The Demand for Religion:
Hard Core Atheism and “Supply Side” Theory
University of Cologne
University of Chicago
University of Arizona
This paper examines the conflict between the “secularization” theory of religious decline and the economic model of religion which assumes a fairly constant need for religion and attributes variation in devotion to variation in the supply of religious services. First the analysis reveals that the number of “hard core” atheists (those who firmly reject the existence of God and the possibility of life after death) in seventeen countries are a relatively small proportion of the population. Then it turns to Norway to determines that one can hardly describe that country as “unreligious.” Next it discovers that there is a higher level of Catholic religious practice in the competitive environment of Northern Ireland. Finally it considers the one thoroughly secularized country – East Germany – and concludes that the “demand” for religion can be diminished considerably if a ruthless government takes control of the process of religious socialization.
Introduction: Secularization Versus Market-Place
Sociologists of Religion, especially in the United States are engaged in a great debate about what Warner(1993) calls a “new paradigm” in their field. The “Secularization” theory which has dominated sociological discussion of religion and has indeed become the preferred model for many sociologists who do not specialize in the study of religion has been subjected to a vigorous attack by a group of scholars who propose an economic model, variously called “Market Place” or “Supply Side” theory. In their argument with Secularization Theories, “Supply Side” theorists (Chaves, Scraeder and Spindys 1994; Christiano 1987; Finke 1984,1989,1990, 1992, Finke; Guest and Stark 1996; Finke and Iannaccone 1993; Finke and Stark 1988, 1989a 1989b, 1992; Iaannaccone, Finke and Stark 1996; Stark and Iannaccone 1994; Stark 1994, 1996) have argued that the demand for a “product” from religious “firms” is relatively constant.
Taking their clue from the theory of Stark and Bainbridge (1987) that religion arises from the need for “compensation” because of the sufferings and tragedies of life and the inevitability of death, they argue that such sufferings are a relative constant in the human condition. Hence the need for “compensation” is invariant. Thus the “demand” for religion ought to be fairly constant. Therefore, they suggest that different levels of religious behavior in different countries is the result of different “supplies” of religious services. In countries where there are established or quasi-established churches, monopolies in other words, the supply of services will be low and the demand will be unmet. In countries where there is free competition among religious firms the supply of religious services will increase and the demand will be (to some extent) met and the level of religious behaviors will be higher than in monopolistic situations. Stark and Iannaccone (1994) have further argued that the image of “unreligious” countries in Europe, countries where “secularization” has already triumphed is not supported by the data. They suggest that perhaps as much as 65% of European market might be open to “penetration” by religious firms.
While the new economic approach to religion is very explicit in its distinction between religious demand and supply, most of the secularization theories are not. Authors like Luhmann (1977) are mainly concerned with the process of functional differentiation and its macro-level impact on religion, and do at best mention in passing a few consequences for individual-level religiosity. Accordingly, in these “theories” the notion demand does not occur. Similarly, the Weberian concept of rationalization is mostly understood as a macro concept (see, for example, Bryan Wilson, 1982 and Peter Berger 1967). Where the concept is broken down to the micro-level, it is indeed assumed that either the demand for religion in general, or for particular varieties of religion, or the demand for religion in specific situations will disappear. If one assumes with Karl Marx that religion is opium for the people, then religion will disappear as soon as all privileges and all forms of economic deprivation are abolished. And if religion is nothing but the result of a neurosis (Sigmund Freud), it will share the fate of the latter. If humankind learns to prevent the neurosis, there will be no further demand for religion in the future world. In contrast, Luckmann (1996) does not expect a decline of religion in general but of the large transcendental systems. In an economic terminology we may say that he expects the demand for specific religious products to decline.
Finally, disenchantment is often seen as a process where religious explanations of the world are partially replaced by scientific explanations. We ask geologist for the causes of an earthquake or an volcanic eruption but not the priest. If disenchanment of the world in this sense is the essence of secularization, only the demand for specific religious goods or specific components of religion would decline.
