A new twist to state and religion

Debabrata Das | Updated on May 07, 2011

Like a multinational, a religious sect selects the market where it can draw believers.   -  The Hindu/ Mohammed_Yousuf

Is there is a co-relation between the ability of the Government to provide medicare services and the strictness of religious denominations in that region?

When all else fails God will take care of you — sometimes even if He doesn't want to. This theory has helped religion in its forms to thrive.

In a recent NBER paper (“ Exporting Christianity: Governance and doctrine in the globalisation of US denominations”) Mr Gordon H. Hanson and Mr Chong Xiang have examined religious denominations as a multinational enterprise.

The authors studied Christianity and its various forms. And guess what they found: religious denominations with stricter religious doctrine attract more followers in countries in which the risk of natural disaster or disease outbreak is greater and in which Government provision of health services is weaker.

Although these predictions have been tested based on US Protestant Christian denominations, the assumptions prove to be true even in cases like Pakistan which is currently under a wave of fundamentalist Islamic movement.

Method to fanaticism

So how do the strictest denominations of religion prosper in today's world? The authors of the paper provide the answer by treating a denomination akin to a multinational enterprise, which chooses which markets to enter, based on the combined objectives of attracting members and generating revenues.

Just like a multinational, for a religious denomination, the principal factor that determines the selection of a market would be whether they can attract consumers, i.e, believers.

In such a scenario religious denominations enter markets where the State fails to provide basic public services such as healthcare and education. They thrive because in the absence of such services from the State, people put their faith in religion which offers healthcare and services.

But there are no free lunches in this world. In return for services, religious denominations or sects enforce a strict doctrine to ensure loyalty amongst the believers.

Thus after drawing the correlation between strict religious doctrines and lack of public services, Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang go on to find the perfect market for strict religious sects.

Ideal locations

Countries frequently ravaged by natural disasters would form the ideal location for strict religious doctrines. This explains the religious system in South East Asia, where earthquakes and tsunamis are unfortunately a common occurrence.

But there are also cases where outbreaks of diseases are frequent. The African continent, for example, is a victim of such outbreaks. Most African Governments have failed to provide necessary healthcare giving rise to alternate forms of medicine based on local religious beliefs. No wonder the African people are bound by their strict religious beliefs.

Finally, countries where the financial development has failed to take off forms another appetising market for religious fundamentalists. Afghanistan forms the perfect example for this. The country's economy was shattered by the years for war, leading to the rise of the ultra-fundamentalist system of Taliban.

Role of Religious Leaders

The spread of religious denominations is not just based on the socio-economic conditions of a country. For a religion to thrive, the leader must also be hyper-active.

From St Peter to the modern day maulvis, for any de-centralised religious denomination, the marginal utility of a leader becomes crucial for its growth.

More sermons from the leader result in getting more followers for the denomination. So the next time you hear religious sermons disturbing the peaceful mornings, do not crib for it is just another corporation doing its business.

Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang come to the conclusions based on Christian Protestant data from the World Christian Database but by forming linear mathematical equations for making the correlations, it is possible to substitute data for any other religion to draw the results.

Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang, quite simply, have proved on the basis of public records that strict religious doctrines work where all else have failed. Religion, therefore, becomes an alternate form of dictatorship when democracy fails.

Published on May 02, 2011

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