The Jewish Journalism of Joel Shurkin

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Religion is the opiate of the sociology class

If this country turned itself to God the whole damn place would burn down—America is a God-fearing country, probably the most religious developed country in the world, and the more religious we get the safer, healthier we all will be, we are told. You may well have heard that in a political speech or two, or from one of those screamers on Fox or the sanctimonious ranting of a preacher or two. Is it true? Is religion associated with lower rates of “lethal violence, suicide, non-monogomous sexual activity and abortion?” Will be we a better country if we get even more religious?

Enter an independent scientist named Gregory S. Paul here in Baltimore, who has actually done a study of this notion and published it in the recent issue of the Journal of Religion and Society. Paul points out that until the 20th century, most western nations were fairly religious, some more than others, but as the century progressed, most of those countries became secularized—with the exception of the U.S. While church attendance in France, Britain, Italy and most of the European countries shrank in the 20th century, the U.S. became far more church-going. Whereas in Britain, until Tony Blair, any prime minister referencing his or her religious belief quickly apologized for the gaffe, we have a president who ran on his evangelical beliefs and even, apparently, nominates Supreme Court judges on that basis. The Elmer Gantry set—has taken a prominent place in political discourse. Are we better off? Paul says no.

In the U.S., many of the religious right attack evolution because if evolution is true, they maintain, there is no need for a Creator, and without a Creator we will sink into anarchy and chaos. Evolution is, they assert, a leading contributor to social dysfunction because it is amoral.

OK, but the least religious developed country in the world is Japan, the country where evolution is least controversial is Japan, and guess which country has among the lowest crime rates and most stable societies in the world? The country with the lowest level of acceptance? Do I have to say? Evolution is not an issue in Europe either, and their societies are far safer and more stable than ours.

The homicide rates in Christian Europe and the Americas were once astronomical. While it has decreased dramatically all over, guess which country has by far the highest. It’s true of most major crimes as well.

How about sex? (How about sex?). The U.S. has a sexually transmitted disease rate six times higher than the secular developed, pro-evolution countries, Paul writes. In the totally secular Scandinavian countries, it has been virtually eradicated.

The rate in the U.S., of youth suicide and juvenile mortality is far higher. “Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise, especially as a function of absolute belief,” he adds, with Denmark being the only exception. There are fewer abortions in the secular countries, as well as fewer teenaged pregnancies. The age when kids first get laid is the same all over, religious or otherwise. It's too early everywhere.

Paul is not alone. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report showed that teenage pregnancies in the more religious red states are twice what they are in the blue states where manners of morality are closer to European standards than say those of Dallas. According to FBI statistics, the more religious red states have higher murder rates than the blue states (one reason most states without the death penalty are not in the South). The divorce rate is 50% higher there as well. And would you believe that those states that most talk about self-reliance and cut-backs in social programs get far more money from Washington then they send there, in other words, living off the dole.

As far as hypocrisy goes, we are unmatched.

Paul admits his study has weaknesses, mostly in working poverty into the equations. But we are the richest country in the world, so why do we have that poverty in the first place. Oh, never mind.