Why Germans Hate God (Part I)

Provocative title, no? Unfortunately, the title cannot be true of Germans in general for the simple fact that, according to some sources at least, a plurality of them does not believe in a personal god and would thus be insane if they hated something that did not exist. Belief in God aside, however, religion is not as popular in Germany as it is in the United States. There are no doubt several reasons one can point to for this fact, but I believe that one of the strongest reasons can be gleaned from economics.

To an economist, strong competition is the most efficient and effective way of ensuring that consumers get products they value. When there are many firms competing to supply a particular good or service and consumers can easily buy from any firm they like, the inevitable result is that any firm not able to provide something that people value will soon go bust.

Though it may sound cynical (it is not), one can think of religion existing in a market of buyers and sellers. The market for religion has firms, or churches, producing a good, which can be simply called religion, in the hopes of selling it the consumers, who can be virtually anyone.

Now consider two countries, A and B, that have different markets for religion:

Country A has a free and open market for religion. Anyone who desires to start a church of any religion can do so with little difficulty, but they can do so only with money that they raise themselves. To stay in business, therefore, those who start a church must be able to convince consumers that their church is producing something of value, otherwise people will not be willing to pay money for it (in the form of tithes or other donations) and the church will soon go out of business. Thus, the clergy has a strong incentive to market the religion in such a way that will appeal to consumers. Furthermore, since it is uncomplicated to establish a new church in Country A, any successful church will soon attract imitators and innovators who believe they have a better product to sell. Over time, the market for religion in Country A is comprised of many churches selling many different religions, and only the churches that are best at selling its religion are able to survive for any length of time. In the end, consumers of religion in Country A receive a large degree of freedom to pick the specific church that best fits their needs and desires.

Country B, on the other hand, has instituted a more restrained market for religion. Country B’s government has decided that preserving and protecting religion is in the interest of the state, and it believes the best way to do so is to give large sums of public money only to those religions that carry an official seal of approval from the government. In addition, these seals of approval are hard to receive for new religions—sometimes impossible—and any religion that does not obtain official approval from the government cannot legally be established. Since churches that are already well established face little threat of competition and have guaranteed income, they act as monopolies and are able to function with little regard to the desires of the consumers. As a result, consumers of religion in Country B can choose one of the relatively few government-sponsored religions or simply not go to church at all.

The examples are admittedly a bit simplistic, but ask yourself which country you think would have a more religious population, A or B? And related to that, do you think America is more like Country A or B? What about Germany?

It is a bit of trick question, but the answers will be revealed after I return from my sojourn to Luxembourg this weekend. I’m sure all will be in suspenders, as my dear aunt used to say—or still does say, for all I know. She ain’t dead yet.