Hank Fox just dropped me a line mentioning an older article he’d found, as something I might want to blog about. Yes, it was—I wrote about it sometime ago, and here it is again. The article Hank found is also worth reading, with a strong conclusion:
Despite all its fine words, religion has brought in its wake little more than violence, prejudice and sexual disease. True morality is found elsewhere. As UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot concluded in his review of Gregory Paul’s study, “if you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist.”
It’s a very cool article—it had the religious up in arms, because it flat out demonstrates that belief in God does not confer any social advantages, and is actually a net detriment to a culture.
Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.
The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”
Now, to be fair, I don’t think this necessarily says that being religious is bad for the individual; it’s just not good for a culture. I also think it’s a bit sweeping in associating these ills with religious belief in general, because the US is afflicted with particularly malignant forms of religion (and at the root, the problem may not be religion itself, but irrationality and anti-intellectualism and ignorance, something our country has in volume). On the other hand, countries with more traditional religions also seem to have some serious problems (who knew Portugal was such a mess?).
But heck yeah, it seems obvious to me that if you base national policy on pious ignorance and the low-rent tribal power fantasies of a bronze-age gang of thugs, you’re not going to cope well with the real issues of a modern pluralist society.
Here’s some of the data, correlating god-belief with homicide rates and mean life expectancy. That little “U” that’s typically floating off by itself as an outlier (and not on the good side) is us.
I’ve noticed that a few people are freaking out over this study, and are in denial. Mostly it is because they are misinterpreting it; it does not say that if you believe in God, you will get an abortion and start murdering strangers. It says that prevalent god-belief in a culture does not discourage that sort of behavior, and that more secular societies are clearly not hotbeds of sin and corruption.
If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developing democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.
Why this should be triggering such knee-jerk antipathy is a mystery to me; is denying the efficacy of religion and the perfection of American society, and providing evidence for same, such a horrifying idea to people? Apparently, it is.