In a recent Wall Street Journal column, W. Bradford Wilcox looks at the “boost” that President Obama will give secularism through his rapid expansion of government. An Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University, Wilcox is also a 1994 graduate of the Acton Institute’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society program. Excerpt:

… the president’s audacious plans for the expansion of the government — from the stimulus to health-care reform to a larger role in education — are likely to spell trouble for the vitality of American religion. His $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 would bring federal, state and local spending to about 40% of the gross domestic product — within hailing distance of Europe, where state spending runs about 46% of GDP. The European experience suggests that the growth of the welfare state goes hand in hand with declines in personal religiosity.

A recent study of 33 countries by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, affiliation and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil. Public spending amounts to more than one half of the GDP in Sweden, where only 4% of the population regularly attends church. By contrast, public spending amounts to 18% of the Philippines’ GDP, and 68% of Filipinos regularly attend church.

Read “God Will Provide — Unless the Government Gets There First” on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion page.

  • Roger

    Very interesting article. The correlations are real, but I think professor Wilcox has the cause/effect backwards. Based on the history of capitalism and research into the nexus of economics and culture, religion/culture creates the institutions that guide the economy. Religion is a part of culture. Socialism waxed in the West as religion waned. Religion teaches that man is imperfect and in need of a Savior. Perfection will never happen in this life. Socialism teaches that man is born perfect, corrupted by capitalism and can be made perfect again by the state implementing socialism. As the West abandoned traditional Christianity, it has embraced socialism.

    This is slightly off topic, but does the Church have anything to say about poverty being an aspect of God’s curse of the earth and mankind after the fall? It seems that the Bible calls us to give to the poor, but not to try to eliminate poverty.

  • Jonathan B.

    Dear, Mr. Couretas

    I currently live abroad in the Philippines, (I’m and American and have been living here the last five years)and my first hand experience doesn’t seem to jive with what Mr. Wilcox is saying. Do Filipinos attend Church, yes they do, but I find it hard to believe that the Filipino government is spending only 18 percent of their GDP in public spending. I’ve seen a new interstate built connecting various provinces around where I live, I’ve seen the installation of toll booths for taxing the peoples right to move about freely…I haven’t seen more, but with the constant allegations of corruption in local, city, provincial and government quarters and the revolutionary past of this country, I must say that without seeing the facts Mr. Wilcox based his statements on, I’d have to say a sizable portion of the remaining 82 percent must be going into the pockets of the politicians…….I see slowing moving road repairs, derelict and crumbling buildings, and poverty and beauracracy everyday. Do I see improvements….Yes, there are several convenience stores, fast food restaraunts, that have been built over the last few years, even a mall that was built where I live a few years before I moved here. Improvements are being made, but were I gambling man I, which I’m not, I’d wager with the penniless poor I see so much of, someone more readily able to pick up the tab is paying willfully or unwillfully for these improvements………Regardless, the correlation of church attendance and public spending in relation to the Gross Demostic Product is puzzling to me as I speak from experience having lived here. Ill close by saying that I fear that America will end up like the Philippines, corrupt, overly beauracratic (if it isn’t already) with no middle class……..I would appreciate some response if possible.

    Sincerely,

    JB

  • daniel

    Your point is the higher the poverty rate the greater the attendance at church. After that your point is confusing…
    is the point that Sweden with more than 30x the GDP per capita and more than 10x the buying power than that of a citizen in the Phillipines is better able to fund a welfare program?
    Or is it “God through the church” is lifting ever higher numbers of people above the national poverty line in the Phillines to the point that it’s trending toward less than 2%?

  • Neal Lang

    “I haven’t seen more, but with the constant allegations of corruption in local, city, provincial and government quarters and the revolutionary past of this country, I must say that without seeing the facts Mr. Wilcox based his statements on, I’d have to say a sizable portion of the remaining 82 percent must be going into the pockets of the politicians…….”

    Query: If not the people of the Philippines, who elects these corrupt politicians? Where does the 18% of the GDP come from that the government does spend? Do you actually believe that if this corrupt government would spend of the GDP that the results would be different?

    Trying to relate your experience as an American coming from a fully industrialized country with those of a country just now moving from a mostly agrarian economy is not likely to produce an accurate assessment of the data. It appears that what the Philippines economy needs is private sector capital investment. Increase government’s take of the GDP is unlikely to promote such investment.

    As with America, the Filipinos got the government they elect.

  • Neal Lang

    “Or is it “God through the church” is lifting ever higher numbers of people above the national poverty line in the Phillines to the point that it’s trending toward less than 2%?”

    According to the Framers of Constitution, the purpose of government is not to lift people above the “poverty line”. For that matter, neither is it the purpose of the Church. All government can do is provide the circumstances that might promote someones success: the rule of law; a stable economy; a minimum of odius and unnecessary regulations; etc. The Church and the family is their lend a hand when unforseen or uncontrollable forces impact the survival of an individual.