Several weeks ago, a ground-breaking
study on religious belief and social well-being was published in the Journal of Religion & Society (http://raoses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-ll.html).
Comparing eighteen prosperous democracies from the US to New Zealand, author Gregory S Paul quietly demolished the myth that faith strengthens society.
Drawing on a wide range
of studies to cross-match faith—measured by belief in God and acceptance of evolution—with homicide and sexual
behavior, Paul found that secular societies have lower rates of violence and teenage pregnancy than societies where many people
profess belief in God.
Top of the class, in both
Atheism and good behavior, come the Japanese. Over eighty percent accept evolution and fewer than ten percent are certain
that God exists. Despite its size—over a hundred million people—Japan is one of the least crime-prone countries
in the world. It also has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy of any developed nation.
(Teenage pregnancy has less tragic consequences than violence but it is usually unwanted, and it is frequently associated
with deprivation among both mothers and children. In general, it is a Bad Thing.) Next
in line are the Norwegians, British, Germans and Dutch. At least sixty percent accept evolution as a fact and fewer than one
in three are convinced that there is a deity. There is little teenage pregnancy is low, although the Brits, with over 40 pregnancies
per 1,000 girls a year, do twice as badly as the others. Homicide rates are also low—around 1-2 victims per 100,000
people a year.
At the other end of the
scale comes America. Over fifty percent of Americans believe in God, and only 40 percent accept some form of
evolution (many believe it had a helping hand from the Deity). The US has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and homicide
rates are at least five times greater than in Europe and ten times higher than in Japan. All this information points to a strong correlation between faith and antisocial
behavior—a correlation so strong that there is good reason to suppose that religious belief does more harm than good.
At first glance that is
a preposterous suggestion, given that religions preach non-violence and sexual restraint. However, close inspection reveals
a different story. Faith tends to weaken rather than strengthen people's ability to participate in society. That makes it less likely they will respect social customs and laws. All believers learn that God holds them responsible for their
actions. So far so good, but for many, belief absolves them of all other responsibilities. Consciously or subconsciously,
those who are "born again" or "chosen" have diminished respect for others who do not share their sect or their faith. Convinced
that only the Bible offers "truth", they lose their intellectual curiosity and their ability to reason. Their priority becomes
not the world they live in but themselves.
The more people prioritize
themselves rather than those around them, the weaker society becomes and the greater the likelihood of antisocial behavior.
Hence gun laws which encourage Americans to see each other not as fellow human beings who deserve protection, but as potential
aggressors who deserve to die. And hence a health care system which looks after the wealthy rather than the ill. As for sex... Faith encourages ignorance rather than responsible behavior.
In other countries, sex education includes contraception, reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancies. Such an approach
recognizes that young people have the right to make their own choices and helps them make decisions that benefit society as
a whole. In America faith-driven abstinence programs deny them that right—"As a Christian I will only help
you if you do what I say". The result is soaring rates of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Abstinence programs rest
on the same weak intellectual foundation as creationism and intelligent design. Faith discourages unprejudiced analysis.
Reasoning is subverted to rationalization' that supports rather than questions assumptions. The result is a self-contained
system that maintains an internal logic, no matter how absurd to outside observers.
The constitutional wall that theoretically separates church
and state is irrelevant. Religion has overwhelmed the nation to permeate all public discussion. Look no further than
Gary Bauer, a man who in any other western nation would be dismissed as a fanatic and who in America is interviewed deferentially on prime
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."
I might express that another way. The flip side of Monbiot's
argument is that God would be an Atheist... *
All Rights Reserved © Martin Foreman
Creighton University. Founded in 1878, in Omaha, Nebraska, enrolment 6,7000, over 50 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. One of 28 Jesuit colleges in the US.
Journal of Religion & Society is a cross-disciplinary, electronic journal published by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy
Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society
at Creighton University. The journal promotes the study of religious groups and beliefs among the various peoples of the world,
past and present, with emphasis on American religions and the Western religious traditions.
The Journal of Religion & Society is a refereed academic journal dedicated to the publication of scholarly
research in religion and its diverse social dimensions. All submissions to the journal will be subject to blind peer review.
Ronald A. Simkins
Gregory S. Bucher
Raymond A. Bucko, S.J.
Susan A. Calef
John W. Carlson
Sue E. S. Crawford
Barbara J. Dilly
Bette Novit Evans
Dennis Hamm, S.J.
Judith Lee Kissell
Michael G. Lawler
Gary K. Leak
Tracy Neal Leavelle
Richard Collin Mangrum
R. R. Reno
John R. Wingender, Jr.
Wendy M. Wright
One of the leading
sociologists of the 19th century Durkheim stated that there was a positive correlation between religious passion,
as a variable characteristic of nations and a positive correlation to the homicide rate.
He was right!
Émile Durkheim, born April 1858, Épinal, France, died Nov. 15, 1917, Paris. French social scientist who developed a vigorous methodology
combining empirical research with sociological theory. He is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology.
The complete article is to be found