December 29, 2009

John Micklethwait and
Adrian Wooldridge
c/o Penguin Book Inc.
175 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

I have read God is Back (Micklethwait and Wooldridge, Penguin, New York 2009) with great interest and pleasure.  I take your point that religion flourishes under the open market conditions of separation of church and state and that it comfortably adopts technology.  One remembers that early Christianity expanded with the new information technology of the time: the book replaced the scroll. 

Your third point is more subtle.  In chapter five you suggest that five things correlate:

  1. High density of a particular faith in a population.
  2. High rate of religious observance.
  3. Prosperity.
  4. Happiness.
  5. Fertility.

It almost sounds like the core of a new denomination.  In the extremely unlikely event you are so moved, do consult me.  I have some scientific insights that bear on scripture that might help and that you will not find elsewhere. 

I trust your work will be widely acclaimed.  In fact I shall post this letter on my website and shall give copies to some I think will be interested (including one brother who this year published a book on religion in public life and one who is working on one). 

As regards the relationship between religious observance and fertility, I may be of help.  There is more to it than implying that religion is the Viagra of the people. 

Despite the upheavals you describe so well, and despite the fact that we agree that if a person says he or she is religious, then it is probably true, I suspect that there is a deep strain of consistency.  When Michael Gorbachev, a communist and thus atheist, started Perestroika, he told the story of a traveler who found some men at work.  He asked the first what they were doing and was told, “Well we have all these stones to haul around, don’t you see?”  He asked a second, who straightened up proudly and announced, “We are building a cathedral.”  Gorbachev knew this was something everyone would understand.  Also notice the story is a homily, a rhetorical technique invented by Nathan and much used by Jesus.  No Protestant sermon in the South seems quite complete without one.  Gorbachev still breathed the religious air his parents did.

So consider that a person who values religion probably values tradition and is rather likely to adopt the religion of his ancestors and in fact worship in the same building.  That person is also likely to socialize with others who worship there.  Carry that on long enough and the members of the congregation are (in greater measure than their unobserving peers) marrying fairly distant cousins. 

And that spectacularly improves fertility.  Evidence is on the enclosed ten minute DVD, a little oversimplified but overwhelming.  There is more evidence, which I put on the website. 

The same fact accounts for the darker side of religion, and indeed of all forms of ethnic diversity: sectarian or ethnic violence.  You point out, as did Nial Ferguson in War of the World, that ethnic or religious strife can come out of nowhere.  Two populations can mix and get along just fine, intermarrying without ruffling feathers, and then suddenly they start killing each other.  And when that starts it is exceedingly difficult to stop. 

Don’t look for any rational explanation.  You mentioned that certain Sunni Muslims regard Shiite Muslims as apostates.  That could hardly be sillier.  Either the Shiites are really Muslim (and not apostates) or they never have been Muslim (and cannot be apostates).  This does not seem to bother the Sunni who call for their eradication. 

What happens I feel sure, although this is an interpretation rather than hard evidence like the DVD, is that during the happy times, couples who marry across the line, be it religious or ethnic or just about any line you care to consider, are not marrying cousins to the same degree that those who respect the line marry cousins.  Call those well disposed to outsiders “angels” and those who are not open to outsiders “imps.”  The angels have significantly fewer children than the imps.  By and by the angel population has been depleted on both sides.  In the relative absence of the voices of the angels on both sides the imps become more strident, and soon rivers run red.

In the fullness of time, this can correct itself.  Once the violence reaches sufficient intensity, there is no (or vastly reduced) marrying across the line: the imps lose their reproductive advantage, and the number of angels recovers, most people being pretty nice once you get to know them. 

If anyone did feel the call to begin a new denomination, this should be something built in from the foundation.

Thank you for such an excellent read.  If I can be of any further use to you, do let me know. 



M. Linton Herbert MD and

There have been 2,986 visitors so far.
Home page.