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The Impact of Religion on Georgia’s Economy

According to a study from 2015 by WIN/Gallup, 93% of Georgians consider themselves to be religious. There is only one country in the world which has a higher rate, namely Thailand, where this number stands at 94%, while the same percentage of religious people as in Georgia could only be found in Armenia, Bangladesh, and Morocco. All other nations of the world are less enchanted about religion. Worldwide, on average only 63% of people say they are believers, and in some countries, like China and Japan, the number goes down to 7% and 13%, respectively.

Given that in this ranking Georgia has a shared second place, I want to speculate about the economic consequences of such firm belief. While connecting economics and religiosity may seem to be an obscure endeavor to some readers, this avenue of research has a long tradition and generated many fascinating insights. In this article, I want to report on features of belief systems that were found in this branch of academic research to be conducive or detrimental to economic success. The reader, who may be much better acquainted with Georgian Orthodoxy than I am, is invited to draw own conclusions for Georgia.


AFTERLIFE VS. HERE AND NOW

Religions differ very much in regard to their orientations towards the afterlife. The most extreme cases are arguably Judaism and Islam. According to the prominent American Rabbi Neil Gillman, for a long time Judaism did not even know the concept of afterlife: “With Daniel, composed at the very end of the Biblical period, bodily resurrection enters into the picture for the first time. Until then, death is death. When you are dead, you are dead. Nothing. No mentioning of the soul in the Hebrew scriptures. Not as an entity. It is the breath that vivifies the body, and death is the extinction of that spark.” (Quote from the conversation he had with Robert Kuhn, to be seen on closertotruth.com). Gillman goes on to say that the concept of an afterlife was introduced to Judaism in the Maccabean wars, when there was a need for martyrs. It was difficult to motivate warriors to sacrifice their lives fighting against the Hellenistic Seleucids if there was no reward whatsoever. In this situation “comes the author of Daniel 12 who says that death is not the end, that those of you who die for God and Torah and Israel will be resurrected.” 

Also in modern times, the afterlife plays a rather minor role for Jewish believers. If there will be consequences for good or bad deeds, they are rather expected to happen in the current world. When in 2003, a terror attack blew up a bus in the ultraorthodox Shmuel Ha-Navi neighborhood in Jerusalem, killing 20 people who came back from their prayers at the Western Wall, representatives of the ultraorthodox community considered this to be punishment for sins. As an ultraorthodox Jew named Hechkel Rosenboim explained: “The attack happened in the period of ‘in-between times,’ which is the three-week vacation that the ultra-Orthodox community enjoys during the summer. During this time, there are many immodest behaviors, such as going to the beach, where the laws of separation [men and women swim separately] aren’t upheld. It shows that God is signaling to the people of Israel that even during this time, one must study the Torah. Always study the Torah.” (Quoted after an article by Haim Levinson in Maariv).

The other extreme is Islam, where life here on earth is not much more than a kind of “exam”, serving to separate the pious from the sinners and, if the test was passed, gives admission to paradise. All that is in this world is nothing but dunya, worthless in itself and just preparation for the eternal afterlife. The stakes are high – eternal paradise vs. eternal hell. (Hence, it is particularly easy to recruit suicide bombers among Muslims, as there is a strong incentive to secure one’s eternal place in heaven through one single deed on earth.) But what about economics?

The more a person is oriented towards the afterlife, the less they are eager to accumulate wealth before death, which is an important driving force for economic zeal. This idea, which goes back to Max Weber, also applies to the distinction between Catholics and Protestants. As Jerry Bowyer paraphrased Weber in Forbes Magazine: “The focus on this life as opposed to the afterlife tends to create large income streams. […] The result is a well-educated, highly skilled diligent work force and large pools of capital. Without this, or something like it, modern capitalism would not have arisen as it did.”

Where is Georgian orthodoxy located on this scale of worldly vs. afterlife orientation? It seems to be as if the Georgian Orthodox church, most prominently represented by its Patriarch, is very interested in worldly affairs. The most unusual experience in this respect I had three years ago, when, on behalf of USAid, I had authored a study on the fiscal implications of the local self-government reform which was on the agenda at that time. I met with deputy ministers and other government experts to present our results, and despite the matter being highly technical, there was a lot of controversy around this reform. However, I was surprised when a few weeks after we had concluded our work, the Patriarch himself chimed in: “We will never tolerate this [the reform] and will do our best to make sure this does not happen.” (Quoted after eurasianet.org.) To me, its strong political involvement suggests that the Georgian church is very concerned about the world here and now and does not focus excessively on the world hereafter.


DIRECT VS. INDIRECT RESPONSIBILITY

Religion also has a strong influence on the level of corruption in a society. This has been pointed out most clearly when comparing other groups with Christian Protestants – in most studies, Protestants are so much less corrupt than everybody else that in corruption research one calls this the “Protestant Effect” (cf. Shadabi: “The Impact of Religion on Corruption”, Journal of Business Inquiry, 2013). The scholars who found these results hypothethize that in Protestantism, each believer is directly held responsible by God, without any intermediaries (priests, saints, popes). In Protestant theology, clergy does not have any privileged access to God, and – unlike saints in Catholicism – can for sure not influence God’s decision about whether one goes to paradise or hell. 

