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By James Palmer|
Those European countries that were, at one stage, officially atheist are among the continent's less developed. Nobody is holding up Albania, for instance, as a role model. The argument that religion correlates strongly with a lack of development is simply bad logic, brought about by the specific conditions of recent European secularization. Correlation, as ever, does not necessarily equal causation. The author of the 2006 Pfizer college study, Phil Zuckerman, has made this clear, writing, "People think I'm arguing that secularity causes good social outcomes, and that's not necessarily the case."
Sociological studies have repeatedly shown that religious people are more socially committed, more likely to volunteer their time to aid others, have a stronger sense of community, and suf-fer less from anomie and alienation. The US, the most religious Western nation, also has by far the highest levels of charity and volunteer work.
Religion is a crucial element of a healthy civil society, something which China needs. It provides a set of values that go beyond the materialism and short-term thinking which are repeatedly derided in the Chinese press.
The rest of the world is, in fact, rapidly proving that secularization and modernity don't have to go together. Highly religious South Korea remains a powerhouse for its size, especially compared to its atheist neighbor.
The previous [US] "Great Awakenings" were strongly linked with labor reform, anti-corruption, egalitarian ideals, and women's suffrage. The anti-slavery movement was driven by evangelical Christians, while the civil rights movement grew out of the black churches of the South.
The greatest politicians tend to be both highly motivated and strongly empathic, two traits often associated with faith. No religious politicians would mean, for instance, no Reverend Martin Luther King, no Sun Yat-sen, no Gandhi, no Nelson Mandela, and no Kim Dae-jung.
China's recent steps toward a wider public role for religion should be applauded, not condemned based on the narrow experience of the modern US.
The author is an editor with the Global Times and a historian. jamespalmer@ globaltimes.com.cn