Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services. He then correlated this with data on rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.
He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the U.S. — which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage of atheists and agnostics) — also has by far the highest levels of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
As Rosa Brooks points out, we see this “values” hypocrisy right here at home:
Murder rates? Six of the seven states with the highest 2003 homicide rates were “red” in the 2004 elections (Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina), while the deep blue Northeastern states had murder rates well below the national average. Infant mortality rates? Highest in the South and Southwest; lowest in New England. Divorce rates? Marriages break up far more in red states than in blue. Teen pregnancy rates? The same.
Brooks doesn’t point this out in her article, but it’s also worth noting that anti-choice red states notoriously dedicate less funding to things like head start, childhood nutrition programs and social programs for low-income families. Women in those states tend to be less educated and earn less than women in pro-choice states.
Although correlation is not causation, Paul’s study offers much food for thought. At a minimum, his findings suggest that contrary to popular belief, lack of religiosity does societies no particular harm. This should offer ammunition to those who maintain that religious belief is a purely private matter and that government should remain neutral, not only among religions but also between religion and lack of religion. It should also give a boost to critics of “faith-based” social services and abstinence-only disease and pregnancy prevention programs.
Well… you would think that both empirical and scientific proving that such programs don’t work would have been enough. But that doesn’t cut it with the religious right.
We shouldn’t shy away from the possibility that too much religiosity may be socially dangerous. Secular, rationalist approaches to problem-solving emphasize uncertainty, evidence and perpetual reevaluation. Religious faith is inherently nonrational.
To the truly nonrational, even evidence that on its face undermines your beliefs can be twisted to support them. Absolutism means never having to say you’re sorry.
Couldn’t have said it better. It’s about damn time to get religion out of politics and social policy.
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