In this essay we mainly address ourselves to those variants of Secularization theories which predict a general decline in the demand for religion or at least in the demand for large transcendental systems. If this demand does not decline in the more advanced societies and if it correlates neither with age nor education nor time the core assumptions of Secularization theories are disconfirmed. Since Communism may have accelerated this process of secularization we will pay particular attention to the development in former socialist countries. If the demand for religion should be high in all these societies this clearly would support the new economic approach.
Opponents (Blau, Land, and Redding 1992, Breault 1989; Bruce 1992; Demerath 1996; Land and Blau 1991) of the economic model of religion have been quick to respond. They have taken issue with some of the individual studies the “supply siders” have reported and also (Demerath 1996) have ridiculed the notion that religion can be the subject of “rational choice.” The basic thrust of the criticism, however, implicit it might be, is doubt that there is no relatively consistent demand for religious “compensation.”
The crucial question then becomes if and how the demand for religion can be measured. In our view, this can only be done indirectly by identifying the basic human problems for which religion attempts to give an answer. In some sense all these problems have to do with the question of immanence and transcendence. Since in the Judeo-Christian tradition God serves as a symbol for the existence of a transcendent world and since the question of a life after death probably is the most existential manifestation of the immanence/transcendence problem we will take the question on the existence of God and on a life after death as the starting point for our indirect operationalization of a religious demand. Specifically we assume that persons who are convinced both that God does not exist and hat there is no possibility of life after death have no need for religion.
In this essay we address ourselves first to the question of that group in which a demand for religious services must be presumed to be non-existent – “hard core” atheists, those who are convinced both that God does not exist and that there is no possibility of life after death. If the proportion of populations in different countries which fall into this category are relatively small and if they correlate neither with age nor education nor time, then the “Supply Side” theory cannot be rejected: the proportion of the population which might have a latent demand for religion may still be substantial, even in supposedly secularized countries.
Then we turn to Norway, one of the allegedly “secularized” countries to determine whether it might be a religious market place that has been neglected by a “lazy monopoly.” Next we consider data from Ireland to determine whether the open religious marketplace of Northern Ireland has produced a more “zealous” manifestation of Catholicism than that which can be found in the South where Catholicism has a de facto if not de jure monopoly; finally we ask whether Socialism in East Germany has been able to reduce the demand for religion, something which the supply side theory would implicitly think unlikely.
Atheism, Soft Core and Hard
In the International Social Survey Program’s study of religion in 1991, two questions were asked which are pertinent to this investigation:
Please look at this card and tell me which statement closest to expressing what you believe about God:
- I don’t believe in God
- I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.
- I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher Power of some kind.
- find myself believing in God some of the time but not at others.
- While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.
- I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it.
Do You believe in life after death?
- Yes, definitely
- Yes, probably
- No, probably not
- No, definitely not
In third column of Table 1, “Hard Core” Atheists are those who agree with the first item in the first question (they are firmly convinced that God does not exist) and with the fourth item in the second question (they firmly reject the possibility of life after death. This group therefore can be assumed to experience no need for religion and to be absent from the religious market place.
In the second column, “Soft Core” Atheists include those in the third column and those who, while they reject God do not completely reject life after death (they accept the third response on that question – there is “probably not” a life after death. This latter group might be considered to be on the far fringes of the religious market place.
The “Softest Core” Atheists in the third column include those in the first two and those who can fairly be called agnostics (the second response to the God question) because they do not completely reject the possibility of the existence of God. They might be considered as hovering a little closer to the religious market place.
- The proportion of Hard Core atheists is relatively small in all the countries except East Germany (42.7%)
- The proportion is above 10% only in former socialist countries (12.4% in Russia, 13.9% in Slovenia, and 11.3% in Hungary) and in the Netherlands (11.4%) and in Israel (12.1%).
- In the other eleven countries, the highest rates of Hard Core atheism are in Norway (6.7%) and Britain (6.3%). Thus if latent demand for religion is excluded only from the Hard Core atheists, there is still the possibility of a large clientele for those firms which might venture into the religious market place in such supposedly “secularized” countries as Norway and Britain.
