In light of the last post, George pointed me to this article in The Boston Globe by Michael Fitzgerald. The article is entitled Satan, the great motivator: The curious economic effects of religion.
The article discusses recent research linking religious belief with economic effectiveness. A particular focus in the article is on a recent research that showed that belief in hell to be predictive of economic success:
What makes economies grow? It’s a question that has occupied thinkers for centuries. Most of us would tick off things like education levels, openness to trade, natural resources, and political systems.Why would there be a relationship between hell and economic success?
Here’s one you might not have considered: hell.
A pair of Harvard researchers recently examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies - and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell.
Hell is, at root, a behavioral regulator. The fear of hell keeps people on the straight and narrow. When this fear is coupled with a conflation of virtue and work--the Protestant Work ethic--you have a powerful cocktail, fear aiding capitalistic productivity. Fearing hell we strive to be a good person and this means, in America today, working hard, being punctual, and forming the "seven habits" that make us "highly effective."
The article also points to another link between hell and work ethic. Specifically, we want our kids to internalize the faith but we don't want them to become so religious that they hurt the economy. From the article:
Most strikingly, if belief in hell jumps up sharply while actual church attendance stays flat, it correlates with economic growth. Belief in heaven also has a similar effect, though less pronounced. Mere belief in God has no effect one way or the other. Meanwhile, if church attendance actually rises, it slows growth in developing economies.In short, it seems that belief in hell is nicely portable. Hell regulates behavior outside of the church building and helps to keep us at work.