Bryan Caplan  

Job Satisfaction and Biblical Literalism

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After my last post, I spent a while playing with the GSS's job satisfaction data.  I tried adding a kitchen sink of regressors to education and log real income: IQ, age, year, race, sex, church attendance, political ideology.  The negative effect of education and the positive effect of income on job satisfaction proved robust.  But so did one other variable: Biblical literalism

People who believe in the Bible's literal truth (BIBLE=1) are much more satisfied with their jobs than people who believe it's just a book of fables (BIBLE=3).  Remember that higher numbers mean lower satisfaction.  The results:
jobsat3.jpg
Relatively speaking, this is a huge effect. But what's going on?  It's not just a disguised left-right effect; Biblical literalism crushes self-identified ideology in a multiple regression.  And it's not a disguised social support effect; Biblical literalism crushes church attendance, too.  Marxists will no doubt claim vindication for their view that religion is the opium of the people.  But you could just as easily conclude that traditional religion successfully teaches gratitude.



COMMENTS (21 to date)
Ryan Murphy writes:

Is literalism robust when you control for sect? Also keep in mind that many people who are nominally religious falsely believe that their sect espouses literalism.

adam benson writes:
Relatively speaking, this is a huge effect. But what's going on? It's not just a disguised left-right effect; Biblical literalism crushes self-identified ideology in a multiple regression. And it's not a disguised social support effect; Biblical literalism crushes church attendance, too.

Crushing it or not doesn't matter -- did you check for multicollinearity? Can we get the entire regression table? Also, how about interacting Bible literalism with education, the effect might not be as straightforward as you think.

Joseph K writes:

It's because the bible teaches:

"A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil." (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

and

"I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God." (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

and

"there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot."(Ecclesiastes 3:22)

Clearly, the reason is that the biblical literalists are reading their Ecclesiastes.

John writes:

Not just Ecclesiastes, which is Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well.

E.g., Phillipians 4:11: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."

More to the point, Colossians 3:23-24: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward."

I personally take these very seriously. For years, Phillipians 4:11 was my favorite Bible verse. I've done open source software for almost 2 decades, and the thought expressed in Colossians 3:23-24 is all the motivation I've ever needed to do my best work in any circumstance, even without income (which has often been the case).

I think also Matthew 6:24-34 applies. Read it carefully (and note that in Greek, the word translated "kingdom" since the KJV is _basileia_, more like infrastructural or provisional government, though most read it as a variation on "church", i.e., _ekklesia_, which it isn't at all). Verse 24 is not a separate thought - verse 25 begins with "therefore" in modern English translations.

I'd be remiss not to mention 1 Timothy 6; verse 10 is very well known: "For _the love of money_ is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."

I would similarly note that the English translation into "the love of money" is misleading in my opinion; the Greek is a single word idiom, _philarguria_, which would now be better translated "capitalism." It's not a strong word (that would be _patharguria_), which would be how it's usually read. I.e., it's not "greed" or "avarice;" it's just "preference for capital," "silver" having been idiom for capital.

I am a socialist, BTW, but not a Marxist; just a Christian socialist. And not a churchgoer for many years now. The open source software movement is one of the many counterexamples I've seen in my life that greed and self-interest are the only, or best, human motivators. But I'm not a special case relative to this idea; I know many Christians who feel the same as I do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

I might also note that I take most writing, not just the Bible, as much at face value as I can. I find that affords the better interpretations, relative to an author's intent. Theologians just call that "exegesis." In the case of the Biblical texts, they weren't written in modern English, and unfortunately, most read them in a 400 year old dialect close to what Shakespeare wrote. I don't understand that particular dialect all that well, so I try to study the original texts as well, in their original languages, though I'm not an expert at it.

Lori writes:

Pie in the sky is a lie.

Michael writes:

What kind of jobs would these folk primarily engage in? Worth looking into, to see whether these match typical jobs for income level, or compared to the population at large.

Relatively speaking, this is a huge effect. But what's going on? It's not just a disguised left-right effect; Biblical literalism crushes self-identified ideology in a multiple regression. And it's not a disguised social support effect; Biblical literalism crushes church attendance, too. Marxists will no doubt claim vindication for their view that religion is the opium of the people. But you could just as easily conclude that traditional religion successfully teaches gratitude.

I think reading any book that contains accounts of the daily lives of ancients tends to make you more satisfied with your lot in life. When you realize that in many ways you are more wealthy than the kings of old, you tend to see your present circumstances in a more positive light.

Daublin writes:

Interesting.

The Bible is comforting. It tells you there is a reason for everything, and it tells you that everything is for the good in the end.

fundamentalist writes:

John and Joseph, Nice posts! I enjoyed the Bible references.

