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Religion in America: Why Many Democrats and Europeans DOn't Get It


  • Scott Atran

    () (IJN - Institut Jean-Nicod - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)


If people vote rationally for their economic interests, one would expect Democrats to be perennial favorites among working poor and middle class, and especially so in this year of economic downturn. Why then does polling show the election a tossup? A culture's moral compass is not an innate or logical determination, but an underdetermined product of historical contingency and willful choice. Belief in moral "rightness" or "truth" is always a matter of faith rather than reason. Only some professional philosophers, jurists, scientists and academics believe that the principal point of political argument (or most any argument) is, or ought to be, truth rather than persuasion, and that an argument's principal appeal should be reason rather than passion. The fundamental social constituent of economic and political culture in the United States was neither the individual nor the state, but the sectarian community. The religious community in the USA was a civic as well as moral community, a combination which infused American economic and political culture with particular dynamism. As Darwin noted, in competition between groups with similar levels of technology and population size, those groups will tend to win out that favor and transmit willingness to sacrifice some self interest for group interests (that also promote individual interests in the long run). Religions with morally concerned deities arguably made the rise of civilization and large-scale cooperation between genetic strangers possible (historical and cross-cultural analyses of 186 societies finds that the larger the population, the more likely it has deities who are concerned with management of morality and the mitigation of selfishness).

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Atran, 2008. "Religion in America: Why Many Democrats and Europeans DOn't Get It," Post-Print ijn_00505423, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:ijn_00505423
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    References listed on IDEAS

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