary men, quoting scripture, and wondering whether or not the deity in the sky is pleased or angry. Quit reading the superstition and stupidity in the Bible and study some economics.

      The point I’m trying to make in this post is that people cling to religion in desperation. When they’re living in poverty, lose their jobs, are sick and can’t afford to go to the doctor, and don’t know what to do, that’s when they call on the deities in the sky. They do so reluctantly, and the second they find a little security and happiness in this world, they throw aside religion. Religion exists primarily because people are miserable. Religion gives people an escape and a hope that things will be better in the next life. People turn to religion when they have nothing else left.

  4. I agree Jason, people who are poor cling to religion. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong though. I support science, I support advancement. I don’t blame everything on God because everything isn’t a result of god. Theology can be taken wrong and used in the ways you described but it can be taken correctly and really bring a lot of good into the world. I agree man can’t know the mind of god but from scripture we have a faint idea of his tendencies. Most religious discussion is hypothetical even though it seems as if I am making absolute statements.
    Joshua, these passages are taken out of context. It’s not that if you are poor he will suddenly give you money. It’s that clinging to money is very ungodly and the poor really don’t have to worry about that. They will be rewarded in heaven.

  5. Hello!, Very interest angle, we were talking about the same thing at work and found your site very stimulating. So felt compelled to com?ment a little thank you for all your effort. Please keep up the great work your doing!

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