In Catholicism, on the other hand, the individual is part of a hierarchical structure in which, as far as salvation is concerned, he is not held responsible by God directly, but by the priest (who, as part of his worldly ground staff, also takes the role of the confessor). A priest is of course much less of an authority than God, may have his own moral flaws, and, most importantly, it will often be easy to hide corruptive deeds from his eyes (or just not tell him about it).

In this respect, the church of Georgia seems to resemble more the Catholics than the Protestants. A hierarchy of clergy is set between the individual believer and God.


COSTLY LIFESTYLE

There is another economic aspect to religion. Namely, exercising religious activities may require a lot of resources. I was confronted with this fact when recently I guided two religious Jewish friends of mine through Tbilisi. Just over this one afternoon, I realized how many of their resources they spend on the observance of the Halacha, the traditional Jewish law. To prevent eating non-kosher food, they brought their own camping stove with them to prepare kosher food in the hotel room. On Shabbat they were not allowed to expend money, hence their tourist program was highly restricted on that day. Finally, after a long walk, we had made it to a vegetarian restaurant in the Old City, but my guests were not sure that they could really eat there, because there was no guarantee that on the plates had not been served meat at some earlier time, or the cook had prepared meat before he made the vegetarian dish, or whatnot. They called a rabbi in Israel, and after a lengthy discussion, it was decided that eating in the restaurant was too risky. Hence, we had to walk even further to a kosher restaurant close to the Synagogue. Likewise, practicing Muslims also pursue a costly lifestyle, praying five times a day, having to get up early in the morning (even if they went to bed late), keeping diet during Ramadan, and so on. 

The Christian religion, on the other hand, does not demand that much time and resources from its believers. In Orthodoxy, one should go for two to three hours to the church on Saturday and the same on Sunday. This is not overly expensive and should not have a significant impact on economic activities.

Let us wrap up. Robert Barro, one of the most eminent American economists who has worked extensively on the connection between religion and economics, looks at the issue mainly from an empirical angle. In his frequently cited 2003 article “Religion and Economic Growth across Countries” (coauthored with his wife Rachel McCleary and published in the American Sociological Review), he comes to the result that “Economic growth responds positively to religious beliefs […] but negatively to church attendance.” He argues that there is a kind of inverse U-curve: looking at data from 59 countries, on average the effect of religiosity on growth is positive, yet if people excessively sacrifice resources for religious activities, the economic costs exceed the benefits. 

Whatever one thinks about the benefits of religion for the Georgian economy, the cost of an Orthodox religious lifestyle does not seem to be overly high. Therefore, unlike in Bangladesh and Morocco, 93% believers in Georgia are not a number that gives rise to economic concerns.

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Simon Appleby on Sunday, 10 April 2016 18:06

An interesting article.

Religiosity in East Asia is a difficult thing to quantify, as there is not the same concept of being an exclusive member of a single confession. Chinese villages in Hong Kong or Taiwan will have clan halls for ancestor veneration according to Confucian rites, Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, Protestant chapels and Catholic churches; almost 100% of inhabitants engage in ancestor worship, most will also attend both Buddhist and Taoist ceremonies with equal devotion. When asked their religion, they just say being Chinese. In the Communist Mainland, admitting to a religious affiliation excludes one from party membership or a government job, and will make one a target for Public Security Bureau scrutiny, so not surprisingly most people keep their religious convictions private. Estimates of underground Catholics and underground Protestants range from 50-150 million people, or 3-10% of the population, on top of the 2% who are members of state-approved churches. Add to that hundreds of millions of Buddhists, Taoists and Ancestor Worshippers, either underground or state-sanctioned, and the 7% figure looks rather suspicious. The Communist Party of China does not want to admit that more of its people find primitive superstition to be more attractive than scientific materialism.

The economically robust economies of Greater China, Korea, Japan, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN all have a business elite, in many cases of Chinese ancestry, whose philosophy is deeply influenced by Confucian philosophy, which is not particularly theist in orientation. On top of that they may have another religion like Buddhism (Thailand), Catholicism (Philippines), or Protestantism (Indonesia and Korea). So the link between religious affiliation and economy may ignore underlying philosophical issues that pre-date adoption of formal religion.