- There are not all that many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied, nor indeed all that many soft core atheists either.
- The “Softest Core” Atheists are less than a third of the population in every country except East Germany. They are more than a fifth of the population only in four former Socialist countries – East German Russia, Hungary and Slovenia. With the exception than of East Germany more than two thirds of the population of the countries studied are willing to admit the existence in some fashion of God and the likelihood of life after death. Devout many of them may not be but on the two central issues they are more religious than not. They then may be considered as part of the religious market place if not always enthusiastic consumers.
Furthermore in the sample as a whole, Hard Core atheism correlates only with gender (women less likely to be atheists) and not with education or age (those favorite measures of the more naïve of the “secularization theorists.”) 83% of the Hard Core Atheists say they never believed in God, 61% say they never attended church services when they were eleven or twelve years old and 9% more say they only rarely attended. The choice of Hard Core atheism as a philosophy of life was apparently made at a very young age in life and is sustained through the life course.
Age correlates significantly with Hard Core atheism only in Britain (r=-.08), East Germany (r=-.18), the Netherlands (r=-.05) and Israel (r=+.08), Hungary (-.14). Education correlates significantly with Hard Core Atheism only in Hungary (r=.11), Slovenia (r=.18), and Norway (r=.10) West Germany (r=.08), Israel (r=.10). In these countries as in the whole sample, there is an inverted U curve in the relationship between age and atheism, the very young and the very old being somewhat less likely to be atheists. In the middle years of life, however, the line representing atheism is flat. Only in Slovenia and Hungary is education still a significant correlate of Hard Core Atheism in a regression equation which includes age and gender.
In the United States, Northern Ireland, Austria and Poland, the countries with the lowest scores for atheism, there is no correlation with gender.
Table 2 demonstrates that Hard Core atheists in the countries where they are most numerous have been for the most part atheists since childhood. Everywhere but Great Britain, West Germany, and Norway, four out of five assert that they never believed in God. Only in Britain did the majority say that they went to church more than rarely. In East Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, and Russia more than seven out of ten went to church only on rare occasions.
Curiously enough parental attendance has little direct or indirect influence on the decision to opt for the atheist position. Father’s attendance correlates -.04, mother’s -.09, and own attendance at twelve correlates -.32. In regression equations, with the three variables, parental influence disappears. Hence one is apparently forced to conclude that decisions to become a Hard Core atheist occur at a young age and are not influenced by parental devotion.
Religion is absent from the lives of the Hard Core atheists:
- 78% of them never attend church services.
- 8% report a contact with the dead as opposed to 27% of the rest of the sample.
- 3% have had a mystical experience as opposed to 22% of the rest of the sample.
- 95% reject the notion that God is concerned with them personally.
- 98% reject the notion that their life is predetermined by God.
- 93% reject the belief that God gives meaning to life.
- 96% pray rarely if at all.
- 96% reject heaven, 98% hell, and 98% the devil.
They are not, however, without a philosophy of life – 49% agree that the individual must give meaning to his or her own life (as opposed to 27% of the non atheists) and 39% say that each of us controls our own fate (as opposed to 21%). 15% of the atheists say that they are very happy, while 22% of the non atheists assert that they are very happy.
The Hard Core atheists, then, are men and women (men more than women) who early in life decided to reject even the minimum components of religion. They are the “religiously unmusical” of Max Weber’s self description. They are not, on the whole, better educated than the non-atheists nor are they as happy on the average. They do tend, however, to have their own existentialist orientation towards life.
In the logic of the secularization argument, the number of atheists should increase over time (as they seem to have among the academic colleagues of those who support the Secularization Theory). Patently in many of the countries studied in the ISSP project, that increase could not have been very great because the current marginals are so low. The 1981 European Values Study makes possible a rough estimate of change and the follow-up 1990 study (the year before the ISSP study on which the present analysis is based) can both measure the change since 1981 and be considered a replication (before the fact) of the ISSP findings.
