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Journal of No. 118

September 27th, 2005

Religion is bad for the country @ 10:12 am

A study just published by the Journal of Religion and Society correlates the rate of religious belief and participation with various social and societal ills among eighteen nations of the world. The author, Gregory S. Paul, a freelance scientist and scientific illustrator, describes the results of the study:
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, correlation ain't necessarily causation, and one could point to any number of other things that are unusual about America that might be alternative explanations for our extreme results: we're rich, we're fat, we're racially/ethnically mixed & stratified. But such explanations would have to also explain why other religious nations (e.g. Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland) also do comparatively poorly on these social yardsticks. That too could perhaps be explained away; After all, dagoes are lazy and micks are drunkards.

But we have to bend over backward just to make the religious countries come out smelling as good as the more secular countries. So I still want to send out a hearty FUCK YOU to all the people who continue to assume and proclaim that atheism leads inevitably to moral degeneracy, ill-considered movie sequels, the heartbreak of psoriasis and divine meteor strikes.
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Date:September 27th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC)

First, I love the icon.

Second, I hope more studies are conducted. The high correlation should provoke a strong response from the religious-minded -- probably not a logical response, but it's got to at least put them on the defensive.
Date:September 28th, 2005 03:07 am (UTC)
A friend points out that religiosity in the study seems to be exclusively the Christian variety - thus, Japan is classified as secular, which rather ignores Shinto and its prominent role.

Be interesting to see if anyone follows up on this, taking a more rigorous approach.
Date:September 29th, 2005 04:57 pm (UTC)
Obviously, I haven't read the report but your comment does answer my question about it. Just reading the "summaries" proliferating on the net immediately made me think of two things. First, like Mike says, its unlikely that there is a strong causal link between religion and the murder rate. Every murder I've been acquainted with very rarely has anything to do with religious motivations. Most seem to do with the opposite sex, money, honor or alcohol. Even sometimes all four. Japan, for example, is filled with religions but its murder rate is far lower than the USA. Given that chimpanzees, our closest cousin, engage in 'murder' without the need for postulating a divine force, I'd steer clear of trying to argue that religion is behind the murder rate. If anything can be placed at religion's feet, its that it makes murder a bit easier to justify on a societal level. But I'd suggest that the motivations are more personal than claimed. Teen pregnancy and other sexual dysfunctions, maybe. Its almost cliche to say that certain fundamentalist Christian sects have a fear of exposing their children to sexual education and harbor a rather negative view of premarital sex. All of which leads those teens engaging in the act to be ignorant and dangerously secretive leading to panic-driven abortions, and quietly festering STDs. Though I'd almost be inclined to suggest that the problem here lies with the conflict between the secular attitude and the more religious attitude in teen's lives. By this I mean that there is an obvious conflict between the secular and popular media's view of sex as both commodity and source of pleasure to the more "religious" view of sexual containment and discipline. Naturally, the teen feels pulled in both directions and those that cross the line find themselves suddenly isolated from family support. So we could say that religion sets up a universal ideal that some people are unable to live up to. To be charitable, we can say its because for some living up to that ideal is not compatible with the things that will make them happy. As a result, those "transgressors" will find themselves socially isolated from their most important support network, their immediate family. It is this isolation that leads to the problems the paper is laying at religion's doorstep. But I'm suggesting that part of the blame must also go towards the society for creating the cognitive dissonance. Sure, we can try to justify the society's cultural traits by claiming that they represent a more natural and reasonable view than the more constrained religious view, but its clear that from the religious viewpoint, particularly the more right-wing Christian conservative viewpoint, that the more natural and reasonable view is a god-centered one. In other words, both sides can accept the facts of human nature while laying different significances upon each of them. For the secularist, the sexual urge is seen as a natural desire that can be responsibly engaged in with no harm. But for the fundamentalist Christian, the sexual urge is seen as a natural desire that can be ONLY responsibly engaged in with no harm within the confines of marriage. I guess my point is that what the study shows is that in more homogeneous societies, there are less occasions of violence and sexual dysfunctions than in more heterogeneous societies such as our American "melting pot". ----- Steven Marc Harris
Date:September 29th, 2005 04:58 pm (UTC)
Which leads to my second thought regarding the study. What constitutes a religious society? As Kaye answered, the study seems to focus on Christianity. (I wouldn't be surprised if the study's authors are displeased with the present Bush administration and characterize our country's politics as being "too Christianized". Not that they may not be right on both counts. But the study feels too partisan.) But I'd venture to say that the abortion rate, the STD rate and other results are less in Iran, Pakistan, Kuwait, etc. Of course, these countries don't have published statistics of these things. Why? Because they are religiously controlled countries and I wouldn't be surprised if abortion was outlawed there and sex is rarely publicly talked about. Yet these are religious countries. How do these religious countries manage to have such lower rates of crime and sexual problems? They brutally punish those who break religious rules and they censor the media that is not in line with their religious values. (Though this isn't just something religions do, Communistic China, claiming an atheist bent, does the same thing.) So it seems the problems the study indicate as a result of religiosity are a small price to pay to have a heterogeneous society. "But wait!" you say, "Secular societies are able to have a homogeneous society without all the bloodshed. Its only religious homogeneity that imposes its will on the people." Perhaps, though there can't be a truly secular society. There can be secular governments, but they will constantly face the balancing act between what they see as valuable with what religious groups see as valuable. Take the example of France in its continuing problems of allowing girls to wear headscarves to school. France prides itself on being the secular society par excellence, but when faced with the head scarf issue they were forced to become insensitive to Muslim values. It seems common sense for us to just let people wear what they want to wear, but France's secularism works only because its society is secularly homogeneous. When values conflict, the French man will put aside his religious values for the secular one. That seems reasonable to him. But for the Muslim girl, the value of her headscarf is higher than the equality of the French citizen. She is following God's law, not France's. So I think there just can't BE a secular society that does not allow for religious freedom and as a result religious interaction with the government and society leading to secular values being stepped on occasionally. And as a result of that, should the study have some merit, all the resulting problems associated with religion. ---- Steven Marc Harris
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Date:September 28th, 2005 06:53 am (UTC)


Go science, go science, go science!

Let's hear it for intelligence over intelligent design!

My current email sig:
"If nearly all original species are extinct, the
intelligent design creator was not very intelligent."
--Brown University professor Kenneth Miller, the first
witness called in the trial against Intelligent Design
beliefs being taught in Dover, Pennsylvania schools

Journal of No. 118