An interesting article. Religiosity in East Asia is a difficult thing to quantify, as there is not the same concept of being an exclusive member of a single confession. Chinese villages in Hong Kong or Taiwan will have clan halls for ancestor veneration according to Confucian rites, Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, Protestant chapels and Catholic churches; almost 100% of inhabitants engage in ancestor worship, most will also attend both Buddhist and Taoist ceremonies with equal devotion. When asked their religion, they just say being Chinese. In the Communist Mainland, admitting to a religious affiliation excludes one from party membership or a government job, and will make one a target for Public Security Bureau scrutiny, so not surprisingly most people keep their religious convictions private. Estimates of underground Catholics and underground Protestants range from 50-150 million people, or 3-10% of the population, on top of the 2% who are members of state-approved churches. Add to that hundreds of millions of Buddhists, Taoists and Ancestor Worshippers, either underground or state-sanctioned, and the 7% figure looks rather suspicious. The Communist Party of China does not want to admit that more of its people find primitive superstition to be more attractive than scientific materialism. The economically robust economies of Greater China, Korea, Japan, Singapore and the rest of ASEAN all have a business elite, in many cases of Chinese ancestry, whose philosophy is deeply influenced by Confucian philosophy, which is not particularly theist in orientation. On top of that they may have another religion like Buddhism (Thailand), Catholicism (Philippines), or Protestantism (Indonesia and Korea). So the link between religious affiliation and economy may ignore underlying philosophical issues that pre-date adoption of formal religion.
Florian Biermann on Sunday, 10 April 2016 23:17

Thank you, Simon, for your well-informed explanations regarding religiosity in Asia.

Thank you, Simon, for your well-informed explanations regarding religiosity in Asia.
Simon Appleby on Sunday, 10 April 2016 18:50

Another issue of economic importance in the 20th century is how different religions view women and their economic role. Christian religious teachings have recommendations as to how relations within a family or household are governed, but make no stipulations regarding issues of economic empowerment, access to education , and inheritance of assets by women. Hence when western women agitated for their rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian religious arguments for this were much more compelling than religious arguments against. Christian societies that made better use of human capital by allowing women access to education and professional life had more robust economies, and ultimately prevailed over societies that deliberately kept women backward and economically unproductive according to religious edict.

The adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th century had huge effects upon womens status and their economic role. Pagan Roman law stated that women and children were the chattels of the husband, and (similarly to Islamic jurisprudence) a womans testimony in court was apportioned no veracity. Notwithstanding residual prejudice that lingered after Christianitys adoption, women were considered of equal merit before courts, and could successfully litigate against men in business disputes. Inheritance was still problematic due to pre-existing restrictions on females inheriting property, but the concept of independent female entrepreneurs operating under the full protection of the law was born.

A further religious issue that strengthened the economic potency and stability of the Christian Roman Empire was the religious prohibition against abortion and infanticide. Before the Empire adopted Christianity, 131 males per 100 females were born in the city of Rome, and 140 males per 100 females were born in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Unless a society is regularly having most of its young men slaughtered in battle, such a gender imbalance is catastrophic; young men on low incomes with no hope of marriage see no point in working hard, obeying the law and accumulating capital. Civil unrest, banditry and revolution are inevitable, none of which are good for economic growth. Constantines adoption of Christianity and the harsh penalties for infanticide probably extended the Eastern Roman Empires life by a millennium.

Multiconfessional countries and empires often saw, and see, huge economic disparity between ethnic and confessional groups. Before the Greek War of Independence, Greeks, Armenians and Jews controlled close to 80% of the Ottoman Empires economy. After Greek independence, Asia Minor Greeks were somewhat sidelined economically and Jews, Levantines and Armenians occupied many of their market niches. Indonesia has a Christian community (around 10% of the population) who control 85% of the economy, and the Chinese minority in Indonesia (mostly Protestant) control 70% of the economy despite being only 2% of the population. In both cases, expulsion and expropriation of successful Christian or Jewish minorities resulted in economic stagnation.

Another issue of economic importance in the 20th century is how different religions view women and their economic role. Christian religious teachings have recommendations as to how relations within a family or household are governed, but make no stipulations regarding issues of economic empowerment, access to education , and inheritance of assets by women. Hence when western women agitated for their rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian religious arguments for this were much more compelling than religious arguments against. Christian societies that made better use of human capital by allowing women access to education and professional life had more robust economies, and ultimately prevailed over societies that deliberately kept women backward and economically unproductive according to religious edict. The adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 4th century had huge effects upon womens status and their economic role. Pagan Roman law stated that women and children were the chattels of the husband, and (similarly to Islamic jurisprudence) a womans testimony in court was apportioned no veracity. Notwithstanding residual prejudice that lingered after Christianitys adoption, women were considered of equal merit before courts, and could successfully litigate against men in business disputes. Inheritance was still problematic due to pre-existing restrictions on females inheriting property, but the concept of independent female entrepreneurs operating under the full protection of the law was born. A further religious issue that strengthened the economic potency and stability of the Christian Roman Empire was the religious prohibition against abortion and infanticide. Before the Empire adopted Christianity, 131 males per 100 females were born in the city of Rome, and 140 males per 100 females were born in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Unless a society is regularly having most of its young men slaughtered in battle, such a gender imbalance is catastrophic; young men on low incomes with no hope of marriage see no point in working hard, obeying the law and accumulating capital. Civil unrest, banditry and revolution are inevitable, none of which are good for economic growth. Constantines adoption of Christianity and the harsh penalties for infanticide probably extended the Eastern Roman Empires life by a millennium. Multiconfessional countries and empires often saw, and see, huge economic disparity between ethnic and confessional groups. Before the Greek War of Independence, Greeks, Armenians and Jews controlled close to 80% of the Ottoman Empires economy. After Greek independence, Asia Minor Greeks were somewhat sidelined economically and Jews, Levantines and Armenians occupied many of their market niches. Indonesia has a Christian community (around 10% of the population) who control 85% of the economy, and the Chinese minority in Indonesia (mostly Protestant) control 70% of the economy despite being only 2% of the population. In both cases, expulsion and expropriation of successful Christian or Jewish minorities resulted in economic stagnation.
Florian Biermann on Monday, 11 April 2016 00:59

Thank you, Simon.

