warning: english is not my native lenguage. excuse me if my writing is horrible

In my "Foundations and development of modern Latinamerican culture" (lol, long name) class we're studying the modern religiosity of the continent, and comparing it with that of the US and Europe. We study the US only for comparative purposes, as Europe, for historical reasons, is more important in our analisys
So first we saw the classic secularization theory (stated by Marx, Weber, and all the classic sociologists)...no need to explain that...but then we saw this other, more recent, theory that explains religion, and how is possible that one of the most developed countries in the world (and the one latinos more often look at) has always been one of the most religious ones. The theory had a name, but I can't remember it now! I know many of you must know it, but I had never heard it before :P (I'm not american btw, I'm chilean)

Well, the basic premises are:
-the religious behaviour can be explained with an economical, rational approach. the religious market must be seen as a perfect one.
-every human being needs some kind of spiritual belief
-more religions, churches, congregations, sects, etc, make for more religious people, as everyone will eventually find something that suits them (because of the need for religion presumedly all of us have). Also people (and congregations) are more inclined to "mix" religions, in their efforts to find an ideal belief.
-the competition created by the religious market will make religious organizations become more efficient, etc, just as companies do, and make them create publicity, ads, or any sort of original resource to try catch more adherents.

...those are the basic premises, but there are others, like the one that explains why won't all churches (like the Catholic) change constantly to try gain more followers. Though it sounded great, I think is flawed. It won't work everywhere. They explained the high lack of belief in modern Europe by saying that for centuries religion in there was a monopoly controlled by the State (?); but that didn't explain the high religiosity in Latin America, where there was a religious monopoly for centuries too. I asked the teacher how did it explain the existence of atheists (like me!), but it seems it doesn't...

So basically, this theory only works for the US. Since I don't live there I can't actually tell if it is 100% accurate, but it does seem to do a good work. I find the whole economics approach interesting, specially since I live in Chile, where any sort of economical explanation of religion or religiousness would be seen as highly offensive...

What do you think? How do u explain the strangeness of a developed but highly religious country? I've always been curious about this topic!

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The theory you have been taught is rubbish. It's a free market explanation. It explains the oddity of the US in terms which are familiar and "sacred" to the citizens of the US, but which do not make much sense to anyone who was not indoctrinated into this system from birth. :-)

The real reasons are a lot less flattering. The US was founded by dissenting groups, especially dissident religious groups who believed that Europe had discriminated against them. This led first to the historical protection of religion which later transformed into the virtual promotion of religion by government, including massive tax exemptions.

Endemic racism and the worst aspects of rampant capitalism resulted in deep class divisions which were entrenched by educational systems which pandered to the rich and penalized the poor.

The governmental system was not designed for modern life and lacked the ability to prevent endemic corruption in its ranks. It is a system which has quickly resulted in chaos and corruption in every other country where it has been imposed.

The result is a system which the average American distrusts and fears. People do not want to be governed and are suspicious of anything imposed or provided by government. The conservative party have utilized this deep distrust by making it a policy to do as little governing as possible - a contradiction in terms which only the US could sell to its citizens.

One of the casualties of the system and its accompanying culture is that there are very few controls on things that affect the average citizen and very few safety nets or supports for those who do not economic bargaining power. There is no national curriculum and no external impartially bench-marked national examination system of academic content. The only national bench-marks are vague generalized achievement tests of English and mathematics.

The schooling system is heavily commercialized and therefore competitive and marketed with all the usual gimics which put a good face on a bad product and deliberately obsure the truth for the sake of greed and economic gain. As a result the US has the worst secondary and first stage tertiary system in the industrialized world. It is the most expensive, the most unreliable and certainly the slowest. In line with good marketing practices it keeps its students in school for as long as possible, puts limits on credits from work done outside the system and provides its students with very prestigious names and titles for work a level of work and an outcome which is completed much further down the qualification naming ladder in other countries. While Europe and Australia turn our fully functioning and very capable professionals at the end of the Bachelor-named degree, America does not commence professional level training until the Masters and usually the Doctorate-named degree program.

Not only are Americans badly educated compared to the rest of the world but the type of education they receive is also deficient in particular ways. The academic power base is commercial. It is not in the interests of commercial ventures to teach students how to detect, assess and protect themselves from advertising campaigns. Logic, clear thinking, and market protection skills are not taught in the secondary schools as they are in many other countries.

Where there are state-run schools parents, community members and special interest groups have a rediculous amount of power. Instead of being run by the experts, people with no educational background can set the syllabus, hire and fire teachers and veto text books or academic content which does not support their prejudices. This terrible system is built on the average citizen's fear and distrust of educators and government bodies. Very few Americans who try to figure out what is wrong with the system can ever get beyond this well-entrenched belief that it is a good thing for ignorant people to be heavily involved at all levels of the educational system.
I always had a feeling that high religiosity in the US was strongly linked to that "don't mess with our affairs and let us run our own schools as we see fit" attitude.

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