Recently in the spate of articles about religion and irreligion, I have (re)noticed a trend employed by the religious - which is their insistence that being more religious makes you more virtuous, more moral and generally a better and well adapted human being.
In this article, I want to evaluate their claims.
Note: as Christianity is the largest religion in this country, when I refer to the religious, I refer to the Christians
Their premise is simple, and not only supported (and justified) by scripture, but reflected in their comments and mentality:
Premise: Atheists lead a sinful and immoral life, and they have no moral compass or reason to be good or behave virtuous, as there is no purpose to their existence (amongst others). On the contrary, being religious ushers in a life of piety, morality and virtue, as they strive to live out their biblical decree and religious principles.
Of course this is the middle ground, and the irreligious is often accused of far worse than being "a bit lost in their ways"
So let us evaluate the claims of the religious, as this should be a simple situation to evaluate and test. If they are indeed correct in their claims, we should see clear distinctions between the religious and irreligious and their respective groupings, whether this is societies, nations, countries, communities or even ethnic groups.
So how do we test this?
There is 2 simple scales I want to use in this evaluation:
Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices. In other words, it measures the life expectancy, literacy levels and living standards(or income disparity)
The Successful Societies Scale (SSS) which is a much more progressive and complete social and societal scale, measures factors such as homicide rates, incarceration, suicides, birth rate, infant mortality, abortions, divorce rates, alcohol consumption, poverty, corruption, life satisfaction, STD's, employment levels etc. There is a lot more to this scale and it is quite extensive. You can see the original studies for a full list of factors. At its core, this index measures the social and societal health of a nation.
A recent study, entitled The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psycho sociological Conditions, measures the correlation between levels of religiosity and social dysfunction using the SSS scale. In other words, it indicates whether being more religious is good or bad for a society in respect of the factors measured in the Successful Societies Scale.
The religious argues that being more religious will counter the evils of this world. This study seems to indicate the exact opposite. There is a definitive and definite negative correlation between levels of religiosity and levels of social dysfunction.
In other words, and in plain terms, as levels of religiosity increases so does: homicides, incarceration, suicides, abortions, corruption, alcohol consumption, unemployment levels, divorce rates, teen pregnancy and others. So the ideology held by the religious that embracing Jesus and being more pious and religious will banish evil from our societies and herald in a better life for all is simply not true. In actual fact, the exact opposite is true.
No please don't confuse cause and effect. There is other factors involved, most of which can be usurped in the HDI. Education levels is obviously a big factor, and would have been definitive if the USA did not score so low on the SSS. In other words people who want to blame the artifacts we see in the SSS on education and poverty, cannot do this because of the USA.
A tentative conclusion is that people are more religious when their societies fail to give them the support or feeling of well-being that, for example, is enjoyed by inhabitants of countries like Sweden and Denmark. Again, it could mean—but I am not pushing this interpretation as dogma—that people tend to either become more religious or retain a historical religiosity in areas where they are not very well off.
As for the HDI, the top 5 is mostly secular countries, where as the bulk of the top 15 is secular. Coupled with the SSS, it does not seem that higher level of religiosity is good for a country and societies well-being.
Another note on sexual health. The religious of course preaches abstinence to prevent a host of social sexual problems such as teen pregnancy, STD's and abortion. Again, this simply not effective. Education and contraceptive is far more effective at preventing the problems mention above. In actual fact, in societies where strict abstinence is maintained as a means to control natural sexual behavior, there is normally a higher instance of unwanted pregnancies and abortion.
This article is not intended to address morality, its origins, its effects on society and its correlation with religion and any of the other factors measured here. It is simply meant to provide the facts with regards to levels of religiosity and social dysfunction. Also remember that you don't need to "believe" in facts - this is not required for the facts to be true or false
My tentative and reserved conclusion is that secularism does not lead to a sinful and dysfunctional life, in actual fact, the contrary seems to be true. So any religious person that wants to claim that secularism or atheism leads to a sinful, disgusting, immoral satanistic life, better be ready to back that claim up with some hard, cold facts.
Human Development Index
The correlation between religiosity and well-being among U.S. states - Gallup, CIA "The world factbook"
The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psycho sociological Conditions, 2009. 7(3): 398-441
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