Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Give Me That Supply-Side Religion

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 17, 2010

While we’re on the topic of articles in First Things, I note that John Lamont has some serious fun with “The Prophet Motive” in the April 2010 issue (not yet online). He argues that supply-side economics provides a good explanation of why so many Americans go to Church.

Religion in the United States has prospered compared with Europe and even Canada, Lamont suggests, because America has a tradition of religious initiative which permits the emergence of new groups which emphasize the supernatural as older groups lapse into secularism. By supplying the real deal (which is what people want from religion initially, before they grow lax), various religious groups in the United States continue to keep new people coming, even as other groups (which no longer supply the real deal) wither and die. Hence churchgoing in the United States is remarkably high compared with other broadly similar regions.

Societies which are more traditionally structured in terms of religion, such as Canada and Europe, have been characterized to one degree or another by established churches. When these grew lax, alternatives did not arise. According to Lamont, who teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Australia, a model drawn from supply side economics explains the worldwide data on this question, whereas other models that have been advanced (such as those of the “free market” and “rational choice” schools) fail to explain the data even though they are typically cited as the cause of religious decline by secularists.

Make of this what you will—and surely couching it in terms of economic theory is deliberately whimsical—it does provide a strong sociological argument for what most users have been saying all along. The Catholic Church experienced immense decline as soon as it relaxed its discipline, blurred its supernatural focus, and shifted toward rational accommodation with the world. In contrast, strict adherence to supernatural Revelation puts the focus on what we might call the Ultimate Supply Side. The numbers say this will work. Or, to express it in Lamont’s concluding words, “In short, if the Catholic Church is to thrive, a revival of zeal and reimposition of discipline within it is urgently necessary.”

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: ebierer1724 - Mar. 18, 2010 4:42 PM ET USA

    Your conclusion may be true, but here is the challenge: What is the practical application? We should all pray for a continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and accept in faith that God will provide that encounter with the supernatural as we strive to live our lives more and more like Jesus Christ. We should seek counsel in the teachings of the Church and the graces of the Sacraments, living in the World while not being "of it". Love is the movement, flowing from Christ through us.