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July 20, 2003

Defender of the unfaith

Interesting opinion from an atheist who defends the Church of England as a potent force for secularism. The nutshell of the argument is that the C of E acts as a vaccine against more virulent forms of religion. Christopher Hitchens once expressed similar opinions in Freethought Today. Until recently all of Scandinavia had state supported churches (Sweden disestablished in 2000), while Germany and The Netherlands give financial support to prominent religious denomenations [1]. None of these countries is known for its piety (40% of Dutch are "Nothing," 25% of Germans are explicitly "confessionless," while Lutheran churches in Scandinavia are rather empty on a usual Sunday). Of course other European nations, France prominently, that have high walls of separation between church & state are also irreligous in the main, so it is hard to find a pattern.

But some theorists of religion (Rodney Stark) have long argued that a competitive religious marketplace, such as the United States, is an important factor in the observance and zeal of a population. Though there might be something to this, there are nations such as Japan that have an open marketplace and many small new religious movements, and yet remain rather secular (South Korea is an example of a nation where this thesis seems valid, but one must remember that at least 45% of South Koreans are not religiously affiliated). So I am not going to advocate an established church for the United States anytime soon....

[1] The fundamentalist/traditionalist Protestant churches in Germany who do not recieve state support are termed "The Free Churches."

Posted by razib at 04:14 PM




The public school system and other public institutions in the United States used to function in the same way, as a spreader of a secular form of Protestantism.

It seems that when the schools became secular-humanized, the the Supreme Court started enforcing a strict requirement of non-religiosity in public institutions, the more zealous and religious Christian sects started gaining more power.

Posted by: Gordon Gekko at July 20, 2003 06:24 PM


Well, if having effectively a state religion will tone down the religion then why doesn't them melding of Wahhabism with the House Of Saud produce a lazy watered down form of Islam?

Posted by: Randall Parker at July 20, 2003 10:20 PM


Well, if having effectively a state religion will tone down the religion then why doesn't them melding of Wahhabism with the House Of Saud produce a lazy watered down form of Islam?

yes, good point, but, one of the arguments is that gov. support of wahhabism does keep it under control in comparison to what it would be like under popular control. (arguments made by establishment western apologists for the house of saud who have a strong financial stake of course)

Posted by: razib at July 20, 2003 11:47 PM


Its been said of the Church of England that belief in God isn't compulsory, even where it's not frowned upon.

Posted by: Richard O at July 21, 2003 06:54 AM