Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
September 27, 2005 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side' 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.
posted by Postroad (106 comments total)

 
I wonder what The Holy Inquisition will have to say about that one...
posted by jsavimbi at 6:28 AM on September 27, 2005


Well, DUH!
posted by Sharktattoo at 6:29 AM on September 27, 2005


Um, looking at the article it seems all that they did was say, "Europe and Japan are less religious than the US. They also have less social problems. Therefore, religion causes social problems". Someone should tell them that correlation does not prove causation. It's also a study with too few countries for data analysis. I can do this too: The Soviet Union was a country that was actively anti-religious. It also had Gulugs. Therefore, being anti-religious causes you to sent people to prisons in a snowy wasteland. And make up 5-year plans. If you don't actually show real causation, and gather good data, you can "prove" pretty much anything.
posted by unreason at 6:30 AM on September 27, 2005


See also. I personally don't find that homicide plot particularly convincing.
posted by edd at 6:32 AM on September 27, 2005


I think this study may be flawed. It's only looking at professed religious belief, which skews it towards evangelical religion. Also, it doesn't weigh the societal problems against the problems that exist only in non-religious societies, i.e. holy smiting.
posted by scottreynen at 6:33 AM on September 27, 2005


Uh, this doesn't play into your own biases or nothing, does it? I mean, social science being such a hard science and all, with all those correlations of unrelated stuff showing causation and everything. Hmm...
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:33 AM on September 27, 2005


Whoa there are a number of wild claims in the article and I wouldn't be so sure of them..expecially considering correlation /causation errors.

That said , my on-the-spot bet is that the greatest damages are done by proselytism and the attempt to "win" more person to "faith" by any mean deemed necessary.
posted by elpapacito at 6:34 AM on September 27, 2005


"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 America."

U-K! U-K! GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!
posted by brownpau at 6:34 AM on September 27, 2005


I think it isn't whether the people of a nation are religious, but rather how much religion drives public policy. Some very bad public policy comes out of trying to please God.

I've been thinking about this lately with respect to the proposed chief justice for the supreme court. I don't know if anyone has asked him, but the question that is on my mind is: Given a clear choice between the Constitution and his religious/moral beliefs, which would he pick? If his religion said it was immoral to pick one's nose, but the law clearly allowed it, would he side for or against nose pickers in a supreme court case?
posted by Doohickie at 6:40 AM on September 27, 2005


How can you lump the entire united states into one big catagory like that? I'd like to see a study done comparing the diffrent states.

Plus, the UK and Japan have strict gun laws unlike the United States. Could that make a diffrence?
posted by delmoi at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2005


This is lazy journalism of the worst sort.

Someone sends out a press release based on some crappy pseudoscience, journalists print it verbatim. That's not journalism. That's cut and paste.
posted by johnny novak at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2005


This sounds like the conclusion was done backward: essentially, they've shown that generally religious societies are not more moral or better off than societies which are generally non-religious. That's not really surprising as a point, but it's a good one to make in American society as it is today.
posted by graymouser at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2005



I've been thinking about this lately with respect to the proposed chief justice for the supreme court. I don't know if anyone has asked him, but the question that is on my mind is: Given a clear choice between the Constitution and his religious/moral beliefs, which would he pick? If his religion said it was immoral to pick one's nose, but the law clearly allowed it, would he side for or against nose pickers in a supreme court case?


Before his hearings he said, apperantly, that he would recuse himself. *rolls eyes* sure...
posted by delmoi at 6:42 AM on September 27, 2005


Correlation does not equal causation. What a piece of excrement.
posted by caddis at 6:43 AM on September 27, 2005


What a spectacularly miserable pseudoscientific failure.
posted by shoos at 6:46 AM on September 27, 2005


Oops, I didn't notice it was in an "academic journal." I therefore retract that last comment.
posted by shoos at 6:47 AM on September 27, 2005


Taking God out of the equation since this is a flawed conclusion from what otherwise is an interesting study...

