Thursday, June 7, 2007

Does religion promote better societies?

Many christians subscribe to the idea that religion promotes better, healthier and safer societies. Conversely, they often believe that a lack of religion leads to weaker, unsafer societies. Are they justified in thinking this? I put some cerebral thought into this question a few years back and came to a different conclusion.

It's very easy to look in the middle-eastern countries and see cultures deeply rooted in religion with deep social problems. Is there a direct correlation to the high numbers of individuals with fundamentalist beliefs within those societies and the problems seen? They definitely have problems, but is it religion? On the surface, one may conclude that this must be because of other issues or because of the particulars of the religions they follow. Is it religion in general or just their religion? Is it something else?

In order for something to be a theory, it must be falsifiable and it must predict. With the theory that levels of religiosity directly correlates to social problems within countries (a prediction) , one should be able to find similarly high social problems anywhere there are high levels of religiosity, regardless of the religion (a test). My theory predicts that even a developed, prosperous and democratic country should still exhibit high levels of social issues if there is a high level of religiosity in the general population. Where to look then? The obvious place, the United States. The US fits the criteria very well for an objective test of the theory. It doesn't have many of the other problems that could be effecting many of the middle-eastern countries; problems such as recent wars (or ongoing) on their soil, aggressive neighboring countries, political systems and instability, weaker personal liberties, lower standards of living, lower levels of education, etc.

So how does the US rank in terms of social problems when compared to other similar democratic, wealthy countries that are less religious? We all hear of the high murder rates, rapes, teenage pregnancy, etc. in the US, but Americans tend to think this is normal and many christians tend to blame it on a lack of religiosity in the general population - never considering that the US is actually one of the most religious countries on the planet. When contrasting the levels of religiosity in the US to other countries such as France, UK, Canada and many others, the numbers don't make sense by the claims of the fundamentalists. By the theories of the christian fundamentalist in the US, the US should rank higher for social progress but it consistently ranks lower then all similar countries with less religious populations.

My conclusion was that the US does exhibit many of the social issues that accompany high levels of religiosity, but this was not a full out study on the problem, just my own investigation and comparison of some general statistics from several countries.

Today, I found this:

Surprised? I wasn't.


ann said...

I don't really know what to say except for that you can find anything if you look hard enough for it, which is why many people haven't found God yet. Also, correlation doesn't mean causation. I haven't read every word of your post and the link. I'll probably comment more later.

ann said...

What, exactly, do you mean by "social progress?" It seems to me that some of the blame for what you have found here has to do with the education system in the United States, not religion. I still haven't read the other article, though. I'll get back to you.

ann said...

Here is a paragraph from the article you cited: "Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills."

Do you actually believe that participation in and devotion to Christianity has anything to do with murder rates? You're going to have to show me something more than this obviously biased article for me to believe that.

I understand that there have been Christian activists that have taken things too far (bombing abortion clinics) but you would have to agree that this is not the norm. I worked with juvenile delinquents (not the technical term) for three years and never met a single kid who participated in delinquent behavior (robbery, violence, sexual promiscuity, etc.) for religious reasons. Nor do I know a single person with so much religious fervor that they would kill someone and I've been in Christian circles for quite some time now.

This whole thing seems like a straw man argument. If we don't know anyone like this, how can this concept be applied to the entire society. I still believe that the people contributing the most to the instability of the society have nothing to do with Christianity. You can use statistics to prove anything, but this is crazy.

Vorax said...

There are several things to consider that are beyond just the surface of what religions say. Christianity gives the message, love they neighbor, which is a great message. However, that's not the only message it gives. The reglion is ripe with several things that could very easy lead to violence:

- Very misogonistic in nature
- Promotes predjudice or an "us vs them" attitude regarding people of other faiths
- It promotes sexual repression
- It discriminates against gays
- It discriminates against atheists
- It teaches that non christians are hell bound

All of those things can lead to violence and social problems. The christian message seems benign, but the christian teachings are ripe with predjudice and intollerance.

Having been on the other side of the debate, an atheist, I've seen the predjudice christianity breeds. There are great christians, but not all of them are.

Fundamentalist christians and bible litteralists are considering the bible gods word, but look at all of what that word is and the messages are not all nice. Examples: the bible says we are supposed to kill gays, adulterous women, disobedient children. It says that women are below men and rape is acceptable if the girl is a virgin or as a spoil of war. The bible says all those things and that's very dangerous message. In societies where there is less christianity, there is less of these messages in people heads. Not all people are good people and when the bible backs up their actions, some people can internally justify a lot of crime. In my opinion, the statistics make perfect sense if you take into account the entire bible.

ann said...

Vorax, I see your point but I still maintain that this is not what is playing out in America's crime scenes.

I've known a lot of criminals from working at the drug rehab. Some of these kids had killed people in gang shootings. Many of their parents had similar lifestyles. I never met one single kid or parent who was doing it for religious reasons, rather lack of morals.

Vorax said...

I don't think criminals are comitting these acts strictly because of religious reasons, but the levels of criminal behavior and social problems directly correspond to the religiosity of a country. Perhaps they are rebelling against their society or their parents, or what they feel are repressive rules placed on them by their society...there are many possibilities, but the society they are rebelling against or attacking, is infact a thestic one.

How many of those kids you talked about come from theistic families? Statistically, in the US almost 86% of them do. Where in other countries, there are less of these crimnals and lower percentages of regliosity.

Is it the wrong statistic? Possibly, but it has been studied quite extensively. The US is very similar to the countries it was compared against in all other respects. The largest social difference betwen them was the levels of theism (and it's substantially larger) in the US.

I'm not saying theists are bad people or trying to create a bad society, I'm sure they aren't, but I do believe religiosity causes oppression, suppression and social regression and gives people a cause for rebellion or a justification for their actions. That in turn causes the problems.

ann said...

If 86% of families in the United States are theistic, there is an underrepresentation in the drug rehab world. If these people are theistic, they certainly don't practice their beliefs or force them on their children.

ann said...

Basically, I am advocating that the deterioration of society is directly related to the deterioration of the family unit, not because we are "theistic" in the U.S.

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