Sunday, May 4, 2014

My response to "Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom"

The BYU Law channel recently posted a video from Clay Christensen about religious freedom:

Vacuous scare tactic or good point?


I don't know whether my submitted comment will be posted, so I paste my response below.

"Clay's point that the democratic function relies heavily upon the compliance of the majority is well taken. A state where the majority does not voluntarily obey the majority of the substantive laws would  be inefficient at best, and dysfunctional at worst.

His second point, though, is poorly supported at best, and inaccurate and insulting at worst.  He said
"If you take away religion, you can't hire enough police," and explicitly drew a positive correlation between weekly church attendance + a belief in accountability to God, and obedience to laws.  I think a rather large proportion of those who either do not attend church or do not believe they are accountable to God would balk, despite the persuasive mellow tones playing in the background, at the suggestion that the only leash holding them back from law-breaking is the threat of police enforcement.  Religious folks don't have a corner on the moral market, and I am not aware of evidence that they are, on average, any more or less law-abiding than their non-church attending, non-theistic counterparts.

Though not acquainted with the relevant literature myself, I would also be unsurprised to find a lack of empirical evidence supporting Clay's claim- I can think of some relatively godless countries with much lower crime rates than some highly religious ones, for example. I would speculate that other factors (the corruptness of the government, the economic security of the actor, the efficiency and fairness of the country's laws, the cost of compliance, etc.) are more predictive of voluntary compliance with laws than one's church attendance.  If your aim truly is a functioning democracy, then you should focus on the factors that most powerfully predict that functionality: like economic opportunity, an efficient and accessible justice system, a strong and stable central government, etc.

Regardless of whether I've speculated well, what Clay's done is inappropriate: used the fear of law-breaking masses in order to promote religion, bereft of compelling evidence."


  1. Just to clarify a point, Clay Christensen actually was quoting a "'Marxistic' economist from China" that was answering Mr. Christensen's question about whether he found out anything interesting during his stay in the US. What is inappropriate here is your misrepresentation of the facts recorded in the video itself.

    1. what was the so called economists name

  2. Agreed, Clay was quoting the economist- for the first minute of the video. After which he relies on the reasoning of the economist to make his point, while speaking in first person, that we should promote religion to counter the fear of law-breaking masses that will otherwise result.

    "As religion loses its influence over the lives of Americans" plays while the video shows a black panhandler (dreadful, though not in any way relevant except that many people find it yucky and are thus more inclined toward the cleansing antidote Clay offers) and an apparently godless man being arrested. It was indeed Clay, not the economist, who said "if you take away religion, you can't hire enough police."

    And a request- please take ownership for your comments. I put my name on these posts- I invite you to do so as well.

  3. I personally am not a church-goer but respect those who do. Nevertheless, though I have also never read the Bible, I fully recognize that the principles therein are universally enshrined in the mores, ethics and laws found throughout Western civilization. Atheists and agnostics cannot help but to absorb all that "religious stuff" indirectly and/or subliminally and so shape their own mores, remembering that," man is an island..." So Clay's points are irrefutable - though one has to use a little creativity to get at the essence of his argument.


Search This Blog