"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."

If the widespread presence of guns explains the violent crime, what explains the above?
posted by slf at 6:49 AM on September 27, 2005


Without God holding them back, Mao's China, Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia & Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished.
posted by dhoyt at 6:50 AM on September 27, 2005


Doh, second to Sharktattoo: Double DUH!
posted by mooncrow at 6:53 AM on September 27, 2005


If the widespread presence of guns explains the violent crime, what explains the above?

The combination of religious supression of sexuality and hypersexualized media bombardment. I wouldn't say it's just god alone.
posted by melt away at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2005


This study seems like something about which the author had a foregone conclusion. Correlation != causality and all that, and especially in the parts about a high murder rate. Why would it be higher due to religious belief?

On the other hand, there is evidence that things like abstinence only education (and virginity pledges), which are clearly religiously motivated, have no positive effects on STD rates. There's still a big difference between no positive effects and big negative effects.
posted by OmieWise at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2005


If anyone needs to print out some toilet paper, here's the article.
posted by shoos at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2005


What they need to examine is quality of life issues. So many god damn irritating jebus freaks around here...
posted by delmoi at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2005


This has to be a joke. They compared one country to the rest of the developed world, saw that there were more problems in that one country, and magically determined which factor accounts for the differences? This can't be a serious study. I think it's more of an attempt to poke fun at red state Americans for being so self righteous even though America is such a mess.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:58 AM on September 27, 2005


On the other hand, there is evidence that things like abstinence only education (and virginity pledges), which are clearly religiously motivated, have no positive effects on STD rates. There's still a big difference between no positive effects and big negative effects.

If one thing has a positive effect, and another thing does not, then choosing the other over the first will have an over-all negative effect.
posted by delmoi at 6:58 AM on September 27, 2005


No no no -- it is NOT about causation!

The article simply said that "religious" societies (such as some would say the US tries to be) can not claim "moral superiority" over "non-religious" societies (read Europe and Japan) simply becasue of their religious beliefs. The US is morally superior because we kick Afghani ass and Iraqi ass and torture PUCs and leave brown people to drown after hurricanes and stuff. Duh.

You made the correlation, not the article.
posted by mooncrow at 6:59 AM on September 27, 2005


You made the correlation, not the article.

Um, the article makes the correlation right in the title, in big boldface letters:

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
posted by unreason at 7:00 AM on September 27, 2005


What if your god says that murder , abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide are not problems at all?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:08 AM on September 27, 2005


Though the fpp stated the position too strongly, I think a weakened version might be supportable. Instead of "religion damages the social order," the emphasis should be on the possibility of a successful social order in spite of a lack of religion. The article mentions briefly that the paper was an attempt to counter conservative religious ethical arguments about the necessity of religion for the maintenance of a moral society. Well, if there are successful, largely secular countries with minimal social problems, religion clearly isn't necessary to be a morally engaged social order.

Of course, what it means to be a successful society is, for many people, defined in terms of religious belief. So this argument really won't get past the rhetorical front gates of said conservative religious arguments. C'est la vie.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:08 AM on September 27, 2005


delmoi writes "If one thing has a positive effect, and another thing does not, then choosing the other over the first will have an over-all negative effect."

Ok, well, yes, you're right. I was going out of my way to be even-handed. I work in an STD/HIV clinic, and I've got no tolerance for abstinence-only claptrap.

Still, the article seems like a pile of bias.
posted by OmieWise at 7:09 AM on September 27, 2005


well considering that the only way to ensure that religious edicts are followed by the 'believers' is total control over their lives or making them into law with horrendous punishments. This isnt surprising that attempting to cram religious dogma into a society doesn't work well.

Its a reason the term 'social contract' exists. People have to agree to follow the community rules. If someone tries to make rules without consensus, based on their reading of a collection of myth and then we find people not following along.. well duh
posted by MrLint at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2005


The article mentions briefly that the paper was an attempt to counter conservative religious ethical arguments about the necessity of religion for the maintenance of a moral society.

