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With a few religion-based dust-ups at dKos lately, I thought it might be worth taking a big picture look at the effect religion has on modern developed societies. Is religion helpful? Is it a benign force? Or does it actually hold societies back?

A recent study of developed countries by Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion & Society published by Creighton University (a Jesuit institution, BTW), demonstrated that higher percentages of belief in "God" have a positive correlation with most trackable social ills (homocide, teen pregnancy and abortions, infant mortality, etc.) and a negative correlation with life expectancy (the less "Godly" the society, the longer people live).

Here's the study's abstract:

Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in religiosity in favor of secularization in the developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular. Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.

Does this prove that "God" is bad for society? No, not necessarily. Although it does poke a big hole in the notion, an article of faith among the faithful, that belief in God is an essential foundation of morality and social structure. My guess is that rather than belief in God causing societal problems, increased rationality improves the ability of societies to understand problems and devise effective solutions unhampered by preconceptions or superstition. Strange as it may seem, rational thinking may actually make it easier to fix problems. Who knew?

One thing that jumps out at you no matter how you slice and dice it is how much of an "outlier" the United States is with much higher rates of most social problems and a much higher rate of belief in God than other developed countries. I mean, we're pretty much off the chart. At the least, with or without the God angle, perhaps it's time we in the U.S. get over ourselves and realize that we are no longer a leader in providing a high quality of life - or even the quantity of a long life - to our citizens and start learning a thing or two from other countries.

I don't expect true believers to give a damn (sorry, darn) about inconvenient facts like those indicated by the study. But those in the mushy middle who don't buy the old tales yet have been unable to let go of that last thread of a non-God god should consider evidence that countries dominated by those seeking rewards in heaven may create less than a Garden of Eden here on Earth. That particularly goes for progressives; rampant, runaway belief in God may be holding back progress in America. You've got more reason than ever to let go of the safety rope. We've got you. Together we'll tackle our problems as best we can and probably do a better job of it without the baggage.

Now I don't claim that the survey is definitive and neither does it's author, but it's pretty straightforward and surely seems worthy of further study. So here's an idea: Congress should fund research to determine whether promoting atheism would be an effective way to tackle multiple social problems at one time. If the study pans out we could create a lack-of-faith-based outreach program as a means to decrease societal dysfunction. All we need is to get one of the dozens of closet atheists in Congress to come out for long enough to sponsor the bill.

Originally posted to JavaManny on Thu Nov 17, 2005 at 03:58 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  First diary (4.00)
    If I write it, will they come. Enjoy. Or not.

    "I shall follow the light of reason, express my honest thoughts, help destroy superstition, and work for the happiness of my fellow beings." - Robert Ingersoll

    by JavaManny on Thu Nov 17, 2005 at 03:58:06 PM PST

  •  is it possible (none)
    that organized religion is an expression of social dysfunction?
    •  That's precisely what it is. (none)
      We have seen this repeatedly in American history - in periods of social stress, rapid change and dislocation, religiosity increases dramatically. People seek psychological shelter in religion.

      Which becomes a problem when they determine everyone would be better off and all problems would be cured if everyone would just become as religious as they...

      I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

      by eugene on Thu Nov 17, 2005 at 04:35:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  old news (none)
    there was a rash of diaries a month or two ago about this study

    I found one of my comments where I link to a few of them here

    •  In that case (none)
      Down the memory hole with it! Be gone study! You had you 15 minutes of fame! Away!

      Thanks for your comment anyway. FYI, as per your linked comment, I noted that the study as conducted disproves the notion that belief in God helps society more than it says that atheism is good for society. At the same time, it certainly doesn't rule out that possibility.

      "I shall follow the light of reason, express my honest thoughts, help destroy superstition, and work for the happiness of my fellow beings." - Robert Ingersoll

      by JavaManny on Thu Nov 17, 2005 at 04:36:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This because (none)
    righteousness and goodness must come from within.  The notion of an external God imposes virtue from without is promoted by religion.  
    Proper behaviour that is not internalized is not truely understood.  It's necessity is not truly felt.
    Good for goodness sake is real.  
    Goodness from fear of retribution from a petty and vengeful God does not truely inspire righteousness and the inhibition to do evil breaks down very quickly.

    This is from the child-rearing and discipline philosophy of Sears&Sears.

  •  Maybe those (none)
    who are victims of societal dysfunction are just those that are more drawn to organized religion...if you have a lot of problems, many of which might be self imposed, maybe you're just looking for support of some kind...

    I also think that many churches, especially the new mega church types, are bad for society because they create their own little society and don't participate enough in the larger community.

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