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Talking Management

Religion's surprising comeback Add to ...

KARL MOORE - This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I'm delighted to speak to the editor-in-chief of The Economist, John Micklethwait.

Good morning, John.

JOHN MICKLETHWAIT - Good morning.

KM: John, your last book with Adrian Wooldridge is God is Back and it talks about a very interesting character, "Pastorpreneurs." Tell us more about that.

JM: Pastorpreneurs is actually a title invented by [management expert]Peter Drucker and what he was effectively looking at was the American evangelicals and the way in which they were able to spread their faith, in what he saw as a more or less businesslike way. He actually, at one time, I think he wrote the dominant or the leading organization for the first half for the 20th century was the multidivisional company and the second half was the megachurch, which he saw as a real organizational medal.

Actually, what I think is interesting in the argument of God is Back , which is very much from an objective point of view, the Catholic and the atheist together, looking at what is happening around the world, and basically saying that, outside of Western Europe, whether we like it or not, for good and for bad, religion is actually doing very well.

The model, not the only model, but the dominant model if you like, is I suppose the pastorpreneur model. It is the American model of choice between religions and people competing for souls in the same way as they compete for customers. That goes all the way back in American history, that goes all the way back to the Methodists converting an eighth of the country in, I think, 50 years. There has always been this element in America that people are up for grabs when it comes to religion. I think that 40 per cent of people have changed their faith in America during their lifetime, whereas in most older societies, people tend to be born in a faith and often for good reasons or for bad, drift away from it. In America, the ability to go to this [specific]church and then to change it, that is really what is different about America and it goes right back to the beginning.

KM: If you think about it from the viewpoint of one of those churches, the idea I guess is that the church is capturing the "zeitgeist" of the time and taking hopefully the long-lasting truths and putting them in a way that appeals in that particular time and place.

JM: Yes, you could argue that. Thomas Jefferson, who was actually the founding father that was the least keen on religion in some ways, his version of religion was to go through the Bible and to cut out all of the bits that he did not like. It was either to go through and cut out all of the bits that he did not like or to cut out all of the bits that he did like. That has sort of been the American model of religion pretty much since. People have grabbed a bit from here and a bit from there. You are right that it has adapted to its circumstances.

If you want to understand why religion is doing well, you only really need two documents: One is the American constitution which says "separate church from state." That made all of the difference in America. Before the Revolution, churches were doing okay, maybe a little bit better than Europe but not really that well. After the Revolution, after that came in, you had competition.

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