That's the problem, really. You don't do a good study by saying, "I want to prove that I'm right and you're wrong". You gather your data first, then arrive at some conclusions. These folks decided what result they wanted, then made the study fit the conclusion.
posted by unreason at 7:12 AM on September 27, 2005


voltairemodern hits it on the head. It's not that religion hurts society, but that society gets along just fine without religion, thankyouverymuch, and non religious societies are out there that are better off in pretty objective terms than religious societies. This point needs to be hammered home these days.
posted by graymouser at 7:13 AM on September 27, 2005


ain't that the truth
posted by yousoundhollow at 7:17 AM on September 27, 2005


The "study" in question is available here.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:18 AM on September 27, 2005


I think this is a great study. Because, as we all know, the rate at which people profess to be religious is the only difference between the U.S. and the U.K., France, et. al. that could possibly account for those discrepancies.

Certainly our brand of capitalism vs. their flavors of socialism has nothing to do with, nor, I'm sure, has it anything to do with traditional cultural values. Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest that how the governments view their proper roles and the extent of government influence on society might have anything to do with the disparity.

Yes, this is certainly a careful and astute finding.
posted by oddman at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2005


To all the people lambasting the study, it doesn't propose any causal links, just correlation. The title "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies", pretty much says it all.
The article is gibberish.
posted by signal at 7:24 AM on September 27, 2005


Look carefully at this sentence early on in the article:

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.

Huh? What? The majority of Americans may believe in God, but does that equal not believing in evolution? Syllogistic logic at its worst. The topic is an interesting one, though, it just deserves better research than this.
posted by zardoz at 7:30 AM on September 27, 2005


These folks decided what result they wanted, then made the study fit the conclusion.

They're not the only one.
posted by gimonca at 7:33 AM on September 27, 2005


the emphasis should be on the possibility of a successful social order in spite of a lack of religion

There is always 'religion' of some sort. No such thing as a secular society in this sense. There are always belief systems, things people look to as grand organizing principles. Gods have always been made of other things such as wealth, political ideologies, military power, even physical beauty and sex, etc. Some of the most disastrous societies are those that put their faith in individual human beings and develop personality cults, such as happened over the last hundred years in Russia, Germany, Cambodia, North Korea.

The study would do a lot better by defining what various countries believe in.
posted by scheptech at 7:33 AM on September 27, 2005


Well, all futile bickering aside, I don't need a study to tell me that a society is better off when most of its people don't believe in stupid, irrational things.
posted by Decani at 7:36 AM on September 27, 2005


dhoyt writes "Without God holding them back, Mao's China, Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia & Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished."

And with God at their side, the nice guys of the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin in Geneva and the Inca Empire flourished. Saudi Arabia and Iran still thrive. Your point?
posted by nkyad at 7:37 AM on September 27, 2005


What? The majority of Americans may believe in God, but does that equal not believing in evolution?

Well, given that an infamous study recorded that some 42% believe in creation as defined in Genesis, I don't think it's much of a stretch.
posted by Decani at 7:37 AM on September 27, 2005