(1) The point about women participation in the economy is well-taken, though it mainly demonstrates that it is not religion per se which causes problems, but it is the kind of religion you adopt. Christianity may have improved over paganism, but with Islam that is not so clear. In its Arabic version, young boys tend to be spoiled and pampered, while girls are raised to be diligent and adaptive. Therefore, Muslim girls and young women living in Western countries have on average considerably better educational achievements than their brothers, though female success on the labor market is thwarted by their obsolete traditions. In Arabic societies, smart females stay at home, while feckless males take over the important positions.

(2) Overall, I do not think that the adoption of Christianity had a positive impact on the economy in ancient Rome – much to the contrary. Christianity was a major factor that caused the decline and disintegration of the Roman empire, and it led to 1000 years of cultural and scientific demise during the Dark Ages. However, when we talk about female labor force participation, Christianity may have had its benefits.

(3) I fully agree with what you say about the multi-layered nature of religious and philosophical traditions. For me, the prime example is Judaism. Not the highly religious, but secular Jews unleashed the intellectual potential of Jewish thought! While they dismissed the religious content, they still adhered to the same intellectual tradition of their ancestors, proving what power the Talmudic approach has when applied to secular issues. In Talmudic debates, the scriptures are not only interpreted, but all kinds of counterfactual questions are raised: Why did Noah send out a pigeon, not a seagull? Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son and not his wife? Why did God send seven Plagues to the Egyptians and not just eradicate them? This radical questioning is exactly the kind of attitude that leads to progress in science and research, and secular Jews have retained this tradition despite being mostly agnostics and atheists. Such effects exist for many religions. Based on Calvin’s predestination concept, Dutch people usually do not put curtains in their windows (so as to show their wealth), though they do not even remember anymore what was the primary cause of this custom. Protestants, even if atheists, still do not take bribes. And so on…

Thank you, Simon. (1) The point about women participation in the economy is well-taken, though it mainly demonstrates that it is not religion per se which causes problems, but it is the kind of religion you adopt. Christianity may have improved over paganism, but with Islam that is not so clear. In its Arabic version, young boys tend to be spoiled and pampered, while girls are raised to be diligent and adaptive. Therefore, Muslim girls and young women living in Western countries have on average considerably better educational achievements than their brothers, though female success on the labor market is thwarted by their obsolete traditions. In Arabic societies, smart females stay at home, while feckless males take over the important positions. (2) Overall, I do not think that the adoption of Christianity had a positive impact on the economy in ancient Rome – much to the contrary. Christianity was a major factor that caused the decline and disintegration of the Roman empire, and it led to 1000 years of cultural and scientific demise during the Dark Ages. However, when we talk about female labor force participation, Christianity may have had its benefits. (3) I fully agree with what you say about the multi-layered nature of religious and philosophical traditions. For me, the prime example is Judaism. Not the highly religious, but secular Jews unleashed the intellectual potential of Jewish thought! While they dismissed the religious content, they still adhered to the same intellectual tradition of their ancestors, proving what power the Talmudic approach has when applied to secular issues. In Talmudic debates, the scriptures are not only interpreted, but all kinds of counterfactual questions are raised: Why did Noah send out a pigeon, not a seagull? Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son and not his wife? Why did God send seven Plagues to the Egyptians and not just eradicate them? This radical questioning is exactly the kind of attitude that leads to progress in science and research, and secular Jews have retained this tradition despite being mostly agnostics and atheists. Such effects exist for many religions. Based on Calvin’s predestination concept, Dutch people usually do not put curtains in their windows (so as to show their wealth), though they do not even remember anymore what was the primary cause of this custom. Protestants, even if atheists, still do not take bribes. And so on…
Eric Livny on Monday, 11 April 2016 07:51

There were 10 plagues, not 7 :-) You would have remembered if you had Egyptian ancestors

I noticed the Dutch tradition of excessive transparency but would have never guessed its origins. Very interesting indeed!

There were 10 plagues, not 7 :-) You would have remembered if you had Egyptian ancestors I noticed the Dutch tradition of excessive transparency but would have never guessed its origins. Very interesting indeed!
Simon Appleby on Monday, 11 April 2016 11:03

The Roman Empire, headquartered in New Rome (Constantinople), never experienced Dark Ages and it remained the dominant economy in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions until the mid 15th century. It was a magnet for academics, artisans and traders from throughout Europe. Notwithstanding large Jewish and Armenian communities, it was an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian civilisation and it incorporated the largest and richest cities in the western world at that time. Old Romes decline could be blamed on many things; failure to manage immigration prudently, excessive reliance upon mercenaries for defence, interminable civil war......none of these had much at all to do with religion. Western Europes economic backwardness until the 15th century could be attributed to many things also; kicking Jewish artisans/scholars/traders out (as the English did), interminable warfare, high trade barriers between countries, weak direct connections with the technologically advanced civilisations in Asia; again, not closely tied to religious confession. It also should be remembered that the first true university in the world, offering both arts and sciences courses, was established by the Roman Catholic Church in Bologna in 1088, to provide education to young men whose families could not afford private tutors. The trend caught on throughout western Europe and most of the premier European universities were founded by the Church within a century of Bolognas establishment.

