Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"If you want people to behave as Christians advocate, you should tell them that God does not exist."

I hate it when bloggers simply repost someone else's words without adding any content of their own, and I swore to myself when I started this thing that I would never do that. But this Guardian editorial needs no comment, and yet it deserves to be spread. Forgive me.

Are religious societies better than secular ones? [...] Remarkably, no one, until now, has attempted systematically to answer the question with which this column began. But in the current edition of the Journal of Religion and Society, a researcher called Gregory Paul tests the hypothesis, propounded by evangelists in the Bush administration, that religion is associated with lower rates of "lethal violence, suicide, non-monogamous sexual activity and abortion". He compared data from 18 developed democracies, and discovered that the Christian fundamentalists couldn't have got it more wrong.

"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 ... None of the strongly secularised, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction." Within the US, "the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest" have "markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the north-east where ... secularisation, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms".

Three sets of findings stand out: the associations between religion - especially absolute belief - and juvenile mortality, venereal disease and adolescent abortion. Paul's graphs show far higher rates of death among the under-fives in Portugal, the US and Ireland and put the US - the most religious country in his survey - in a league of its own for gonorrhea and syphilis. Strangest of all, for those who believe that Christian societies are "pro-life", is the finding that "increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator ... Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data".

These findings appear to match the studies of teenage pregnancy I've read. The rich countries in which sexual abstinence campaigns, generally inspired by religious belief, are strongest have the highest early pregnancy rates. The US is the only rich nation with teenage pregnancy levels comparable to those of developing nations: it has a worse record than India, the Philippines and Rwanda. Because they're poorly educated about sex and in denial about what they're doing (and so less likely to use contraceptives), boys who participate in abstinence programmes are more likely to get their partners pregnant than those who don't.
Go read.


Dulcie said...

Wow, serendipity. TUS was discussing this recently. Iain found the link to the whole article.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Oh, excellent! Thanks for the full citation.

Kevin Brennan said...

There was a discussion of this on Matt Yglasias's blog here.

The United States has much higher results that other countries in all the dysfunctions mentioned and it has higher claimed levels of religious belief. Because the study really depends on a single outlier to reach the conclusion, it doesn't tell you anything.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Good point, there. Alas, it doesn't sound like there's a better way to analyze the data, either, given its nature. Pity, that.