I have faith that putting someone in a brutal prison environment will cause them to reform and never go back again, even though the U.S. has the higest recidivism rate in the world.
I have faith that ignoring the plight of the poor and 'forcing' them to 'shape up' will cause them to 'cure' themselves. Even though the U.S. leads the world in mental illness, caused by undue stress and hardship.
I have faith that believing in an electoral system by electronic ballot which has no accountability whatsoever and has been proven easily manipulated multiple times and is scorned the world over as fraudulent will put a god-fearing and spiritual president in the white house, even though he clearly seldom goes to church.
I have faith that no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary in the world media (and even in the U.S. media from time to time) that if I just try to ignore it, or just shout loudly enough that I will somehow convince everyone else in the country and the world that my faith-based approach is the correct one.
I have faith that if I send my country's soldiers into another country and beat and torture and kill not only my enemy but up to eight-tenths of innocent civilians and imprison and torture up to eight-tenths of innocent civilians that they will just forgive me for all this and eventually come over to my way of thinking. I have faith, and so should they.
Even though socialist countries with their higher tax rates and state subsidized cradle to grave health care systems have the highest standards of living in the world, I have faith that the U.S. system of managed health care and forcing everyone who doesn't have insurance to pay for their care out of pocket is the right approach, even though medical bill related debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy. I have faith.
Continually undercutting this country's education system while encouraging parents to pursue 'vouchers' for much more expensive 'private' schools will eventually turn our truly mediocre school system around and put the U.S. into the lead in educating it's children. Until then, end all sports programs, music programs, food assistance for poor children, anything else that would help a child to get a 'leg up' on their peers or keep them occupied after school so they don't become involved in criminal activities. I have faith.
No need to research any of this, just have faith
posted by mk1gti at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2005


It's worse. Here you go.

47% believe God created stuff pretty much in its current form some time in the last 10,000 years. Proud much?
posted by Decani at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2005


I think this is a great study. Because, as we all know, the rate at which people profess to be religious is the only difference between the U.S. and the U.K., France, et. al. that could possibly account for those discrepancies.

Sarcastic, I know. However, I can honestly say I've been told by more than one person that the belief in God held by many Americans is what makes America great -- yet when you look at some of the numbers (as this study did) America doesn't sound quite so great after all.

If that's the case, would a religious person who gave credit for "greatness" to the US's belief in God be willing to give credit for "not-so-greatness" to the US's belief in God? Or does God only get the credit when the credit's good?
posted by davejay at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2005


Having looked at the study, I find it interesting that the strongest correlation seems to be in abortion rates.
That would seem to put many pro-lifers in a dilemma. I'd like to see them choose between fewer abortions or less religion.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:43 AM on September 27, 2005


Is it odd that no one has posted a link to the actual article we're discussing?

The article itself says that: "This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health." It's point is rather to argue that the correlation between religion and social health is the opposite of what's usually assumed.

This correlation does raise a question of causation. Taboos about discussing certain subjects, the promotion of authoritarian origins of moral codes, the valorization of faith above skepticism and doubt--all these things (often along along with problematic attitudes about gender and sexuality) would seem to obstacles to rational and effective social policy.

Ethically, religious morality is most often absolutist. And so the promotion of the true moral code is often more important to the religious that the utilitarian promotion of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Poliltically, church institutions--schools, soup kitchens, hospitals--often compete with government institutions, and may attempt to undermine their secular equivalents. As a teacher, I can't help thinking of David Horowitz's recent efforts to remove discussions policy, politcs, and ethics from university classrooms and return them to authoritarian houses of worship, for example.

So correlation doesn't imply causation, but this essay (it's hardly a "study" in any real sense) corrects a widespread mistaken impression that religion correlates with fewer social problems, and offers what I'd think would be a useful challenge to persons of faith, to consider more carefully the social effects of church doctrine and policy.
posted by washburn at 7:43 AM on September 27, 2005


I've been thinking about this lately with respect to the proposed chief justice for the supreme court. I don't know if anyone has asked him, but the question that is on my mind is: Given a clear choice between the Constitution and his religious/moral beliefs, which would he pick? If his religion said it was immoral to pick one's nose, but the law clearly allowed it, would he side for or against nose pickers in a supreme court case?


I can't quote Roberts but I believe he said in the hearing that he would uphold the law over his personal and religious beliefs. He actually seemed quite solid in his stance. I wonder if it gave the holy rollers any pause about him? If I am wrong about this, maybe someone can correct me. Of course, law must be interpreted, so I don't know how one can completely keep his/her own morality/beliefs out of it.
posted by a_day_late at 7:43 AM on September 27, 2005


And with God at their side, the nice guys of the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin in Geneva and the Inca Empire flourished. Saudi Arabia and Iran still thrive. Your point?