The data in Table 3 provide little evidence of short run change in atheism rates. There is no significant relationship between time and Hard Core Atheism in the EVA study. With the possible exception of East Germany and Slovenia, the findings of the second EVS and the first ISSP studies are similar enough that it can be said that they replicate one another despite the different wording of the questions,. One can conclude that there is little support for the notion that atheism increased between 1981 and 1991. There are not many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied and their numbers did not increase during the nineteen eighties.
Norway: The Failure of Secularization
Data from the Norwegian version of 1991 International Social Survey program study of religion (which asked more questions than the standard ISSP module) provide an opportunity to replicate the Stark and Iannaccone findings (1995)that the so called “secularized” countries of Europe were not in fact secularized. Is Norway a country in which religion is moribund or is it perhaps a potential market place for religious competition? Might there be a potential demand for religion to which industrious “firms” might respond?
Forty five percent of Norwegians believe in God and only 10% firmly believe that God does not exist. 60% say that life after death is certain or probable and 58% say that in some fashion Jesus is their savior (a question asked only in the Norwegian version of the ISSP). It is difficult to dismiss a country with those rates as totally “secularized,” especially since there is evidence (Greeley 1995 p87 ) that Norwegian belief in life after death has not changed in the last five decades. Hence it seems appropriate to ask what the condition of the religious market place in Norway might be and whether an increase in the supply of religious firms might lead eventually to a resurgence of observable religious practice
We devised a typology of possible Norwegian religious market places. At the low end were the Atheists and the Agnostics who either rejected God firmly or said that they did not know about God’s existence. 22% of the respondents fell into these categories, 9% in the former and 13% in the later. The next level consisted of the “Marginally” religious, those who did not attend church services but expressed some kind of belief in God. 33% of the respondents fell into this category. The fourth level – which we call “Private” was occupied by those who believed in God but did not attend church services often, a quarter of the Norwegians. Finally there was a group we call Devout which both believed in God and attended Church services regularly. This group included 20% of the respondents. Thus (Table 4) almost half of Norwegians are religious in some fashion and only a fifth are either firm atheists or agnostics.
Religious beliefs among Norwegians increases as one moves in Table 4 from the Atheists to the Devout. However a surprising proportion of those who are Atheists and Agnostics acknowledge that God is loving, believe (at least probably) an afterlife, and that in some fashion Jesus is their savior. While these two groups could hardly be considered as prime religious markets in Norway, they are not without some religious inclinations.
Those who are Marginally religious constitute a market place that might be more ready to listen to new religious entrepreneurs. Almost half of them believe in life after death, two fifths acknowledge Jesus as savior, and seven out of ten believe that God is loving. Large majorities in the “Private” market place endorse these convictions and believe in the existence of heaven.
Similar patterns exist for religious practices in Table 5. Some Atheists attend services occasionally and some engage in the ceremony of lighting a candle on the grave. More than 2/5 contribute money to church organizations which in Norway is more of a civic than a religious practice. The Agnostics have certainly not cut themselves off completely from religion. 43% attend church services at least some times and 37% light a candle for the dead. The majority of the Marginals (58%) attend church services and light a candle for the dead (62%) and 21% of them have said prayers with a child at bed time. Thirty percent of the Private group pray at least once a week, 77% attend church services regularly and 30% have prayed with a child at night. In the Private and Devout groups the custom of lighting a candle for the dead is reported less frequently than in the Marginal group, perhaps because it is considered a folk custom.
In Table 6 we observe that there are differences in sexual attitudes among the five religious market places with the devout being less tolerant than the other groups. However, while most Norwegians are willing to admit an occasional exception to the judgment that extra marital sex is always wrong, four out of five believe that it is almost always wrong. On the other hand very large majorities of all groups save for the Devout are tolerant of pre-marital sex. Hence the image of Norway as a sexually liberated country whose mores are pagan and where anything goes hardly survives in the face of the data. The Devout and the Private on the other hand are less likely to support the death penalty for a convicted murderer.