Orthodox patriarchs have a certain approach to issues of economics, trade and commerce. They are cautiously in favour of free markets as long as there is some protection of the weak and underprivileged. The following address by Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is quite typical, and indeed many of Patriarch Ilias sermons have a similar theme.

https://www.patriarchate.org/lecture/-/asset_publisher/4xqHyd1IywNL/content/moral-dilemmas-of-globalisation-address-given-by-his-all-holiness-the-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-at-the-1999-annual-davos-meeting-of-the-world-e?inheritRedirect=false&redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.patriarchate.org%2Flecture%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_4xqHyd1IywNL%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26p_p_col_id%3Dcolumn-1%26p_p_col_pos%3D1%26p_p_col_count%3D2

Orthodox lay people in Georgia have a very broad range of attitudes in this regard, from completely libertarian to completely socialist, and everything in between.

The Roman Empire, headquartered in New Rome (Constantinople), never experienced Dark Ages and it remained the dominant economy in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions until the mid 15th century. It was a magnet for academics, artisans and traders from throughout Europe. Notwithstanding large Jewish and Armenian communities, it was an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian civilisation and it incorporated the largest and richest cities in the western world at that time. Old Romes decline could be blamed on many things; failure to manage immigration prudently, excessive reliance upon mercenaries for defence, interminable civil war......none of these had much at all to do with religion. Western Europes economic backwardness until the 15th century could be attributed to many things also; kicking Jewish artisans/scholars/traders out (as the English did), interminable warfare, high trade barriers between countries, weak direct connections with the technologically advanced civilisations in Asia; again, not closely tied to religious confession. It also should be remembered that the first true university in the world, offering both arts and sciences courses, was established by the Roman Catholic Church in Bologna in 1088, to provide education to young men whose families could not afford private tutors. The trend caught on throughout western Europe and most of the premier European universities were founded by the Church within a century of Bolognas establishment. Orthodox patriarchs have a certain approach to issues of economics, trade and commerce. They are cautiously in favour of free markets as long as there is some protection of the weak and underprivileged. The following address by Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is quite typical, and indeed many of Patriarch Ilias sermons have a similar theme. https://www.patriarchate.org/lecture/-/asset_publisher/4xqHyd1IywNL/content/moral-dilemmas-of-globalisation-address-given-by-his-all-holiness-the-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-at-the-1999-annual-davos-meeting-of-the-world-e?inheritRedirect=false&redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.patriarchate.org%2Flecture%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_4xqHyd1IywNL%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26p_p_col_id%3Dcolumn-1%26p_p_col_pos%3D1%26p_p_col_count%3D2 Orthodox lay people in Georgia have a very broad range of attitudes in this regard, from completely libertarian to completely socialist, and everything in between.
Florian Biermann on Monday, 11 April 2016 13:13

Simon, without any doubt, there were many factors that led to the decline of the Roman Empire. Opening their borders to barbarians and outsourcing defense to foreigners are two of them.

However, Christianity also has its share. The problem is that Christianity is a monotheistic religion (though Muslims and Jews disagree),and monotheism is the mother of all intolerance. The religious fights in the Arabic world today, as well as the religious wars in Europe of the past, grow out of monotheism – if there is just one deity, then only one religion can be right and the others must be wrong. That is a logically forcing consequence of monotheism, and ecumenical initiatives are just a faint attempt to obliterate this fact.

The Roman Empire, before it became Christian, never had this problem. When Rome conquered other nations, they even adopted the local Gods and included them in the Roman pantheon. There were fashion cults that originated with some conquered tribe and spread over the whole empire. Most conquered people integrated well into the Roman Empire, because the only thing they were required was to also worship the Roman emperor besides their existing gods. It is no coincidence that Israel, the only monotheist people in the Roman Empire, was an exception in this regard.

The highly problematic concept of monotheism is the signature feature of Judaism, but it was spread all over the world through its offspring, Christianity. This weakened the Roman empire, which lost its tolerance and power of integration, and finally led to its dissolution.

Monotheism is also detrimental culturally. Christianity, as a monotheistic and, unlike Judaism, a universalist religion, has to claim a monopoly on salvation. If you are the only one who possesses the truth, all the others must be wrong, and it will be okay to force them to convert, suppress their views, or kill them right away. This is just a logical consequence of monotheism. It is a force that works against pluralism, freedom of thought etc., and it is primarily responsible for the intellectual decline in the Dark Ages. Compare a Roman statue to a Christian icon from 1000 years later, and you will see the difference.

