Tue, 12 Jul 2022 Feature Article

Are Non-Religious Nations More Prosperous Than Religious Nations? And If So, Why?

Are Non-Religious Nations More Prosperous Than Religious Nations? And If So, Why?

Often people ask, "Why are many non-religious countries more prosperous than religious countries?" The implicit assumption is that religious countries that worship and pray often must be more prosperous than non-Christian countries. But is it true that many non-religious countries are more prosperous than religious countries? Furthermore, how does the Bible explain this phenomenon if it is true?

Data from the World Population Review show that China is the top least religious country globally. Only 7% of the population in China feels religious. That means more than 90% of Chinese are not religious. Japan is the second least religious country in the world, with 13% feeling religious. Only 26% of people in the Netherlands feel religious, and 30% of the United Kingdom feel religious. About 82% of Swedish responded that religion is not important in their daily lives, and only 17% said religion is important in their daily lives.

When the same question was put to Nigerians in the survey, only 3% responded that religion is not important in their daily lives. About 96% of Nigerians in the survey responded that religion is important in their daily lives. When Somalians are asked the same question, 100% say religion is important in their daily lives.

According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera's global studies on atheism, there are between 450 to 500 million professed atheists and agnostics worldwide, constituting about 7% of the world's population. Out of the 450 million atheists, 200 million convinced atheists are from China. This means about 40% of the world's atheists come from China alone.

However, when it comes to the ten top biggest economies in the world, none of the religious countries could be found except the United States, which has appropriated its religious beliefs well to enhance economic growth. According to 2020 economic data released by the International Monetary Fund, China leads the world's ten top biggest economies. Despite its atheism and agnosticism, China's GDP was $24.16 Trillion, followed by the United States of America with $20.81 Trillion, and Japan came fourth with $5.24 Trillion.

Can we conclude that there is a link between religion or religiosity and economic growth or expansion? Not at all, because the United States is a religious country and yet placed second top biggest economy in the world. So how do we explain the phenomena we have described from a religious or Biblical standpoint?

Christian theologians distinguish between "Common Grace" and "Special Grace." God's preservation of His creation is part of His work of providence. Anything that the Lord does for His creatures that we do not deserve is called grace. He gives gifts or blessings to the unrepentant sinners, even though they despise His commands and laws daily.

The grace of God common to all humankind is referred to as "Common Grace.” Jesus enunciated this theological principle in Matthew 5:45 b, "So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." God's common grace is just that—common. Unlike the special grace God gives to those who believe in Him and have communion with Him, common grace is indiscriminate. That means if the unbelieving Chinese or Japanese seize on these free resources and put them to use, they will reap the benefits of these resources, while believing Christian who sit down and pray for manna to come from heaven will remain destitute because God has commanded us to work for livelihood. God's common grace is not discriminatory but rewards those who work hard.

The protestant reformation led many northern European states to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. This brought about a different interpretation of the Christian Scriptures, unleashing nation-states' economic growth and wealth creation. This reinterpretation of Scriptures: the forms of faith and worship resulted in the economic fortunes of the Northern European states compared to their counterparts in the south who were still under the clutches of Roman Catholicism.

Thinkers and scholars at the time began to investigate the relationship between religion and economic life. The question people were asking was: What was different about Protestantism from theoretical and practical standpoints that unleashed such economic dynamism and expansion? What are the theological stance and practices of Protestantism as opposed to Catholicism, or what was it about the teaching of Luther, Calvin, and other reformers that released such accumulation of wealth in Northern Europe? What biblical teachings encouraged people not just to work hard but also to accumulate capital?

Many attempts were made by scholars and thinkers at the time to provide solid answers to these perplexing questions. The thinker who seemed to have studied these phenomena and provided plausible answers to them was the German sociology economic Professor Max Weber. Weber was an intellectual genius: he was a qualified law barrister at age 22. He obtained his doctorate at 27 and secured a professorship in Economics at the University of Berlin. Weber's preoccupation was to find the link between religion and the economic lives of nation-states.

Until the reformation, most Christians believed that religious devotion was distinct from the material affairs of this world. The Christians maintained that lending money was a sin, especially with usurious interests. They also believed that the poor were privileged by Jesus Christ in his sermons or teachings and that the rich were less likely to enter the kingdom of God. For the Christians at that time, their treasures were laid up somewhere beyond the blue.

But these theological stances changed in the 1520s in the countries that embraced the protestant reformation. Weber traveled to the United States in 1904 to attend the Congress of Arts and Science at the World Fair, where he was exposed to American Capitalism: The then modern technology, from telephones to motion pictures and shining lights. He asked: What could account for the dynamism of this society, which made his home state of German industrialization pale in comparison? He wrote,

"This kind of place is incredible: tent camps of the workers, numerous railroads under construction; 'streets' in a natural state, usually doused with petroleum twice each summer to prevent dust and to smell accordingly; wooden churches of at least 4-5 denominations. Add to this the usual tangle of telegraph and telephone wires and electrical train lines under construction, for the 'town', extends into the unbounded distance."

Weber was amazed at the number of churches of various protestant denominations. Furthermore, he questions, "Is there a link between America's material success and its vibrant religious life? His quest resulted in a book titled "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" In this book, Weber articulated his arguments about western civilization in a methodical fashion. He maintained that America's economic dynamism was an unintended consequence of the Protestant Reformation.

So what made the difference? Whereas other religions associated holiness with the renunciation of worldly things, the Protestants saw industry and thrift as an expression of a new kind of hardworking godliness. It was not just the theological reinterpretation of the scriptures but also the work ethics inculcated in its adherents that spurred economic productivity. Part two of these articles explores the theological position of the protestant reformation that infused economic dynamism in America's economy and other economies elsewhere as opposed to Catholicism. Further, the second part of these articles will investigate the current theological interpretation of scriptures and biblical practices in Ghana and their impacts on nation-building.