The religious picture of Norway which appears in these three tables indicates that the portrait of the country as being in the final stages of a secularization process is, to say the least, much too simple. Even the “social differentiation” dimension of the secularization theory is hardly compatible with the financial contributions all groups make to church organizations. Religion has not disappeared from the public or private lives of Norwegians. There are traces of religion to be found among both the Atheists and Agnostics and strong residues of religion among the Marginals. The differentiation between the Devout and the Private is what one might expect in a society where there is a lazy monopoly and no great effort to reclaim to the Private to say nothing of the Marginal.
Are the Norwegians religious? Thirty seven percent of them say they are, while only 16% say that they are not; the rest equivocate by saying that they are neither religious nor non-religious. Seventeen percent of the Marginal and 53% of the private assert that they are religious. To assert that such a country is thoroughly secularized is to deprive the word of all meaning.
Norway is not as religious a country as Ireland (many of whose citizens are distant relatives of the Norse). However, religion persists in Norway. Moreover, the recent research on the social history of religion in the middle ages raises serious questions about how religious any country in Europe was in ages past. Perhaps Norwegians are less devout than they used to be, but that fact remains to be proven. Hence it remains to be proven that there is not a religious demand in Norway to which the religious supply has failed to respond.
It may well be that the relatively religious Private segment of the population does not find that the “lazy monopoly” of the Established Church responds to its religious needs (demands) save on certain highly specific situations (marriage, baptism) and hence sees no point in more frequent church attendance.
In terms of the supply side theory, there would appear to be some excellent markets available for firms to enter – particularly among the Private and the Marginal. If one excludes the Devout, who are already religious, and the Agnostics and the Atheists, more than half of the Norwegian population what might well experience a demand for religious services to which the lazy monopoly is not responding.
In the perspective of Stark and Iannaccone, the available market in Norway would seem to include the 80% of Norwegians who are not Agnostics or Atheists, a larger figure than the 65% they estimate for Sweden and other “secularized” European countries.
Does the picture presented thus far in this analysis represent a decline from previous religious conditions in Norway? Is it a snapshot taken out of a continuing film of Norwegian religious change? Or is it a portrait of a blend of faith and unbelief that is relatively stable? As mentioned earlier, levels of belief in life after death in Norway have not changed for several decades. Nor has the proportion of Norwegians who describe themselves as atheists increased during the decade of the nineteen eighties.
Moreover, a single factor accounts for almost half the variance (r=.67) in the Norwegian religious market place as represented by Tables 4 through 6: it consists of the convictions that Jesus is savior, Jesus is a good person, God is loving, prayer with a child, belief in life after death, frequency of personal prayer, and lighting a candle on a grave.
The question then becomes one of whether this factor which seems to account for the variety of Norwegian religious pluralism is stable. The factor in its turn seems to be shaped in part by a socialization process: about a quarter of the variance on it can be accounted for by a combination of the respondents church attendance when twelve years old, and parental church attendance at that time.
The question then becomes how stable church attendance rates have been across generation lines. Are respondents as likely to attend church today as their parents were? If a comparison is made between married respondents who are at the ages when they might have children present (between thirty five and fifty five) and the reports of all respondents about parental church attendance, one might have a useful rough measure of generational continuity in behavior that affects the religious socialization process. This form of comparison is weighted to some extent against continuity because many of the married respondents in the age category might not have children present and might therefore be less concerned on the impact of their behavior on their children.
In any event, the figures in Table 7 suggest a rough continuity: in both generations, as estimated by this admittedly crude technique: more than three quarters of the mothers (or possible mothers) attend church at least once a year and approximately three fifths of the fathers (or possible fathers) do so. The relatively low levels of religious practice in Norway (compared, for example, to that of the United States) seem to characterize not only this generation, but the generation before it. One can therefore tentatively predict a continuation of the present religious market place in Norway.