Simon, without any doubt, there were many factors that led to the decline of the Roman Empire. Opening their borders to barbarians and outsourcing defense to foreigners are two of them. However, Christianity also has its share. The problem is that Christianity is a monotheistic religion (though Muslims and Jews disagree),and monotheism is the mother of all intolerance. The religious fights in the Arabic world today, as well as the religious wars in Europe of the past, grow out of monotheism – if there is just one deity, then only one religion can be right and the others must be wrong. That is a logically forcing consequence of monotheism, and ecumenical initiatives are just a faint attempt to obliterate this fact. The Roman Empire, before it became Christian, never had this problem. When Rome conquered other nations, they even adopted the local Gods and included them in the Roman pantheon. There were fashion cults that originated with some conquered tribe and spread over the whole empire. Most conquered people integrated well into the Roman Empire, because the only thing they were required was to also worship the Roman emperor besides their existing gods. It is no coincidence that Israel, the only monotheist people in the Roman Empire, was an exception in this regard. The highly problematic concept of monotheism is the signature feature of Judaism, but it was spread all over the world through its offspring, Christianity. This weakened the Roman empire, which lost its tolerance and power of integration, and finally led to its dissolution. Monotheism is also detrimental culturally. Christianity, as a monotheistic and, unlike Judaism, a universalist religion, has to claim a monopoly on salvation. If you are the only one who possesses the truth, all the others must be wrong, and it will be okay to force them to convert, suppress their views, or kill them right away. This is just a logical consequence of monotheism. It is a force that works against pluralism, freedom of thought etc., and it is primarily responsible for the intellectual decline in the Dark Ages. Compare a Roman statue to a Christian icon from 1000 years later, and you will see the difference.
Maka Chitanava on Monday, 11 April 2016 12:05

Dear Florian and Simon,

Thank you for very interesting insights and facts about the topic.

Caucasus Barometer gives additional data to link Georgian reality to Barro’s theory. Yes, Georgians consider themselves quite religious. In 2013 percentage of respondents considering themselves very and somehow religious was 59%, but when it comes to church attendance and obeying the rules of the religion, this percentage is much lower. Only 21% are attending religious services once a week or more often, and 22% at least once a month. And only 6% of respondents always fast.

I’m personally interested in the historical role Orthodox Christianity played in Georgia. I think our religion was very distinct surviving strategy, it played two very important roles for nation’s survival: First of all, it helped us to be rather homogeneous making the ruler easier to govern and consolidate. Second, it distinguished us from most of our enemies who were mostly Muslims and making our fight against them more severe. p.s. Orthodox Christianity failed to play the latter role when it came to Russians :( , because they were also Orthodox, unfortunately.

Dear Florian and Simon, Thank you for very interesting insights and facts about the topic. Caucasus Barometer gives additional data to link Georgian reality to Barro’s theory. Yes, Georgians consider themselves quite religious. In 2013 percentage of respondents considering themselves very and somehow religious was 59%, but when it comes to church attendance and obeying the rules of the religion, this percentage is much lower. Only 21% are attending religious services once a week or more often, and 22% at least once a month. And only 6% of respondents always fast. I’m personally interested in the historical role Orthodox Christianity played in Georgia. I think our religion was very distinct surviving strategy, it played two very important roles for nation’s survival: First of all, it helped us to be rather homogeneous making the ruler easier to govern and consolidate. Second, it distinguished us from most of our enemies who were mostly Muslims and making our fight against them more severe. p.s. Orthodox Christianity failed to play the latter role when it came to Russians :( , because they were also Orthodox, unfortunately.
Florian Biermann on Monday, 11 April 2016 13:18

Maka, you make interesting points. Indeed, the fact that the Russians have essentially the same religion as the Georgians may have made it easier for them to seize power in Georgia. I find that quite plausible.

Maka, you make interesting points. Indeed, the fact that the Russians have essentially the same religion as the Georgians may have made it easier for them to seize power in Georgia. I find that quite plausible.
Maka Chitanava on Monday, 11 April 2016 13:53

I have just recall one interesting parallel and want to speculate on in it to show how important was Orthodox Christianity for us. We all know that Greeks used the term BARBARIAN towards their enemies (and not only), which literary meant a person speaking a non-Greek language. Georgians also had similar word - URJULO (ურჯულო) which was used when mentioning enemies. Interesting is that URJULO in Georgian means person who is not obeying Christian rules. “RJULI” or ‘SJULI” in old Georgian first meant customary law, but with adaption of Christianity has changed the meaning towards - rules of Christianity.

So language was important for Greeks to distinguish between their selves and enemies, while Orthodox Christianity played the same role here.

These are just thoughts which now came to my mind...

I have just recall one interesting parallel and want to speculate on in it to show how important was Orthodox Christianity for us. We all know that Greeks used the term BARBARIAN towards their enemies (and not only), which literary meant a person speaking a non-Greek language. Georgians also had similar word - URJULO (ურჯულო) which was used when mentioning enemies. Interesting is that URJULO in Georgian means person who is not obeying Christian rules. “RJULI” or ‘SJULI” in old Georgian first meant customary law, but with adaption of Christianity has changed the meaning towards - rules of Christianity. So language was important for Greeks to distinguish between their selves and enemies, while Orthodox Christianity played the same role here. These are just thoughts which now came to my mind...
Florian Biermann on Monday, 11 April 2016 14:56

Maka, I think these observations call for a separate blog article :).

Maka, I think these observations call for a separate blog article :).
Maka Chitanava on Monday, 11 April 2016 15:00

I also think so :)

I also think so :)
Nodar on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 02:08

I completely agree with Maka, in her first post. From the very beginning Religion played very very important role in Georgians life and it was inspiration tool to survive against thousand of enemies. But today the situation is different. I do not remember the author of the following expression but it gives the idea clearly. [ Individuals do not believe in God, they have fear of hell ]. Today this is the reality. The Georgian church, in my mind is highly politically oriented and we are at the margin of theocracy, where there is priests mafia, as they have businesses and some other activities which were forbidden by their rules. Their activities are going to be same as Leo Taxil describes in his famous book. [unfortunately I cannot translate the name of the book into English]. As you said professor I can summarize the situation. In the country like Georgia patriarchate should not have 20 million from the government per year, also the priests have palaces, cars, and much more which comes from parish. This is not the end, despite these belongings they require more and more, and try to control the people.

May be this is not the full list of their activities but I, personally believe that this is enough to conduct further research or at least to write another blog as you mentioned.

I completely agree with Maka, in her first post. From the very beginning Religion played very very important role in Georgians life and it was inspiration tool to survive against thousand of enemies. But today the situation is different. I do not remember the author of the following expression but it gives the idea clearly. [ Individuals do not believe in God, they have fear of hell ]. Today this is the reality. The Georgian church, in my mind is highly politically oriented and we are at the margin of theocracy, where there is priests mafia, as they have businesses and some other activities which were forbidden by their rules. Their activities are going to be same as Leo Taxil describes in his famous book. [unfortunately I cannot translate the name of the book into English]. As you said professor I can summarize the situation. In the country like Georgia patriarchate should not have 20 million from the government per year, also the priests have palaces, cars, and much more which comes from parish. This is not the end, despite these belongings they require more and more, and try to control the people. May be this is not the full list of their activities but I, personally believe that this is enough to conduct further research or at least to write another blog as you mentioned.
Florian Biermann on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 09:08

Nodar, also in Greece and in many other European countries, the churches run businesses, and they often accumulate considerable wealth. Is it condemnable? Not sure. The churches might argue that they have an important function in the society (e.g., uphold moral values) and that they can only play this role if they are not troubled by economic grief.

Nodar, also in Greece and in many other European countries, the churches run businesses, and they often accumulate considerable wealth. Is it condemnable? Not sure. The churches might argue that they have an important function in the society (e.g., uphold moral values) and that they can only play this role if they are not troubled by economic grief.
Simon Appleby on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 09:54

The terms of the Concordat struck between Church and State in the 1990s are well known. Under article 7 of the Concordat, the Church is entitled to financial compensation for its properties seized, and in many cases destroyed, by the Communist government of Georgia.

(7) As a partial owner of assets confiscated by Soviet authorities during the Soviet rule of Georgia (1921-1991), the State agrees to compensate, at least in part, the Georgian Church for its financial and asset losses incurred during that period.

Hence the annual subsidies. Alternately, a lump sum one-off payment could be made, to the tune of:

(1) $2000/Ha of farmland expropriated = USD$1 billion
(2) $2000/m2 for urban land assets confiscated= $50 billion
(3) 95 years worth of back-rents on those assets = $240 billion
(4) $1 million compensation for each clergyman murdered by the state in the 1920s = USD$3 billion

Total liability would be USD$293 billion, or about 17 times Georgias annual GDP

.......and suddenly USD$10 million a year from the treasury looks like a very good deal for the Georgian taxpayer :)

With that $10 million a year, over and above ordinary parish-level social services and charitable support for vulnerable families, Georgia gets:

Kindergartens
Orphanages
Schools, mostly servicing the poor at very low cost
Hospitals, including maternity hospitals
A university and an academy training clinical psychologists
Youth training organisations, including the Young Farmers Association of the Patriarchate
Cultural organisations
Free vocational training in handicrafts for the poor
A television station popularising Georgian art, handicraft and music
Substance abuse counselling

Not a bad deal for $10 million. We spend more than that on Robbie Williams.

