Religion and Public Life Essay

                                               Religion and Public Life

            Religion and public life are two things which cannot be separated from each other, as they mutually depend on each other. St Paul’s work in the Old Testament is a testimony of the importance of, and the interconnection between religion and public life.  In The Anglican Church the Shadow Disestablishment, William Westfall argues that “‘Christianity and State’…is a subject of great practical importance … if religion be divorced from secular life both suffer: one become worldly, the other loses strength and fiber.” This is simply because the will of God touches on both the spiritual things and human life, and that a good Christian will be a good subject, a good man will be a good citizen. [Van Die, 2001; p. 43] Plato in his Republic posits that, the ‘good’ of society is used as the yardstick for measuring the ‘good’ in religion. [Cahn, 2001] Moreover, the Jeffersonian vision of the separation of religion from the state is also another indicator that religion has got a far impacting effect on the society.

Today’s society is highly heterogeneous, particularly in a sound democracy such as the one witnessed in the United States issues to do with religious standardization have been hard to partake due to the ethno-social diversity that exists. Efforts have therefore been made to make the church institutionally and doctrinally entrenched in the state machineries in bid to maintain its public grasp. For instance, priests, ministers, and other church officials must be licensed in order to conduct their work, the US Senate and House opens their business with a chaplain, military bases have got their own chaplains, marriages have to be licensed, even donations made to churches are tax breaks.

Statement of Purpose

This paper acknowledges the fact that, the issue of religion and public life has got varied implications of the day to day lives of the citizens: it has got socio-political, cultural, and economic implications on the lives. However, for purposes of fulfilling the course requirements and saving valuable time and space, this paper will narrow down its scope on investigating the economic implications of religion and public life. In order to bring out the argument clearly, the paper will first discuss the meaning of religion, public life, and economics separately and integrate them thereafter as the claims and counter claims give a clear form and shape to the discussion. The paper will aim to answer the following questions: How does religion or its suppression affect economic growth? Does faith generate individual behavior that boosts the economy? How do religious affiliations affect the overall spending behavior of the people? How does public religious ethics govern their financial decisions – in giving, spending, saving, borrowing, investing, allocating and other financial matters?

What Is Religion?

            From an African approach, religion may be termed as a sure way of looking at life. Man carries his religion everywhere he goes; in the bushes when hunting, in the fields when planting, in the stock market when trading, into a funeral ceremony, into a beer party, into an examination room if he is a student, and into the House of parliament if he is a politician. [Mbiti, 1990] On the other hand Ninian Smart in his book, The Religious Experience of Mankind observes that a certain system of belief or mode of life may be taken as a religion provided that it acknowledges a set of six dimensions. [Smart, 1969]

                                               What is Public Life?

Public as an adjective refers to people, relating to, or affecting, a nation, state, or community, as opposed private, e.g. a health center, road or a stadium. As a noun, public refers to the people of a country that are not affiliated with the governing power of that country. [O. E. D.] In his paper, “Identifying different levels of public interest in participation” Aggens argues that public does not exists in singular form, but on levels that are based on varying levels of interest and ability. [Aggens, 1983]

                                               What is Economics?

Economics can be said to be science that analyzes and describes production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. According to Lionel Robbins, economics is the science that deals with human behavior in relation to scarce means and alternative uses. This brings out the notion that, if there is not scarcity and alternative, then there cannot be economic problem to be solved. Traditionally, the application of economics has been restricted to fields that deal with measurable quantities and that put into use of empirical methods of analysis. However, contemporary economics has been on several occasions been applied in areas that does not necessarily deal with monetary handling such as in law, politics, history, psychology, religion, and even other social interactions. [Becker, 1976]

                                               Discussion

            Since religion is a sure way of a looking at life and that, public is people, then religion and public life are tightly tied together just as William Westfall argues that religion and the state are two inseparable things. [p. 43] In light of this knowledge, this paper will use the term ‘religion’ alone in place of the broader phrase ‘religion and public life’ when exploring its impacts on economics. Joseph Weber and Peter Coy in their article Graphic: The Faith Market, uses a Muslim context and the arguments of economists and theologians such as Garry S. Becker, Lawrence Innaccone, Eli Berman, Timur Kuran, Robert J. Barro, Rachel M. McCleary, and others alike to argue out their convictions about religion and economics. First and foremost, they hint that religion itself is a discipline in economics that is grounded on the wisdom that the public is as rational in the choices it makes on religious matters as it always be in conventional economic matters such as procurement of an asset like a family car. And that ‘producers’ of religion such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples usually involve themselves in fierce competition for winning converts, sometimes even poaching members from rival denominations, or even battling the forces of secularization in the society. In their discussion, they reason that, the development of Muslim nations has been for along time been held back by certain rules that are spelled out in the Holy Koran. They cite the example of the laws of inheritance as contained in the Holy Koran that imposes restrictions on a family head (father) from letting his most beloved son (or able) to inherit the family business but should be equally divided among two groups, the sons and the daughters. They argue that this issue has denied the economy a fortune because it has been hard to start up or to continue with big corporations that can boost the economy. This is simply because the family business or even wealth may end up in the hands of heirs who does not have business-oriented minds or who are not willing to invest the wealth. However, they reason that, with religious modernism eating its way into the Muslim faith, substantial economic growth has been witnessed. Further, they contend that, faith may develop and nurture some important aspects of individual behavior such as honesty and openness to strangers that ultimately adds to the growth and development in production systems. [Weber & Coy, Dec. 2004]

