Religion and Society: Why is Religion More Prevalent among the Economically Disadvantaged? Essay

            To the intellectuals in the 19th century, God was dead among the wealthy and the educated. To Darwin, the idea of a supreme being was scientifically dubious, to Freud, God was psychoanalytically twisted while to Marx, the idea of God was economically and scientifically reactionary. It was therefore not surprising when Kierkegaard viewed the scientific faith as representative of a leap into the absurd (Caputo 2001).

In context, what all these intellectuals implied that was that God and religion had no place with the rise of modernity, in that such a rise had destroyed the very tenets of religious faith. This is the principal reason why religion became irrelevant to the wealthy and educated ranks because these people had realized that with wealth and reason, they could shatter the economic dependence and mystical underpinnings that attached them to their creator. On the other hand, the poor and uneducated who were exposed to the inevitability of hunger, thirst, famine and other vagaries of nature still relied on religion as a comfort against these influences which directly impacted on their existence.            Before the rise of the intellectualism, there was but limited controversy on the existence of God and with extension the societal benefit of the Creator among those who believed in it. However, after the intellectuals stirred doubt onto the very existence of a Supreme Being, the 20th century was welcomed with widespread secularization movements. In fact, it can be favorably surmised that all western rich nations, with the exemption of the United States, have undergone secularization (Paul 2007). While it is arguable that Darwin and his evolutionary theories attributed to the erosion of the belief in God, it is even better if we posit that Darwinism and all those theories that marked the intellectual age stimulated and ushered in an era of secularization in which the rich and the educated believed that with reason they could chart their destinies.

            Secularization led to a radical transformation of the social structures which had hitherto been buttressed by a belief in a God. One of the social conditions that were radically transformed was the concept of wealth and poverty. Since secularization and modernization are responsible for stimulating economic growth and with extrapolation the quality of lives of the secularized populace, it followed that the people themselves had more belief in what they did subject to their reasoning capacity, rather than attributing their economic successes to religion and religious systems. Moreover, what helped to further erode the belief in a Supreme Being was the comparative low rates of social dysfunction among secularized societies than pro-religious or anti-evolution democracies (Paul 2001).

            According to Marxism, religion is nothing but an illusion that the oppressed populations give to themselves in order to reconcile themselves with to other individuals in this unhappy lot. Thus, the term, “religion is the opium of the poor” illustrates two important issues. First, that religion is believed not on the basis of its good grounds but because those who believe in it draw some form of comfort from it. Second, that the same religion that brings comfort to the oppressed in essence prevent the believers from rising against oppression to make a better world for them (Collier 2001).

While the claim is causal in nature, studies have demonstrated that among the oppressed and the poor, religiosity is high. While referring to the oppressed social classes in Central America, Beckford (1989) reports the rise of a new religious consciousness even in the absence of Catholic priests.            Fauteux(2005), attests that the feeling of security that religious faith favorably instills on people helps to strengthen them against the anxieties that are experienced daily in life. Religion can strengthen against anxiety both in a mature and an immature way.

When religion creates this feeling of security, it provides the believer with an image of God that serves the purpose of magically removing the anxiety as opposed to stimulating people to develop the strength necessary in making these individuals develop the confidence adequate in the management of anxiety. In providing the believer with an image of God and hence the magic removal of anxiety; it is mature. In preventing the anxious believer from developing the confidence for managing anxiety; it is immature. In both cases, religion simply serves to offer temporary comfort to the anxious and stressful without making them bold enough to confront the fears o manage the conflicts which arise in everyday existence. The end result is that, these people are still unable to eliminate the fears and anxiety.

Thus, religion takes a central position in their lives because it is virtually needed everyday.            From the preceding analysis of Fauteux(2005) it is simple to discern the reasons why the poor are more inclined to religious beliefs that their affluent counterparts. It can be argued that with secularization, capitalism and the rise of globalization, the poor have equal access to opportunities for wealth creation and general personal development.

This is only partly true because even though the universality of equal opportunities exists, the world’s populations are still unable to access and utilize the benefits of capitalism for their own development. Inequality in the distribution of resources as well as the continued oppression of the poor by the hegemonic capitalistic system prevents them from using economic development, either at a personal or a national scale, to exercise complete control over the inevitable adversaries against their very existence.            Thus, as a solution to the economic, social and political oppression, religion offers the only viable alternative for drowning the problems of everyday struggles. Since the same provider of comfort, prevents these populations from developing other strategies for mitigating against the forces against their existence, these people are forever glued onto religion and religious systems as a solution to their worries.

            Other factors that could be used to explain the religiosity of the low income people are that religion acts as a compensation for the harsh conditions associated with lower class life. It acts as an escape from these harsh conditions. This argument is buttressed by the fact that religious beliefs are central in the formation of identity, the development as well as the maintenance of cultural norms and values. The immediate social environment in poor communities provides an enabling context in which identities undergo dynamic and dramatic conferment, development and reinforcement. When viewed from the larger social environment perspective, religion among the poor offers them the strength to challenge the hierarchical social structure.            To give an insight into these Marxist attestations, Gallup carried out an analysis of the per-capita incomes of 143 countries and correlated this to religiosity. In countries with annual average incomes of $ 2000 or less, 92% of the population said that religion occupied an integral part of their day to day lives.