One of the merits of the Supply Side approach to the sociology of religion is that it has forced researchers to consider the complexity of religious beliefs and behaviors in countries which had previously been written off as “secularized.” Leaving aside the metaphor (model) of the religious market place, one is still forced to conclude from a closer look at a country like Norway, where religion might first appear to be quiescent, that God is still alive and well (and living in Oslo and Bergen) and that hope in life after death is still strong. Norway may be a more religious country than many Norwegians realize. Minimally, such analytic exercises should persuade one that, whatever the merits of the “secularization” theory, it leaves many phenomena unexplained as well as much variance unaccounted for. Cheerful predictions that religion will “continue” to diminish in Norway on the basis of church attendance figures ignores the large group involved in Private religion and the persistence of basic beliefs and practices among most Norwegians. These predictions also assume that there was a time of greater religious devotion in some unspecified golden age in the past, when one could just as well argue that the present situation in Norway is typical of the human condition in the absence of competition among different religious firms.
Eagerness to see religion collapsing seems to be particularly prevalent among agnostic and atheists researchers who think it ought to collapse and religious researchers who are trying to frighten the churches into self-reformation. Both groups could well afford to listen to the Supply Side theorists and consider more closely the religious situation in countries like Norway.
Ireland: The Success of Competition
Unfortunately for the efforts of those to apply the “supply side” perspective in Europe, there are few countries in which an open religious market place exists. Germany is a duopoly, the Netherlands a collapsing triopoly. However, Ireland is an excellent natural laboratory for testing the perspective. Ireland (the twenty six counties in the South) is a de facto Catholic monopoly while northern Ireland is a fiercely competitive market place in which Protestants and Catholics compete, not infrequently inn the streets. While both Catholics and Protestants in Ireland are devout, the supply side theory would predict that Catholics in the North would be more devout and more orthodox than Catholics in the South.
In fact the data in Table 9 do not force us to reject this hypothesis derived from supply side theory. Northern Catholics are notably more likely to be believe in God, the Devil, life after death, heaven and hell. They are also more likely to attend mass regularly and to reject extramarital sex and homosexual behavior. It seems probable that in the absence of competition on the southern counties, Catholicism has lost something of the “edge” it once had in both orthodoxy and devotion while in the competitive northern counties, the orthodoxy and devotional levels have been only slightly affected, if at all.
East Germany: The Only Success of Socialism
Socialism was avowedly atheistic and determined to wipe out religion since religion was, in Marx’s words, the “opiate” of the people. The evidence previously reported in this essay indicates that the revolution failed everywhere except in East Germany. The Hard Core Atheism rate in Russia is 7.1% higher than that of West Germany, the rate of Slovenia is 8.6% higher than that of West Germany, and the rate of Hungary is 6% higher than that of West Germany. In East Germany the atheism rate is 37.4% higher than in West Germany. If one compares the four countries with the Netherlands, Russia is 1% lower, Slovenia 2.5% higher, Hungary 0.1% lower, and East Germany 35.9% higher.Only in East Germany did socialism come close to winning its war with religion.
The case of Russia presents especially strong proof of the religious failure of Socialism. After three quarters of a century atheistic Socialism could produce only a marginally larger proportion of atheists than the collapse of religious pillarization in the Netherlands produced.
There remains the deviant case of East Germany. Perhaps the combination of a decade and a half of Nazism and four and a half decades of Socialism, the efficiency of the East Germany government, the weakness of Protestantism against political pressure partially explain the East German situation. Since the turn to atheism seems not to depend on parental devotion but is apparently the result of decisions made in childhood, the effectiveness of the teaching of atheism in East German schools and of the Socialist youth organizations might be among the mechanisms which produced the higher rates of atheism in East Germany.
If one first of all tries to account for the different rates in the capitalist and formerly Socialist countries, one notes that the correlation of .24 between formerly Socialist countries and Hard Core atheism is reduced to .05 (a decline of almost four- fifths) when church attendance as a child and childhood socialization about God are taken into account. If one compares East Germany and West Germany a control for childhood church attendance and youthful socialization about God reduces a correlation of .46 to .17, a decline of approximately 65%. Childhood socialization against religion account in great part for the differences between East Germany and West Germany and between formerly socialist countries and the rest of the sample. In East Germany education (which includes the mass media, youth organizations and other cultural influences as well as schools) was far more effective than in the other Socialist countries.