That the study is for shit, because "God" or no, we're a bunch of animals at heart.
posted by dhoyt at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2005



posted by odinsdream at 7:46 AM on September 27, 2005


Without God holding them back, Mao's China, Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia & Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished.


Mind you, in most (if not all) of those regimes religion was not only discouraged but pursued and purged. The U.K. (not speaking as a citizen, mind you) permits religious freedom but does not allow it to control government policy - they have a few centuries of that bad mojo already under their belts to learn from.

Although not in the least bit religious, I feel it ought to be freely available for those who "need" it, like chess clubs and knitting circles - this article smacks of hate-mongering. The ideal of "seperation of church and state" is still as sensible as when it was conceived and should be upheld. Stay the course, people.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:49 AM on September 27, 2005


Arrr, odinsdream be solvin' the global warming.
posted by leapingsheep at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2005


washburn, some genius did post a link to it already.
posted by shoos at 7:58 AM on September 27, 2005


make that two geniuses!
posted by shoos at 8:00 AM on September 27, 2005


Taboos about discussing certain subjects

I'm laughing out loud about this one. What are these 'certain subjects'? What exactly cannot be discussed in America today? Ok in past repressive societies, yes, lots of taboos. But how does this relate to America today? Can anyone name a single subject that can't been discussed? I can't think for example of anything at all religious or any significant political leader that hasn't been held up to public ridicule, repeatedly, or any bodily function or sexual practice that hasn't been examined in minute facinated detail over the last few decades. What are they thinking about?
posted by scheptech at 8:02 AM on September 27, 2005


[...] Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished.

You actually think North Korea is secular? Their government is indistinguishable from a state religion; the most omnipresent and demanding state religion in human history. Yes, they claim to be atheistic -- you never heard of hypocrisy, or, like, lying, before?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2005


Oh. My apologies, shoos. And to other geniuses, too.
posted by washburn at 8:07 AM on September 27, 2005


The most omnipresent and demanding state religion in human history.

Okay, maybe an exaggeration. The Aztecs might have had them beat.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:11 AM on September 27, 2005


You actually think North Korea is secular?

Right, I'm saying for the purposes of this one there's no such thing as secular. All countries have some kind of organizing belief system. It's just a question of what that system is, how it works, and what it's centered on.
posted by scheptech at 8:11 AM on September 27, 2005


Extreme secularism is a religion.
posted by stbalbach at 8:18 AM on September 27, 2005


Can anyone name a single subject that can't been discussed? I can't think for example of anything at all religious or any significant political leader that hasn't been held up to public ridicule, repeatedly, or any bodily function or sexual practice that hasn't been examined in minute facinated detail over the last few decades. What are they thinking about?
Well, sure, we talk about these things on television, radio, in magazines and books and even (sometimes) in school. But until your grandmother is incapable of shock or dismay, we'll all be living under the cruel, harsh rule of 'societal norms.'
posted by verb at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2005


scheptech writes: "I can't think for example of anything at all religious or any significant political leader that hasn't been held up to public ridicule, repeatedly, or any bodily function or sexual practice that hasn't been examined in minute facinated detail over the last few decades."

Well, ok. But the question is: "By whom?" I hadn't known about all the frank and comfortable discussions of, for example, birth control going on the houses of Southern Baptists nowadays. And in Muslim families, and in the Amish communities in the small towns here in central Illinois.

I hadn't realized how easy it's become to discuss one's homosexuality in Utah highschools, or the odd red spots around one's genitals in rural Georgia.

I confess to being somewhat less than convinced that all those edgy episodes of Will and Grace have so far managed to wipe out the sexual hang-ups (or even the non-sexual taboos) of yesderday's religious America.
posted by washburn at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2005


Most religious societies these days are the least likely places to visit on my list of vacations - America, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, China, North Korea (in my mind Chinese and Korean Communism are religions) etc.

i don't think religion is the cause of "bad societies", I just don't think any nation should be run by one set of ideologies. It's good to have a variety of ideas. That's how we progress.
posted by twistedonion at 8:35 AM on September 27, 2005


Extreme secularism is a religion.

