Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Dysfunctional religion

A new article in the Journal of Religion and Society debunks a popular myth in Jesusland --- also known as the USA. The story goes that when the residents of a nation believe in some god and divinely-inspired “morality” that the nation will be a better place. There will be less crime, less violence, less immorality and more good, decent people. Well Gregory Paul’s study looked at that claim.

He compared the religious values of well off countries and then looked at the levels of social dysfunctionality. And the results were staggering. While the US had levels of religious beliefs it also had much higher levels of social dysfunction. The more religious one is the more likely one is to be dysfunctional.

Greg argues that many of the advocates of creationism argue that without a belief in a divine creator man sinks to new depths of immorality. I’ve seen some on the loony Right argue that evolution leads to Nazism, crime and bestial behaviour. The born-againer
William Jennings Bryan argued that modern social problems (modern for a hundred years ago) were the result of “preaching that man has a brute ancestry and eliminating the miraculous and the supernatural from the Bible.”

This theory is fleshed out by Greg: “In broad terms the hypothesis that popular religiosity is socially beneficial holds that high rates of belief in a creator, as well as worship, prayer and other aspects of religious practice, correlate with lowering rates of lethal violence, suicide, non-monogamous sexual activity, and abortion, as well as improved physical health. Such faith-based, virtuous “cultures of life” are supposedly attainable if people believe that God created them for a special purpose, and follow the strict moral dictates imposed by religion.”

Now 60% or so of Americans are absolutely bonkers on religion. The rest are still infected with religion but to a lesser degree. Having lived for some time in four different regions of the world I can attest the US is absolutely unlike anyplace else. And that is no longer a compliment. In the US I see a fundamentalist type church almost every few blocks. The absolute worst of religion is the dominant religion in the US. And these people believe “that their church-going nation is an exceptional, God blessed, “shining city on the hill” that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly skeptical world. But in the other developing democracies religiosity continues to decline precipitously and avowed atheists often win high office, even as clergies warn about adverse societal consequences if a revival of creator belief does not occur.”

Now since the average American thinks “overseas travel” means visiting Canada they often have little or no experience of the facts of life in the rest the world. They often assume that “godless” nations are hell-holes of immorality, violence and crime. That, of course is not true. And Greg notes this by comparing studies on levels of religious belief to studies on social dysfuctionality. And the indicators seem to indicate quite consistently that as religious values become more dominant social ills increase not decrease.

Now some years ago I looked at levels of religiosity to levels of wealth creation. What was clear was that as wealth increased the levels of “born-againers” decreased. We know there are studies that show that highly intelligent people are far less likely to be born-again and dunces are more likely. Simplistic fundamentalism appeals more to those unable to grasp the complexities of reality.

Over and over I found that the people who were poor, uneducated and often simply not so bright tended to be more religious than people who had some intelligence, had done well and had some education. The most dysfunctional groups in society were the most religious. And that corresponds with Greg’s study of religious values across nations. I simply looked at religious values within the same nation and found the same trend.

Greg found that the US alone is the one wealthy country with high degrees of faith. Religious nations on a whole are more likely to be third world than first world when it comes to development. God may bless believers but he doesn’t improve their wealth contrary to the claims of the believers themselves. Not only is the US the only developed country with a high level of religion it is also the only developed country with a high homicide level.

Americans not only pray more but kill each other more. Greg also found that “life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise.” he noted that “higher rates of religious affiliation, attendance, and prayer do not result in lower juvenile-adult mortality rates on a cross-national basis.” And sexually transmitted diseases have “been curtailed in all prosperous democracies” but in the US gonorrhea among teens “remains six to three hundred times higher....than in less theistic, pro-evolution, secular developing democracies.”

The born again either are no more moral than the secular or they take far less sane precautions when they lust after the flesh. Not only are STDs higher in religious America than in secular developed countries but abortion rates are higher as well. “Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S.” Teen pregnancy rates have dropped quite a bit in most developed countries and have dropped slightly in the US as well. But “rates are two to dozens of times higher in the US”.

Greg concludes, “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 (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developing democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.”

As Greg notes “the widely held feat that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

I remember that federal judge Richard Posner, appointed by Ronald Reagan, wrote in his excellent book “Sex and Reason” that violence levels were highest in those countries that were more religious than in nations that were not. That didn’t surprise me when I read it and Greg’s analysis of numerous studies of social problems and religious values shows the trend has remained the same.


Blogger Indioheathen said...

In relation to the world's major religions, the one exception to the points made by Greg are those nations that are devoutly Buddhist, probably because is the only major religion that is not theistic; places little emphasis on religion-defined wrongdoings known as "sins," and offers the most compassionate and pacifistic philosophy of the major religions.

Some don't even consider it a religion, but more of a philosophy and a school of psychology of reformed Hinduism with some spiritual and ritualistic trimmings.

Here is a recommended link on the origins of Christianity:


September 28, 2005


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