Contrarily, among countries with annual incomes of $25, 000, the percentage dropped to 44%(Crabtree & Pelham 2009). These  results were presented as;Figure adapted from; Crabtree & Pelham(2009).            There are many theories that have been advanced to try and explain the prevalence of religion among the world’s disadvantaged communities. In the 19th century sociologists theorized that as individuals and or societies become more secular, modernization follows. The increase in the access of better education and the improvement on the living standards naturally leads to a recession in the magnitude of individual or social attachment to religion.

Other researchers have also been able to present results to the effect that religion serves as a powerful force for the poor. In a 2004 study of the religiosity gap, Piper Norris and Ronald Inglehart, based their study on the Worlds Values Survey. The results indicated that the religiosity gap between the industrialized nations and the developing nations continues to grow. They attributed the growth to the argument that poor people are at a much greater vulnerability to the daily forces that threaten their existence, hence they are more likely than the wealthy populations to rely on religious beliefs for hope(Crabtree & Pelham 2009).            With regard to the effects of religion among residents of 32 countries with annual average incomes of $2000 or less, the 2008 Gallop poll was able to deduce that religion plays an important role in the emotional health(enjoyment, worry, sadness, depression and anger) of the world poor populations. These deductions remained even after factoring in variables that may influence the emotional health like gender and age.

There are those who posit that the attachment to religion is also due to the fact that in such countries, the poor access social networks and self growth opportunities via the benefit of the community structures of the common faith traditions. Thus, the religious that offer them emotional satisfaction become some form a safety net, or rather literally, social security(Crabtree & Pelham 2009).            The earlier illustrations and the aforementioned results of the empirical studies seem to agree with Karl Marx’s criticism of religion. In his criticism, Marx agrees with other social scientists that religion and its systems remain indispensable instruments among the poor and suffering because it makes suffering more sufferable. In addition, religion provides us with a place where things will undoubtedly be better; such as in paradise, heaven or nirvana.

Religion supplies the poor man with a set of ritualistic practices which individuals can individually or collectively express, so as to wash out the sorrows. Through prayers, the poor and oppressed engage in ritual washing. The essence of the practice is that it imposes on individual actions of ascetic self denial. As a drastic change from the views posited by many social scientists, Karl Marx views religion as a more active moral agent(Marx ; Raines 2002). Nothing illustrates the meaning of this analysis than a direct quotation of Karl Marx;            “Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a       protest against the real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart   of a heartless world and the soul of the soulless conditions.

It is the opium of the people.            The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand of their        real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions”[Collier 2001(89); Marx ; Raines             2002(167)]            To understand what Marx implied, it is important that we give a brief detail on the teachings of the various major organized religions; with specificity to Christianity, on poverty. The bible commends evangelical simplicity. This is what has been carried from generation to generation mean the sacralization of poverty. From the early centuries of Christian life, those who joined monasteries had to vow to observe chastity, obedience and poverty so as to attain the evangelical simplicity. Even though the era of reformation and scholasticism desacrilized poverty, it still remained that Christianity taught against a preoccupation with wealth because such a preoccupation was a spiritual as well as a social peril. Poverty remained an indicator of holiness(Fahlbusch et al 1999).

These dogmatic beliefs served to cultivate an aspect of poverty that the poor were welcomed at the Father’s table hence not a vice or an enemy to be fought. Poverty, could only be fought by hard work or alternatively through organized benevolence among those who are unable to engage in hard work to alleviate poverty.            While both Christianity and Islam desist from admonishing wealth per se, they warn against accumulating wealth to an extent that it affects our psychology and our relation to others in the society. Individual possession of wealth is tolerated among the Christian community provided that such a possession is rightly and charitably used. The scripture, “go sell and thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21) is widely accepted as a call for the right and charitable uses of wealth. However, the scriptures drawn from the Bible cannot be taken as being explanatory of all representations from the holy books. What is extrapolated across religions is the tendency of the oppressed and deprived human being to seek solace from a set of belief systems that have the capacity to offer relief.            Secularism and modernity seems to have succeeded in blurring or eliminating the consequence of the Creator on the secularized man.

Based on the wide breath of theoretical, observational and empirical analysis presented, it is conclusive that because of the pressures, struggles and generally the harsh reality of everyday existence, the poor populations seek the comfort of religion not only as a medium which provides  freedom, albeit temporarily, from the anxiety, fear and disappointments, but also as a social agency which offers them hope in the form of paradise, nirvana or heaven. Thus, it is not surprising that the poor turn to religion to escape from the harsh reality of existing in an environment that is not so enabling. Owing to the illusory nature of religion itself as well as the nature of the happiness or relief it provides, the professors of faith evade learning the strategies necessary for building enough confidence for tackling the recurrent fears and anxieties. Since, every single day is wrought with these fears and anxieties, religious practice has to be inculcated in the day to day life of the poor man.ReferencesBeckford, J. A. (1989). Religion and advanced industrial society.

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