A little comments food-fight starter for a slow Friday news cycle. Even your friendly neighborhood atheist blogger is surprised by this result: My memory of youthful Christian lessons is rusty but I do vaguely recall something about rich men and heaven and camels and the eye of a needle. Then again, there’s a difference between praying for a Lamborghini and praying for a pay raise to help make ends meet. Wanting more wealth doesn’t necessarily make you greedy.
The question: Why are born-again Christians more likely than those who don’t describe themselves as born again to tie wealth to faith? If anything, you’d think it was the opposite, that the “cafeteria Christians” who aren’t closely studying Jesus’s teachings would somehow convince themselves that money in one’s pocket is a sign of God’s favor.
When you ask if prayer can help make someone wealthier, you see the same sort of split — born-agains divide narrowly, 38/41, but Christians who don’t call themselves born-again lean heavily against the idea, 13/74.
Read YouGov’s write-up of these results and you’d be at a loss to explain why there’s a difference. Peek into the crosstabs, though, and you’ll see an interesting, unremarked-upon demographic split. The results by race on whether prayer can make you wealthier:
Whites overwhelmingly say no, Hispanics also say no although a bit less overwhelmingly, but a plurality of blacks say yes. On the question of whether wealth is a sign of God’s favor, you see less support among all three but a similar trend in terms of who’s more open to the idea:
Thirty-four percent of blacks say definitely or probably versus 24 percent of Hispanics and nine percent of whites. One more interesting result: Here’s what happens when you ask people if they’ve ever watched religious programming.
Whites are basically evenly split, Hispanics are a bit more likely to say they have, but blacks are overwhelmingly likely to say so. YouGov didn’t publish its data on how it determined which people in each group are “born again” but obviously, to some extent, the “born-again” numbers are a function of the numbers among black Christians specifically and, in all likelihood, fans of televangelism more broadly. That’s where you’re most likely to find “prosperity gospel” preachers like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and T.D. Jakes. (Osteen doesn’t like being described that way, but whatever.) YouGov actually polled people on whether they had a favorable view of Osteen, Dollar and Jakes, among other preachers, and found that they were each much better known to, and better liked by, blacks and (to a lesser extent) Latinos than to whites. Osteen’s favorability was 22/35 among whites, 39/28 among Hispanics, and 51/18 among blacks. Dollar’s: 3/24 among whites, 8/15 among Hispanics, 28/46 among blacks. Jakes’s: 10/18 among whites, 24/12 among Hispanics, 70/15(!) among blacks. It may be as simple as this: A group that’s historically been impoverished is more likely to be searching for ways to improve its quality of life, and televangelists, very cannily, know how to exploit that desire on a mass scale. Although, if that’s the explanation, you need to explain why the numbers in this poll between people who earn $100,000 or less annually aren’t much different from those who earn more than $100K. In particular, the numbers for Osteen, Dollar, and Jakes are nearly identical in the two groups. This may be a cultural difference more than a simple “people who earn less are more likely to seek riches from God” thing.