Researchers have shown that better government services are linked to lower levels of strong religious beliefs.
The study, “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role,” was published April 12 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Basically, the model states that if people can get what they need from the government, they’re less likely to turn to a religion or a divine power for help.
Authors Miron Zuckerman and Chen Li of the University of Rochester and Ed Diener of the Universities of Utah and Virginia wrote that their findings suggest “that if the function that religiosity provides can be acquired from some other source, the allure of religion will diminish.”
The study also showed a delayed link between government services and levels of religiosity. In one example, between 2008 and 2013 in the United States, “better government services in a specific year predicted lower religiosity one to two years later,” researchers wrote.
“If a secular entity provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from God or other supernatural entities. Government is the most likely secular provider,” the researchers concluded. “Better government services were related to lower levels of religiosity.”
The findings “imply that the government can provide an extra layer of security . . . that might help people cope with future needs, both expected and unexpected, and as such, might reduce dependence on God or other supernatural entities,” researchers wrote. “If the benefits acquired in the religious exchange can be acquired elsewhere, religion becomes less useful.”
In 2013, Zuckerman, the paper’s lead author, published a study with other Rochester researchers finding that the more intelligent someone is, the less strong his or her religious beliefs tend to be.