*snort* Yeah, and "extreme" peace is war, and "extreme" freedom is slavery.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:39 AM on September 27, 2005


What if your god says that murder , abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide are not problems at all?

Then you are a vicar in the Church of England, and (unless you're very gay indeed and/or a woman) will rise through the ranks of the church being lauded all along for your open-minded theological stance.
posted by jack_mo at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2005


A "Taboo Topic" that comes to mind is the correlation between legal, affordable abortions and lower crime rates. A topic covered in Freakanomics and that I haven't seen covered anywhere else.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:47 AM on September 27, 2005


davejay: [D]oes God only get the credit when the credit's good?

Yes.

It's common to hear an athlete "giving the glory to God" for a spectacular win or for a motorist to "thank God" for keeping them safe in an accident. (Hell, my mom "thanks God" for showing her where she left her car keys...)

But once. JUST ONCE. I want to hear an athlete curse God for loss ("How could He let us lose?? I prayed before the game and everything!"), or an injured motorist exclaim, "What the fuck?? I thought that asshole God had my back!! Why'd He let my tire blow out?"
posted by LordSludge at 8:52 AM on September 27, 2005


LordSludge, that's incredibly quoteable. Reminiscent of this from The Daily Show:
"The president has issued a statement that, on September 16th, there will be a day of prayer. Now, uh, uh, okay. But isn't a hurricane, and I don't mean to be crass in any way, an act of God? Shouldn't there be a day of shunning? Some sort of 'Okay, tough guy.'" --Jon Stewart
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:02 AM on September 27, 2005


But until your grandmother is incapable of shock or dismay

So you'd prefer she think like you then? Isn't this what people of faith are famously accused of?

To know something is to be not dismayed by it? How does that work anyway. I know about murder and I'm dismayed by it.

the cruel, harsh rule of 'societal norms.'

There are always societal norms. Folks who think they have none are like english-speakers who believe they have no accent. They speak clearly while people from Brooklyn or Australia talk a little funny.

Well, ok. But the question is: "By whom?"

By whoever freely choses to. The info is there, in vast quantities, hardly being hidden. What one choses to do with it is a matter of free choice, thinking for oneself, still true?

We're contrasting the concept of disallowed information with the concept of expected behavior and forgetting about free choice somewhere in there between 'em.
posted by scheptech at 9:06 AM on September 27, 2005


It could also be noted that while the US has many religious people, its very constitution is secular. "We the people...", not "God has ordained..." In their politics, Americans distinguish between "morality", which is obeying heavenly statutes, and "ethics", which is obeying the laws of men. And there are fewer and fewer places in the US where a platform of morality will beat a platform of ethics. We just don't trust the other guys shaman, who may or may not agree with our shaman.
posted by kablam at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2005


odinsdream, I understand the correlation != causality joke, but 17 pirates in 2000? Wooden legs and cutlases may no longer be in fashion, it's more speedboats and machine guns these days, but piracy is still a significant problem.

It depends a bit on how you define pirates (versus "assailants," "thieves," "speedboats," etc.), and where you draw the line between taking a little cash and booze at gunpoint and making off with a whole ship and its cargo, but any way you slice it there are probably thousands of modern pirates around the world. Take a look here: Anti-Shipping Activity Messages.

And for all we know all the pirates may be deeply religious.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2005


stbalbach writes 'Extreme secularism is a religion.'

Nope, it's absence of religion. Do try to keep up.
posted by signal at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2005


Yeah, the conflating of "philosophy" or "way of thinking" with "religion" is pretty (for lack of a better word) bogus.
posted by LordSludge at 9:24 AM on September 27, 2005


Extreme secularism is a religion.

