Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side',,2-1798944,00.html

The journal article is available at:

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards
high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according
to research published today.

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 counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to
provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance 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.

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US
academic journal, reports: "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."

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used
data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other
research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide
and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world's only prosperous
democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least
devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates
of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher
than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from "
uniquely high" adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and
adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: "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

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared
with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian
countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing
murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and
abortion, he added.

Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane
Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of
different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to
social ills. "I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by
the poor societal performance of the Christian states," he added.

He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if
the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God
scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not
enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in
religious belief, Mr Paul said.

"The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum
that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens
ardently believe in a moral creator.

"The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience
societal disaster is therefore refuted."

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