The Root of Society's Ills? Religion, Says Study
Perfect Example? America
Religion Is Society's Biggest Threat: Author
from The Australian
LONDON: Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and suicide, according to research published yesterday.
The study says belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society, but may actually contribute to social problems.
It counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.
The research compares the social performance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution.
Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.
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.
Published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, it 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 sceptical world.
"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."
Study author and social scientist Gregory Paul used data from the International Social Survey Program, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions. He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.
Paul finds that the US is the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates are still high, and that the least devout nations are the least dysfunctional.
He says the rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US are up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffers from "uniquely high" adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates.
"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," Paul says.
The disparity is even greater when the US is compared with France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries, which have been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.
Paul says the evidence accumulated by several different studies suggests religion may contribute to social ills.
He suggests most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God proved scientifically. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there were a marked decline in religious belief.
"The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator," he says.
"The widely held fear that a godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted."