Why Nonreligious Societies are more Functional
According to research published by sociologist Gregory Paul, the U.S. is doing close to worst compared to its industrialized cousins with regard to homicide, incarceration, juvenile (not just infant) and adult mortality (lifespans are actually shortening in parts of the Bible belt), gonorrhea, syphilis, abortion, teen pregnancy, divorce, income disparity, poverty, long work hours, and resource exploitation. In fact, the U.S. scores lowest in the majority of 24 indicators of societal and economic stability or what Paul calls the Successful Societies Scale.
The new version of the Successful Societies Scale is slated to be published this year and has been doubled to four dozen indicators. In addition to the above list, the U.S. is also doing worst or poorly in obesity, height (a measure of health), mental health (both treated and untreated), illicit drug use, corruption, mandated maternity leave, gender equality, reading-math-science test scores, upward social mobility, income growth and manufacturing base. The U.S. scores lowest in 19 out of 48 indicators, extremely low in seven of those, poorly in eight, and best in just three.
When Paul correlated the countries on their degree of religiosity, he found that with the exception of Ireland, those that are least religious enjoyed the most prosperity and the highest levels of socioeconomic functioning. Other sociologists have found the same correlation.
As for suicide, the religious in the U.S. clearly hold the lower percentages, though this advantage disappears when compared to other nations. The secular countries with high suicide rates were all former Soviet/communist countries “marked by all that comes with totalitarianism: poor economic development, censorship, corruption, depression, etc.,” notes sociologist Phil Zuckerman in “Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns” from the Cambridge Companion to Atheism (University of Cambridge Press 2007). These former communist countries are atheistic through governmental coercion as opposed to organic atheism, which is nontheistic belief arising on its own.
Some apologists have attributed the social problems in the U.S. to the large income gap between the rich and poor or to our ethnically heterogeneous population, but many unindustrialized countries have even larger income discrepancies or just as much or more heterogeneity, yet both varieties still manage to run relatively peaceful and functional societies.
Additionally, when white-only rates were taken into account, U.S. homicide rates were still above the “general secular democracy levels” says Zuckerman.
The answer on why religion does not appear to be as good for society as is widely assumed is not so simple. Research indicates higher levels of nontheism and belief in evolution to be associated with superior social conditions. This is why some experts maintain America’s dysfunction is not due to a lack of religion but directly because of it. Others say the two enable each another, with societal insecurity causing a widespread belief in a god, which in turn generates societal insecurity in order to perpetuate the widespread belief in a god.
It is unfortunate that many people do not seem to feel they are capable of being moral or decent without the promise of heaven or under threat of hell but atheists prove this is indeed possible.
Atheists not only have the lowest per capita rates of imprisonment, they also have the highest educational levels and lowest incidences of divorce. Studies indicate they are also less supportive of governmental use of torture or the death penalty, are least apt to hold racist or ethnocentric views, and are more supportive with respect to protecting the environment, women’s and gay rights.
Regardless of the benefits to the individual, there is no question that the United States registers higher in societal dysfunction compared to the secular countries. The second most religious industrialized country, Portugal, ranked second highest in societal dysfunction.
Overall, the more secular countries make the U.S. look like the problem child of nations. Two major steps in the move toward a secular nation are to do away with the tax-exempt status of churches and to stop taxpayer funding of voucher schools, which are largely unregulated. Many charter schools are teaching creationism and other notions based on the Bible – a book filled with cruelty and violence – to thousands of impressionable children.
Churches and voucher schools are major players promoting religious belief and the subsequent societal dysfunction we are seeing, and worse yet, are sponsored by government programs and tax breaks. How much more societal malaise must we endure before atheists finally start getting more serious about taking America back to what our Founding Fathers envisioned – a society free from government-sponsored religion?