It’s been scientifically proven: religion is bad for society.
“Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.” So opened a Times Online article linked to on the popular blog Towleroad.
The article, entitled “Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’,” summarized a report recently published in the Journal of Religion and Society, and continued, “According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society, but may actually contribute to social problems.”
The study “compares the social performance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the U.S., where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution.”
By this point I had already read several things that aroused intense suspicion; the headline alone was bizarre; as Abraham Lincoln famously put it – and as any faithful person ought to agree – the point is not whether God is on your side (He is), but whether you are on His.
The next clue that something was seriously faulty with the report was the bald implication that belief in a creator is incompatible with belief in evolution. It’s not. If you doubt me, turn your attention over to Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board is being sued by a group of concerned parents and teachers for their plan to integrate “intelligent design” within the district’s science curriculum. On the opening day of the hearing, the plaintiffs called exactly one witness: Kenneth Miller, professor of biology at Brown University, who stated categorically that intelligent design is not science and ought not to be included.
Professor Miller is a Christian.
I was unconvinced that this correlation between faith and social problems was a relationship of causality, and wondered how such a thing could possibly be proven. The simultaneous existence of two things does not indicate one caused the other. I might as well assert, having traveled to Brazil where I observed rainforests full of colorful birds, and then going next to southern Algeria where I observed no pretty birds and only vast sandy wastes, that colorful birds are the cause of rainforests.
As with intelligent design, this report seemed to be taking scientific information and drawing unscientific conclusions. I was curious to see what else it said.
The report, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, states clearly: “Because potential causal factors for rates of societal function are complex…it is not the purpose of this initial study to definitively demonstrate a causal link between religion and social conditions.” [emphasis mine]
Hmm, I got rather a different impression from the Times. Didn’t you?
The report does not conclude at all that “religion” is detrimental to society; it's a fascinating and valuable read, weakened by persistently meaning "Christianity" when it says “religion” and defining “Christianity” as Biblical literalism. The report overlooks that “religion” is diverse; the best it can do is position Senator Joseph Lieberman (!) at the “liberal” end of the spectrum.
The key to uncovering the relationship between social problems and religion is the correlation not between atheists and people of faith, but between people who reject evolution and everyone else. Christian fundamentalism is an anti-intellectual movement; notice how Republican presidential candidates frequently attempt to discredit Democratic candidates or other politicians by describing them as “members of the intellectual elite,” as if that’s a bad thing.
Christian fundamentalism treats God’s greatest gift to mankind – our ability to think – as Satan’s most powerful weapon. The data convincingly shows that the trend toward anti-intellectualism is related to America’s social problems, especially in light of demographics: “Within the U.S., strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution [see what I mean? The author doesn’t understand] are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions…approach European norms.”
What’s really wrong with America is that fundamentalist, anti-evolution, anti-intellectuals are taking over the government. The report quotes a prominent Republican blaming high crime rates on teaching children “that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup of mud.”
That Republican was indicted for conspiracy to commit fraud today.