The terms of the Concordat struck between Church and State in the 1990s are well known. Under article 7 of the Concordat, the Church is entitled to financial compensation for its properties seized, and in many cases destroyed, by the Communist government of Georgia. [i](7) As a partial owner of assets confiscated by Soviet authorities during the Soviet rule of Georgia (1921-1991), the State agrees to compensate, at least in part, the Georgian Church for its financial and asset losses incurred during that period.[/i] Hence the annual subsidies. Alternately, a lump sum one-off payment could be made, to the tune of: (1) $2000/Ha of farmland expropriated = USD$1 billion (2) $2000/m2 for urban land assets confiscated= $50 billion (3) 95 years worth of back-rents on those assets = $240 billion (4) $1 million compensation for each clergyman murdered by the state in the 1920s = USD$3 billion Total liability would be USD$293 billion, or about 17 times Georgias annual GDP .......and suddenly USD$10 million a year from the treasury looks like a very good deal for the Georgian taxpayer :) With that $10 million a year, over and above ordinary parish-level social services and charitable support for vulnerable families, Georgia gets: Kindergartens Orphanages Schools, mostly servicing the poor at very low cost Hospitals, including maternity hospitals A university and an academy training clinical psychologists Youth training organisations, including the Young Farmers Association of the Patriarchate Cultural organisations Free vocational training in handicrafts for the poor A television station popularising Georgian art, handicraft and music Substance abuse counselling Not a bad deal for $10 million. We spend more than that on Robbie Williams.
Florian Biermann on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 10:25

Your calculation, which seems to be quite generous when it comes to the value of the claims of the Georgian church, only makes sense if one agrees that those claims are legitimate. Ownership that originated in pre-modern times is not necessarily legitimate. For example, the land that was owned by the church may have been donated to the church by the nobility, which extortet it from the population it subdued without contributing anything worthy to society.

Does the Church of Georgia really fully finance those kindergartens and hospitals, or does it pay small shares of the costs in exchange for getting full control of the institutions policies?

Your calculation, which seems to be quite generous when it comes to the value of the claims of the Georgian church, only makes sense if one agrees that those claims are legitimate. Ownership that originated in pre-modern times is not necessarily legitimate. For example, the land that was owned by the church may have been donated to the church by the nobility, which extortet it from the population it subdued without contributing anything worthy to society. Does the Church of Georgia really fully finance those kindergartens and hospitals, or does it pay small shares of the costs in exchange for getting full control of the institutions policies?
Nodar on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 12:22

Professor Biermann, by upholding moral values they deviate from one radical to another radical side where they, instead of upholding moral values do opposite and mask their financial interests behind it. So what can we conclude? As their rules state the church should not be politically oriented especially for orthodox Christianity, do not have wealth, particularly such a large amount as they have today and do not try to influence on people for other reasons except Jesus Christ. What we see today? Completely opposite situation. Im afraid we are under theocracy and most part of Georgians are happy with it. What will be the consequences? Not clear yet, needs more examination the economic effect of the Georgian church.

Im just employing their rules and making some rough conclusion.

Professor Biermann, by upholding moral values they deviate from one radical to another radical side where they, instead of upholding moral values do opposite and mask their financial interests behind it. So what can we conclude? As their rules state the church should not be politically oriented especially for orthodox Christianity, do not have wealth, particularly such a large amount as they have today and do not try to influence on people for other reasons except Jesus Christ. What we see today? Completely opposite situation. Im afraid we are under theocracy and most part of Georgians are happy with it. What will be the consequences? Not clear yet, needs more examination the economic effect of the Georgian church. Im just employing their rules and making some rough conclusion.
Florian Biermann on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 15:06

Nodar, I am not that negative about the church as you are. The Orthodox Church of Georgia, as was mentioned by Maka and by you, plays an important role for Georgian identity. It earned itself this role throughout centuries, maybe millenia, in which the Georgian people were exposed to tough conditions and serious threats. During these stormy times, the church provided an important moral and societal anchor. I see the church in light of this age-old history, and I would be surprised if the prominent and central role of the church would not have allowed for the accumulation of wealth. Also the political and economic influence of the church does not bother me that much in view of the fact that it is one of the most important institutions in Georgia.

Whether they mask their financial interests behind mroal values I do not know. Maybe there are such issues, corruption incidents etc., but it may be the misbehavior of individual clergy, not necessarily a systematic abuse.

Nodar, I am not that negative about the church as you are. The Orthodox Church of Georgia, as was mentioned by Maka and by you, plays an important role for Georgian identity. It earned itself this role throughout centuries, maybe millenia, in which the Georgian people were exposed to tough conditions and serious threats. During these stormy times, the church provided an important moral and societal anchor. I see the church in light of this age-old history, and I would be surprised if the prominent and central role of the church would not have allowed for the accumulation of wealth. Also the political and economic influence of the church does not bother me that much in view of the fact that it is one of the most important institutions in Georgia. Whether they mask their financial interests behind mroal values I do not know. Maybe there are such issues, corruption incidents etc., but it may be the misbehavior of individual clergy, not necessarily a systematic abuse.
Nodar on Thursday, 21 April 2016 17:38

Your are absolutely right professor Biermann. May be the economic impact of orthodoxy church of Georgia is less than others as you mentioned in your blog but as they are new generation or new era of mafia its clear. Thats my opinion professor so let see what will be in the near future. Thank you such a great blog.

Your are absolutely right professor Biermann. May be the economic impact of orthodoxy church of Georgia is less than others as you mentioned in your blog but as they are new generation or new era of mafia its clear. Thats my opinion professor so let see what will be in the near future. Thank you such a great blog.
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