Want a more religious society? Vote Meretz

If you want a more religious society in the sense of more people believing in God, allow for more religious diversity and pluralism.

Meretz launches election campaign 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Meretz launches election campaign 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
It doesn’t take much to convince secular Israelis that religious coercion in the form of closing places of entertainment on Shabbat or stopping public transportation has the reverse effect on their the desire to become religious. But now, years of comparative international research on religious markets (i.e. the availability of religious resources) seems not only to support this thesis but takes it one step further. If you want a more religious society in the sense of more people believing in God, allow for more religious diversity and pluralism.
Theories regarding religious markets stem from the application of economic theories of supply and demand to affiliation in religious organizations. Researchers argue that unregulated religious economies generate increased religious participation, and conversely, tight state regulation is correlated with low levels of participation in religious life.
America is often used as the most convincing case of a free market of religion, as more than 2,000 faiths now compete for market share. Supporting the ability of free religious markets to foster religiosity, one may be surprised to know that according to a Gallup poll in 2011, 92 percent of Americans believe in God. In contrast to the free market model, the regulated market is one in which religious organizations do not compete on a level playing field. Israel is an example of this where the Orthodox rabbinate sets the tone and other Jewish denominations have illegitimate religious standing.
Applying the theory of religious markets to the upcoming elections, one could argue that if at least part of the Orthodox community in Israel is interested in hazara betshuva and a more religious society, they may be voting for the wrong party! Granted the twist will be that with a more open religious market, the religiosity that may grow as a result of this freedom may not necessarily take the form of classic Orthodox-style observant religiosity, but research from religious trends over the past 15 years seem to be in their favor.
One trend noted in the sociology of religion is that when given the choice, a significant number of people in modern society seem to be favoring a more traditional form of religiosity. The reasons for this are many. According to studies on recently religious Orthodox Jewish women and on newly religious Protestant women, it is in fact the more stringent gender roles that are most appealing to them.
Some “returnees” are overwhelmed by the superwomen ideal, having to perfectly balance between being at the top of her career while raising a close-knit family. Such stresses, along with feelings of a serious lack of sense of community and support network in their secular lives, have drawn them to more traditional alternatives.
In light of these findings on the significance of a free religious market to fostering increased religiosity and trends pointing to increased secular interest in Orthodoxy, it could be that in practice, if certain Orthodox communities in Israel really want a more religious society, they should be considering voting Meretz.The writer is the author of Between Feminism and Orthodox Judaism: Resistance, Identity, and Religious Change in Israel (Brill, 2011), and co-author of the book Building a diaspora: Russian Jews in Israel, Germany and the USA (Brill, 2006).