Church attendance continued to rise in the English-speaking world throughout the nineteenth-century (for more reasons that I can elaborate on here); and this coincided with a period of unprecedented economic improvement. I don’t see the point of limiting one’s study of the relation between poverty and piety to contemporary Western Millennials and their parents and then leap to the conclusion that eroding church-membership and atheistic pronouncements can be ascribed to a high degree of creature comfort. When I grew up in the 1950s, which then represented the pinnacle of American financial prosperity, church attendance was at an all-time high, and books were being published nonstop celebrating or trying to explain American piety.
I would also note the explosion of Muslim Fundamentalism has hit lots of Muslim countries, with varying degrees of economic prosperity. Islamicism has been a response to retarded economic development in some places; but this doubtful blessing has also weakened the political and economic well-being of countries that have been affected by it, from Turkey to Indonesia. That said, I’m not sure that any of this has relevance for what’s going on in the West. Since the West has prospered for some time and the rejection of traditional religion did not beset us until relatively recently, we might look for an explanation other than the one that Welton offers.
Finally, I would question Welton’s polarity between atheism and secularism and “religion.” I’m surprised that Welton doesn’t recognize in political ideology a form of religious engagement. Modern ideology, like multiculturalism, is usually not based on empirical proof but manufactures facts to fit spiritual and political needs; above all, it depends heavily on a commitment of faith. When was the last time that Welton spoke to a multiculturalist and came away with the impression that he had just conversed with a rational skeptic. And though I have met one intellectually sober atheist in my life (John Derbyshire), most of the committed non-believers I’ve encountered sound like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. One might describe them as zealous anti-religion religionists