Subsidiarity and the Social Doctrine

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend]." Margaret Thatcher

“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” G. K. Chesterton

Subsidiarity in the Gospels

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Prophet Motive

"Why do more Americans go to church regularly than people in any other country in the world? It’s been that way for decades. Now, sociologists have started to look for explanations—and the most likely one applies the principles of free-market capitalism to religion. The free market, the argument goes, has permitted religious groups that adopt successful strategies to expand, and to do so at the expense of those groups that fail. In contrast, Europe—with its history of established churches, each holding a monopoly within its state—has been progressively secularized. This has resulted from the lack of competition in the religious marketplace, leaving declining, unattractive religions as the only options for potential believers. Because the new school of sociologists of religion has borrowed ideas from the rational-choice theories of economics, it has been dubbed the “rational choice” school."
"In the United States, then, religion actually grew with industrialization and technical advance—a fact that falsifies the claim that technological and scientific development must lead to religious decline."
"The market model of religious competition asserts that, when a religion enjoys a monopoly in a given market, its leaders, lacking the spur of competition, will not try very hard to make religious practice an attractive option. But when a competitive market in religions replaces a monopoly, not only will the spur of competition be present, there also will be a process of natural selection among religions, with the more attractive religions gaining at the expense of the less attractive ones. This is the model that the new school uses to explain American religious exceptionalism."
"Before the American Revolution, most of the American colonies had established churches, and Americans were not very religious. After the Revolution, these churches, no longer established, had to raise their game in order to compete for members. Churches that did not offer much to people shrank, and churches that were attractive grew. This competitive process made the average church more effective at getting members. This, in turn, led to a rise in religious practice in the United States throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Europe, by contrast, churches maintained an established or quasi-established status until the twentieth century, which resulted in steadily diminishing attendance."
"The other claim of the supply-side model is more interesting and surprising: Religions succeed if they make distinctive and demanding requirements of their adherents."
"The supply-side analysis explains why, in 1945, at the close of the Second World War, Canadians were substantially more religious than Americans: Canadian churches were stricter. An example of Canadian Protestant strictness is the furor that erupted among Canadian Methodists at the time of the First World War, when it was made known that card playing was widespread among Canadian troops. A formative event in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada was the arrival of priests fleeing the French Revolution. These men provided much of the clergy in Quebec and stamped the French Canadian Catholic Church with an outlook that was strict and conservative even by nineteenth-century Catholic standards. One might expect that such strictness will put people off religion, but in Canada the opposite happened: Strictness led to high religious observance, for reasons that the rational-choice theory explains. After the Second World War, however, Canadian Protestants and Catholics liberalized to a greater extent than did their Americans counterparts. As a result, Canadian churches had less to offer their members than American churches did, and the Canadian rate of religious practice fell below that of the United States—again, as the rational-choice theory predicts."
"The situation in Western Europe is parallel. There, the main event to be underlined is the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and the changes that were implemented in its name. The postconciliar changes (and, to a debated extent, the conciliar documents themselves) tried to erase, as far as possible, many distinctions between Catholics and non-Catholics. This involved the abandonment of strict rules and distinctive dress for clergy and religious, the replacement of a distinctive liturgy by one that resembled Protestant worship, the legitimation of dissent on moral teaching, and the downplaying of strict Catholic doctrine in religious instruction."

John Lamont teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

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