Faith hurts

Since a Wall Street Journal editorialist has denounced secularism as the source of all of society’s ills, it’s only fair to get another opinion. Like, say, of a social scientist who has actually done a comparative study of different nations, looking for correlations between religiosity and superior moral values or stability or whatever. Surely, faith-based societies will have some virtues, won’t they?

Uh-oh. The results don’t look good for believers.

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.

Some of the problems that the religious most strenuously deplore are ones that are exacerbated by the beliefs they advocate.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Now to be fair, these aren’t causal relationships, and this is only a study of correlations, so religion might not be directly responsible — you aren’t likely to catch gonorrhea by going to church. But with the state of American religion, you are very likely to catch a kind of pernicious ignorance by going to church, and that disability might make it more likely that you will make bad decisions with unfortunate consequences that will add to the roster of dismaying statistics.


  1. Owlmirror says

    The liberal Protestant “demythologizing” theologian Bultmann famously wrote that anyone who could flick on an electric light switch could no longer believe in miracles or demons. On one level the comment was perceptive: the abundant, tangible fruits of modern technology undoubtedly fostered the popular and comforting idea that reality was well on the way to being understood and hence controlled.

    It seems wrong to me, for a different reason: People are capable of being superstitious no matter how much technology they are surrounded with. They usually don’t think about the processes and methods by which the technology came into existence, and often imbue the ordinary with teleological meaning that it does not have.

    And this is the case both now, and thousands of years ago, when the cutting-edge technology was that new-fangled “iron” stuff.

    But on another level it’s a fatuous comment: demons exist or they don’t, miracles happen or they don’t regardless of whether people believe in them or not.

    We can be reasonably sure that demons and miracles are not real, because if they were, there would be further implications about how reality behaves that could be investigated. The phenomena would be susceptible to analysis and manipulation, even if the underlying causes were not understood. Ritual and prayer would actually be efficacious at changing reality in some way, instead of being statistically measurable as being no different from the null hypothesis. And so on.

    As I said elsewhere, I’m a monist.

    Perhaps that is a better way of phrasing the point above; not that easy access to electricity itself should cause people to disbelieve the supernatural, but that understanding the implications of being to manipulate the real world to that degree with technology, and thinking carefully about those processes, should logically lead to the conclusion that superstition and magical thinking do not work in actually affecting reality.

    Which of course brings me back to the point that people don’t usually think that hard and that carefully. Oh, well.

  2. John Morales says


    As John Morales pointed out @429, it was the waning of ecclesiastical power that allowed monarchy to mutate into absolutism, the ‘divine right of kings’.

    It was no waning, it was an arrogation by the monarch. The old power balance shifted, but both spiritual and temporal power remained – the Reformation did not diminish ecclesiastical power, it redistributed it.

  3. says

    Why can’t people come up with good arguments.. that guy sounds like an asshat. Its cool to make the argument that religion is bad ain’t it. And what better way to do that by saying America has religion, and America is bad, Religion is bad. BRILLIANT. There a few more variables that i think your “homey” is missing.

    What a pathetic response. its no wonder Atheists have a tough time getting an respect or getting anyone to listen to their point of view. They have assholes running around coming up with stupid arguments about how the religious are the ones who are unenlightened and about how we should take “under god” out of the allegiance. Why would an atheist care about the phrase… the only people who hear about raving about atheism are shitty ass attention whores that make the entire group look like dipshits. And this guy is prime example.

    This is the type of guy that religious networks bring on to debate religion. An idiot…

    Lastly, religion is a tool used to control people.

    A gun is a tool used to control people. Is the gun bad because it has killed people before? Is the gun good because it has been used as a deterant against crime? I reckon you could answer yes to both questions, but really what you should ask yourself is who’s yielding the tool.

    If you don’t like the gun analogy, try government… its the same idea…