Extreme soundbite is meaningless arsefluff.
posted by Decani at 9:26 AM on September 27, 2005


LordSludge writes "I want to hear an athlete curse God for loss ('How could He let us lose?? I prayed before the game and everything!'),"

I'd tune into the news if that was one of the teasers.

[Voiceover] Tonight on News at 11, Who really caused State Rubber Duckies to lose to the State A&M Screws.

Or more famously: God fights on the side with the best artillery.
posted by Mitheral at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2005


The article in question isn't a great example of top-notch social science research, at all. The correlation, however, has been noted time and again--Ann Landers used to note it often, just about annually, in talking about how crime rates and such were higher in the South. I heard the bit about higher abortion rates while studying state and local govt. (True abortion rates, however, are hard to come by--you don't know if one states is higher than the others due to travel, restrictions, what the illegal abortion rate is, etc. So the Deep South's abortion rates have seemed lower as of late, I believe.) Robert Putnam has noted that evangelical religion is the least conducive to high social capital--and the southern states ranked lower in most rankings related to social capital.

Now, higher rates of poverty also correlate with higher murder rates and such, and govt. policies affect poverty rates and so forth. Still, I think the correlation between religion and policy outcomes is surely worthy of examination.
posted by raysmj at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2005


Without God holding them back, Mao's China, Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia & Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished.

I think the problem occurs when government gets involved in religion, whether it is promoting or discouraging it. Religion and government should be nonintersecting spheres.
posted by Happy Monkey at 9:54 AM on September 27, 2005


Yeah, the conflating of "philosophy" or "way of thinking" with "religion" is pretty (for lack of a better word) bogus.

How so? Maybe playing with words here but pick some other terminology then, how about 'belief system'? People who think they have none or feel they aren't influenced by one are like fish that don't think about water.

God fights on the side with the best artillery.

Can't let this one go unremarked, it's such a common misconception all round. Exactly: soldiers who pray for victory on both sides of the front and all that. I assume this is a reference specifically to the common practice of Christianity which actually says a follower is to chose to be on God's side, not to expect the other way around. It's a question of who's leading and who's following. Common misunderstanding, leads to no end of problems. Think current administration?

the problem occurs when government gets involved in religion

Exactly, for anyone still reading this thing, let's maintain the separation of church and state and not conflate religion with politics anyway. See this book review of The Republican War on Science by the Christian Science Monitor. They're siding with the author and real science, and distancing themselves from the Republicans.
posted by scheptech at 10:04 AM on September 27, 2005


A "Taboo Topic" that comes to mind is the correlation between legal, affordable abortions and lower crime rates. A topic covered in Freakanomics and that I haven't seen covered anywhere else.

umm... I can't imagine there's anything in freakonomics that hasn't been the subject of real, if poorly credited by the author, scholarly research.
posted by duck at 10:23 AM on September 27, 2005


This article is crap and you should be ashamed for posting it with nothing else to back it up.
posted by klangklangston at 10:26 AM on September 27, 2005


From the article: “The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

As I read it, that's the point: To demonstrate that godliness is not next to cleanliness, so to speak. What the Times article says, and what the original article says, do appear to me to be two different things.

Here's something else from the article:

“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.”


[emphasis added]

Note the assertion of correlation, not causation.

Yes, the author has a bone to pick with American moral hubris. He does seem to be asserting that high degrees of religiosity don't alleviate social ills. But (at least as far as the Times summary allows us to know) he does not flatly assert that high degrees of religiosity cause social ills.
posted by lodurr at 10:40 AM on September 27, 2005


k, which do you think is crap, a) the Times article in the FPP, b) the actual study it refers to, or c) the conclusions that people may draw from it? See also washburn's comment.

