This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Does Christianity Reduce Societal Corruption?

Over the years, Abu Daoud's comments on this blog have led to me to some interesting places demographically and I thank him for that. His latest suggestion is that maybe Christianity is associated with less corruption in the world. This is reportedly based on some work by Bob Woodberry, an American sociologist who teaches at the National University of Singapore. Woodberry received his doctorate in sociology at Chapel Hill under Ken Bollen, a world-famous social researcher. In a 2012 paper published in the American Political Science Review, Woodberry thanks two former Presidents of the Population Association of America--Barbara Entwisle of UNC-Chapel Hill (and spouse of Ken Bollen), and Bob Hummer of UT-Austin (site of Woodberry's first academic appointment). I provide this background only to suggest that Woodberry has the credentials to be listened to. His basic argument is that proselytizing Christians laid the foundation for liberal democracies in many of today's developed nations. His statistical analysis of that idea notwithstanding, I cannot help thinking about Chinua Achebe's unflattering characterization of the arrival of the missionaries in Nigeria as depicted in his classic "Things Fall Apart," and I laugh at my memories of twice having seen "Book of Mormon" on Broadway. 

It strikes me, however, as a bit of a leap to go from missionaries laying the groundwork for liberal democracy to the idea that Christianity per se is associated with low levels of corruption. That idea does seem to lie behind a set of graphs that Abu Daoud directs us to at this site. Indeed, the creator of the graph goes only so far as to conclude that: 
Does the Christian faith transform societies? The analysis of this chart would give a mixed report. Clearly, there is some influence on corruption: rare is the country that is both less corrupt and less Christian (and those that are, are either small populations or rigidly controlled). Nevertheless many nations claim a high affiliation with Christianity, yet rank among the most corrupt. Some variations of Christian practice have yet to transform society. Still, we should note that with few exceptions church growth is fastest where corruption is highest: it seems light burns brightest in the darkest places.
My interpretation of the data is a bit different. You know from my book that my perspective is that religious preference is far less important a predictor of human behavior than is religiosity (the degree to which a religion is practiced). I look at the least corrupt countries in the world and see nations that are heavily secular, whether they be ethnically Christian, ethnically Muslim, ethnically Shinto, or whatever. The most corrupt societies are those that are most heavily religious, whether that religion be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or something else. Indeed, I would argue that the "light burns brightest in the darkest places" precisely because the most religious places tend to be the most corrupt. That was what the Enlightenment was/is all about, after all.

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