John, you might consider that Christianity created capitalism; atheists created socialism. For the Christian history of capitalism check out the writings of the Church scholars at the school of Salamanca, Spain in the 16th century. Mises.org and acton.org have a good collection, but the Wikipedia article is a good start, too.

On the atheist origins of socialism, check out Hayek’s “The Counter-revolution in Science” available in pdf in the literature section of mises.org.

The leaders of the Reformation took work very seriously and considered it a calling as Godly as being a pastor. Sloth is one of the Church’s deadly sins. Hard work, honesty, thrift, etc. have always been considered hallmarks of a true believer.

Finally, no one takes every passage of the Bible literally. We use the term “literal” to refer to the historical passages that include miracles. We take history as history, poetry as poetry, allegory as allegory.

Maximum Liberty writes:

An alternative to gratitude is fatalism. I'm not saying that's the case. I just think its more complicated.

Max

Brian Clendinen writes:

That is really interesting. I think I am going to use that in the future as a reference point. I wonder if one tested for narcissism if there would be a high coloration with low job satisfaction? It would not shock me if this number was the highest out of every single variable doing the same test.

A big problem is people believe they deserve better because they are so wrapped up in them self, aka narcissism. That is at the core of almost all addictions. The bible teaches the opposite, it is not about you. Not that there are not a lot of Christians who are narcissist. This is a huge subject one could write a large book about from a biblical prospective.

I will tell you what contentment is what I pray for all the time even when I am not comfortable.

Floccina writes:

John wrote:

I would similarly note that the English translation into "the love of money" is misleading in my opinion; the Greek is a single word idiom, _philarguria_, which would now be better translated "capitalism." It's not a strong word (that would be _patharguria_), which would be how it's usually read. I.e., it's not "greed" or "avarice;" it's just "preference for capital," "silver" having been idiom for capital.

I have long looked at "the love of money" in a similar way to your preference in that I think it means do not put gaining money above God or morality. Do not do anything immoral to get money. Love of money is putting money ahead of God.

fundamentalist writes:

Floccina, I agree with you and John on the issue of the love of money, but that is not what capitalism is about. Adam Smith saw greed as evil and free markets as the best way to control greed.

The confusion happens because of the conflation of "self interest" with "greed". They are not the same thing. Self-interest is nothing but the Biblical command to work to provide food and shelter for yourself and your family. /Anyone who doesn't take take of his family's material needs is "worse than an infidel." Self-interest is good; greed is immoral.

Mike Rulle writes:

Interesting. Two thoughts come to mind.

1) Maybe people with very strong religious faith (literal bible beliefs would be a subset of that) are happier generally. Hence conflation with job satisfaction---i.e, they probably are more satisfied with all parts of their life.

2) Maybe this is simply a random statistical quirk, given your kitchen sink approach. There are literally thousands and probably more variables one could regress against "job satisfaction". How many did you try? I assume you adjusted for the number of regressions you meaured using various multiple comparison procedures when calculating your p-values. If not, presumably you are achieving artificially low p-values. Plus you did not give us a sense of how big the the difference is in job satisfaction, only the statistical significance of the difference.

John writes:

@fundamentalist -

I'd disagree with you about the sources of capitalism and socialism. Read Chapter 29 of von Mises' tome "Socialism" (it's also a mises.org) - even he asserted that Jesus was a socialist and the first-century church were socialists if not communists; one of the few things I agree with him about. The Marxist creed is a combination of ideas from the New Testament as well.

Misinterpretations of Scripture might indeed suggest that it endorses capitalism, but I would suggest that those are just that - misinterpretations and/or incomplete understandings. E.g., the parable of the talents - it's not an endorsement of capitalism, it's about dealing with the behavior of an evil master.

In any event, various biblical passages speak effectively of what we would call socialism so as to endorse it, and those passages predate the material you reference, by centuries. E.g., read Matthew 6:24-33 again; it defines socialism in a modern sense: seek government that provides for basic needs. And, e.g., Acts 2:44-45 - compare to a dictionary definition of communism. In fact, the word translated "fellowship" in English translations is _koinonia_ in Greek (so-called "koine" Greek, coincidentally), and it's transliteration is "common-ism."

Romans 13 endorses government of all forms, and encourages payment of taxes. Indeed, many try to find subtle arguments to reverse the meaning of such passages, but again, I take them at what I'd like to think would have been the author's intent.

Jesus spoke in parables, sometimes. But not always, and the difference is pretty clear.

Not that any of this matters to non-Christians. I suspect you're an atheist, maybe a former Christian. I'm just the opposite - a Christian, former atheist.