More than 60% of East Germans in their late twenties and early thirties were Hard Core atheists. The declining percent among older East Germans may be a return to religion as men and women age – which is often what an age correlation means. However, it is more likely that it means that the atheistic socialization became more effective with each new generation, especially since in West Germany the proportion atheistic does not increase or decrease with age. Among those in their late twenties and middle thirties, West Germans are more than fifty percentage points less likely to be atheists than East Germans.
The thesis that Catholics are somewhat more likely to be able to resist atheism than Lutherans seems to be sustained. East German Catholics in their late thirties and early forties for example are almost thirty percentage points less likely to be atheists than their Lutheran country persons. 28% of those whose mothers were Catholic are now Hard Core Atheists, as are 41% of those whose mothers were Protestants, and 74% of those whose mothers had no religion. (The last group of mothers were often, it may be presumed, the results of earlier atheistic socialization.)
One can produce a large number of Hard Core atheists in ones country if one is sufficiently determined to do so and sufficiently skilled to succeed in the effort but only under certain highly specific circumstances. Greeley (1995) has argued that Russian Socialism failed because the Russian religious heritage possessed rich imaginative resources – liturgy, art, monasticism, sacramental spirituality, mysticism — while East German Socialism succeeded because the Lutheran religious lacked similar resources. The fate of religion in the future of both countries will continue to be a fascinating subject for research.
As long as more or less all members of a society are socialized into religion, the contribution of parental religious practices to adulthood religiosity will be hardly visible. It is in the less religious societies where the crucial role of family socialization becomes apparent. It is for this reason that we expect the strongest impact of early church attendance on atheism in the least religious societies. In order to establish this relationship we proceed in two steps. On the left side in Table 9 we report the results of two simple linear regression analyses, one without and one with interaction terms. From the comparison of the left and the right column we can conclude that the interaction of country and early church attendance indeed contributes to the explained variance. The difference between the R2s squares is more than 3 percent. And as the significant interaction terms on the left side show the negative impact on atheism is indeed highest in those countries with a larger proportion of atheists. By contrast, in the most religious society, the U.S., early socialization seems to contribute less to atheism than in the average of the other countries: therefore we find a positive impact of the interaction term. However, the latter result may be an artifact of an regression analysis with a highly skewed dichotomous dependent variable. For statistical purposes, the logistic analysis on the right side of the Table is more adequate. In this analysis, only one of the interaction terms remains significant, i.e. the one for the former GDR. We can infer from these results that early childhood socialization has the expected impact on religion in all countries but it was particular strong in a communist environment which was extremely hostile to religion.
Obviously, the Hard Core atheism does not follow the path which is predicted by the secularization theory. Rather hard core atheism seems in great part to result from socialization experiences which precludes consideration of the fundamental religious questions after the 12th birthday. East Germany proves that the state can indeed produce a substantial number of Hard Core atheists if it works at the project ruthlessly enough.
This essay will provide aid and comfort to those who have constructed the supply side approach to the sociology of religion. It illustrates that the perspective can constrain scholars to ask a question which they might not investigate if they were not (however temporarily) viewing religion from the supply side perspective. It also establishes that those who have excluded from themselves definitively from the market place of religious products are relatively few in number (save in one country), are apparently not increasing over time, and are not influenced by either education or youthfulness. It also establishes that socialism was successful in increasing the proportion of Hard Core atheists in only one country.
However, the East German phenomenon should caution supply side theorists: on some occasions when the circumstances are right and the ruthless will is present, the demand for religious services can be lowered. Whether that decline is permanent remains to be seen.
Some social researchers are inclined to think that atheism is the coming religion, in part because many of them are atheists themselves (if not closet theists) and in part because there colleagues seem to be atheists (or perhaps closet theists) too. However, as this essay should establish, the rest of society is not a faculty office building or dinner party or the people with whom one eats lunch every day.
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