An AEI intern, Benjamin Hamlin, follows the works of Massachusetts Institute Technology economist, Jonathan Gruber in analyzing some of the key issues that drive members of public into religion and the implications that such involvement has on core societal elements such as levels of education, income, welfare participation, marriage, and even divorce. He understands that approximately 95% of the United States population is composed of people who recognize the existence of God and that almost two thirds of charitable donations to American public are passed through religious affiliated organizations, and hence the strong bond between religion and economics in regards to the welfare of the people (public life). He attempts to base his article on the issue of ‘co-religionist density’ variable. This paradigm is pinned on the wisdom that an individual’s religious participation is determined by the number of neighbors sharing the religion. A ten per cent rise in co-religionist density will attract an 8.5 per cent rise in religious attendance, and that a ten per cent rise in co-religionist density attracts a 0.9 per cent rise in income. An interpretation to these findings points to the inferences that; the spirituality part of religion is beneficial to the members of public; that religion is a spiritual and at the same time a financial insurance; that religion contributes in the building of social capital and creation of networking opportunities, and that; indulgence in religious education can lead to economic benefits. Though he does not show how it can be practically possible, Hamlin quotes the findings of Charles Murray work that claims Christianity stimulates human creativity while Islam does the contrary.  And that generally, religion serves as a source of inspiration in production and creativity. In regards to Len Burman’s work, Hamlin reveals a contrast to theories of religiosity density, attendance, and income. He analyses that increased religious density will serve to reduce the transaction cost of church going; however, it will lead to increased attendance on the part of devout believers. An increased transaction cost of attending church service phenomenon will shift the commitment of the marginal church goers into becoming more of givers than church goers. Again, too much work means less time left for church attendance, and therefore people may seek to compensate for their not going to church by giving. [Hamlin, 2005]

According to Robert H. Nelson who seems to echo the Jeffersonian visions of the separation of state and religion, the virtues of honesty, cooperation and trust which are religious indoctrinated are key to economic progress, and that they serve as the normative foundations on which to lay sound economic networks. He asserts that the American success economically is as a result of early work that was carried out by the Puritans. He bases his arguments on the notion that were hammered into the Americans at a early date by the Puritans that, Americans must lead by examples, and be moral models to the world over.  He therefore refers to America or rather Americanism as being a secular religion in itself, and that this secular religion has played a key role in holding the Americans together based on its common values. It is this belief in the American secular religion that harbors on the tenets of democracy, capitalism and free enterprise that has enhanced vast economic progress. The attitude of superiority of the ‘American Way’ derived from the American religion has been the bond that makes the American public to cling together to battle economic challenges and to reach for cooperation, honesty, and trust as virtues of economic advancement. Further, Nelson adds that, it is this American religion that has helped to resolve what he terms as market paradox stalemate in America, hence creating a breathing space for economic growth. He explains that this market paradox is a product of the basic prerequisites of economic system which can be condensed into substantial scale of honesty and unselfish disposition. Moreover, the market paradox phenomenon encourages individuals to pursue any means in the market that will create an economical advantage.

He reasons a sound economy or rather market is formed on the pillars of honesty and concern of public good. If the process of exchanging goods and services will go on smoothly, then strangers will have to trust each other, simply because many business transactions are carried out between people who have or may never see one another again. A situation whereby the other person is confident that his business partner is not driven by self-interest will serve to increase the ease with which business will be conducted and hence eliminating unnecessary competition and building profits. Nelson warns that such a situation is not an easy one and that it creates tension which in turn leads to the market paradox. Whether one will serve the society or his own interest? Whether he will be selfless or self-interested? A real paradox! He argues that many societies lacks the proper ethical and theological mechanism for fighting or resolving this market economy paradox, he singles out Russia, Islamic world and most economies of African continent. According to his verdict, it is only religion that can lead to the resolution of the paradoxical stalemate amicably. [Nelson, 2002]

                                               Conclusions

The public can be separated from their religion neither can the religion be separated from the public. It also understood that a complete public life is made up of the socio-political, cultural and economic elements. Therefore, the impacts of the doctrines of religion that an individual or the public subscribes to affects a great deal how these elements will interact to provide a reasonable public life to the population of any given society. From the above discussion one thing is crystal clear, that, the nature of the religion will affect differently the public life which will in turn affect the economic growth. Weber and Coy contends that some Islamic doctrines of inheritance may hinder the rapid growth of economy. Hamlin on his part gives unsupported arguments that Christianity tends to support creativity more than Islam while Nelson asserts that lack of proper ethical and theological mechanisms will lead to a market paradox which will negatively affect the economy.

Work Cited:

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