By the way, I said "self-interest _and_ greed," which should suggest that I consider them related but different things.

"Literal" means different things to different people, I suppose. Jesus himself spoke against relying on miracles. What you describe: history as history, poetry as poetry, allegory as allegory - that's what I described as "taking at face value, as the author likely intended," and what I consider literalism. Generally, I prefer dictionary definitions, followed as needed by studies of etymology.

@adam - as a data point, I have a PhD in computer science.

John writes:

@fundamentalist -

On second thought, maybe I've misjudged, and I apologize if so. You might well be a theologian, since I've been referred by theologians to similar material in the past.

Still, I think that if there are reasonable translations for the ideas if not the very words "capitalism" and "socialism" in the Scriptural texts themselves, that trumps whatever was written later, especially as late as the 16th century, wouldn't you agree? E.g., Keynesianism isn't called Hicksism because it wasn't really applicable before Hicks' clarifications. Keynes still gets broad credit.

And we wouldn't, for example, want to depend on Michele Bachman's interpretation of the US Constitution as authoritative, by way of analogy. But we'd also not consider her the originator of any of its ideas; she's just an interpreter, and not one to be trusted as accurate, let alone authoritative.

I might also mention - I think Hayek was all wet. Not much better than Bachman in my opinion. The economic calculation problem, which he consider so difficult - it's what WalMart does. It's now called supply chain management, an aspect of information technology. WalMart is the size of many countries, but it's not a country, and what it does is not socialism.

But that's far off topic - this was about job satisfaction, not socialism and capitalism. The verses I mentioned just happen to be about socialism as well as the topic at hand.

Francis writes:

To come back to Mr. Caplan's question...

I guess, and pardon me if I'm wrong, that some commenters have confused "literalism" with "literacy". Knowing the Bible well does not mean you take it literally, so you may understand and appreciate the Ecclesiastes' words without being a literalist.

I have a suggestion for where to look to understand literalists' satisfaction with their job: they simply don't expect much of it. That is, literalists tend to be very engrossed by the Bible and all that is religious, and so don't care much about the material world: their job is just a means for them to earn money to pursue their passion (which is not expensive, by the way). Also, literalists tend to be millenarists, i.e., they prepare for the end of the world. What is a career when the world will end perhaps in your own lifetime?

8 writes:

Lots of evidence keeps stacking up in favor of the Bible or religion. Perhaps these guys are on to something in their quest for truth.

fundamentalist writes:

John, Actually I’m a fundamentalist Christian who has always been a fundamentalist in the original meaning of the term.

Mises was very anti-religion until a while after he immigrated to the US where he met good Christians who also shared his philosophy and economics. He softened a great deal and even came to admire Carl Barth. Finding socialism in the Bible was just repeating what socialist Christians of his day, which is all he knew until coming to the US, we writing.

I think you confuse charity with socialism. That is very popular today. The two have nothing in common. Yes, the Bible encourages charity, but charity requires private property so that you have something to give. And charity is always voluntary, never compulsory as socialism is.

The first century church was nothing like communism or socialism. People gave freely of property they owned in order to meets the needs of others. That is charity, not socialism.

I agree the parable of the talents does not teach capitalism. Capitalism came from two things: 1) the search by theologians for a “just price” and 2) the sanctity of private property.

The Church has always held that God sanctified private property with the commandments “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not covet”. Those are the negative commands of “thou shalt respect the property of others.” In addition, most of the civil and criminal laws of the Torah deal with respecting the property of others.

In the search for a just price in commerce, theologians finally came to the conclusion that the only just price is one in which the transaction that determines the price is without coercion or fraud.

Property and free markets are two sides of the same coin. Property requires control, and only in a free market does someone control his property and is free to do with it as he wishes.

The Dutch Republic was the first nation in Europe to fully protect property and provide free markets, and they did so because of their understanding of the Bible’s teaching about property. Adam Smith praised the Dutch for having the system most like what he called natural freedom. Later, Marxists called the system capitalism.

Yes, the Bible endorses government, but it does not endorse everything people in government do. The Apostles were among the most rebellious people against rulers that have ever existed.

Gray Brendle writes:

Gratitude is the fruit of grace.

That is to say that gratitude explains a lot about why individuals would be satisfied with their jobs. Individuals who take their faith literally understand the grace presented by the Creator through the gift of His Son and the the Son's sacrifice. When this becomes the focus of an individual's Spiritual life there is satification at all levels of life.

Peter writes:

Analysis of anything based on the Bible is pure hokum. The Bible is self-contradictory through and through, as all serious religious scholars well know. It does instruct that slaves should be well-behaved, however, and perhaps that leads to a fatalistic attitude towards their lot by those who toil for capitalist masters..

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