Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Does religion help society?

According to a recent study,
belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
This obviously is not what most would resonate with based on their experiences. However, this study by Gregory Paul, published in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that, based on societal indicators such as higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abortion, there is a correlation between how religious a country is and how poorly they do in these areas.

Particularly he pointed at the United States as an example of a supposedly religious country that is functioning poorly. He says,
Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly skeptical world.

The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.
For instance, he says,
The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.
So why is this?

I don't necessarily doubt his numbers, but I do tend to disagree with his conclusions. Mr. Paul is basically calling the country hypocritical. He seems to have shown a correlation, but does not convince me of causality. Even if our country is more Christian, is it the Christians who are contributing to these statistics? Because these indicators are not present, are these other countries morally better or better functioning? Would a resident in those places have any better an experience than here?

Nonetheless, it is troubling to know that our country does struggle with some of these issues. I don't think religion is the bottom line cause, however. We need to continue to work on reaching out to the less fortunate among us, and hopefully some of the societal "ills" that befall our populace will continue to regress. The roots of our problems are likely manifold, but let us hope that the Christians amongst the Americans seek to serve as the counter to Mr. Paul's conclusion:
The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Religion does not necessarily mean "belief in a moral creator." There are many forms of religion. Everybody has moral values. Even if you reject the notion of moral values, that itself is a moral value.