On preview, what lodurr says as well.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:44 AM on September 27, 2005


Gregory S. Whatever oh so badly wants to be able to say that Christianity causes these problems. What an empty moron.
posted by shoos at 11:39 AM on September 27, 2005


Uh... unless I'm missing something, this is one piss-poor excuse for a "study."
posted by Kloryne at 11:50 AM on September 27, 2005


I don't think it's a piss-poor excuse for a study at all. As a study, and not a full paper, it specifically says that it's a first look at the issues, presents only CORRELATION, and as such is an invitation to scientists and statisticians who may want to write full-blown papers backed by years of indepth research.

Ad homin(atheist)em arguments won't wash as an answer to it, however. More study will. As would a more precise answer to the question of why religion is dying out so comprehensively in Eastern countries.

The problem, of course, is that future in-depth study would instantly be invalidated statistically if only tiny groups of people were chosen to be interview or census subjects.

And of course it must be remembered that as we're all human beings, when we try to argue among ourselves about what we do / don't / do / don't believe and how that affects us, we are all throwing stones inside our own rather large glass house.
posted by paperpete at 12:39 PM on September 27, 2005


Y'all are TOTALLY right. This is TERRIBLE science. CLEARLY the REAL reason the U.S. performs so much poorer than the other (real) democracies is because satan is working very hard to trick the evil liberals into completely renouncing Christ.

Ok, sarcasm aside, what all the knee jerk readers of the article seem to be completely missing (or maybe just incapable of understanding) was that the conclusion was not that Christianity, or what passes for it in the U.S., causes social ill, but rather that a theory widely espoused by many who label themselves Christian -- that belief in God is essential for a healthy society -- can be demonstrated to be false.

Correlation may not prove causation, but correlation that is counter-example to a theory is certainly grounds to discount said theory. What exactly is bad science about that?
posted by lastobelus at 12:50 PM on September 27, 2005


I'm stupified by the responses here. I clicked on the comments link, expecting a few reliable holy trollers picking apart this article with exactly the can't see past your nose "correlation, not causation" arguments.

But I'm shocked that most mefi-ites just don't get the point of the entire article.

It was not written to appeal to the "I will follow logic all the way over the cliff" crowd.

It was written to challenge those who listen to blow-hard right wing zealots who are not the least bit embarassed to claim both moral superiority (which none of those zealots seem compelled to follow themselves) and deep Christian faith (again completely ignoring the gospels, the only second hand accounts of the teachings of the man that they have named themselves after)

Of course the zealots won't listen to this and will also make use of the same 'logical' arguments seen here.

But I hope that some FOX commentator (or another of the same ilk) will bring it up to pick it apart. And thereby inspring a few listeners to find and actually listen to what the author is saying, and start to question the assumptions he has made and those who have led him to believe in them.

I have faith ...

Thanks mk1gti for the only response here worth reading and the only reward for the enormous effort required to weed it out amoungst all the surrounding dross.
posted by marsha56 at 12:51 PM on September 27, 2005


Kloryne, it's safe to say you are missing something. Try clicking through the actual graphs. I was all set to say that the US appears to be an outlier (and it's certainly out there) but the correlation is strong throughout all the graphs; far less strikingly so when the US is taken out but still present. Correlation is not causation (as has been correctly observed in the first several comments here) but it's absurd to suggest that it's meaningless if the study covers a wide range of factors and is honestly conducted.

And shoos, you obviously very badly want him to be saying that, but he's not.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:55 PM on September 27, 2005


Ah but: Drudge has a link entitled "Study: Widespread Belief in Creator Increases Crime, Death & Disease...". So that must be what it's about - causal after all, aha! Case closed!

Yes, everything I know I learn from either drudge or mefi...
posted by scheptech at 2:53 PM on September 27, 2005


Without God holding them back, Mao's China, Stalin's USSR, Pol Pot's Cambodia & Il Sung's DPRK sure flourished

This kind of argument, though it raises its head almost as much as the 'secularism is a religion' miscomprehension, annoys me perhaps more, because it's so blatantly putting the cart (secularism) before the horse (totalitarianism). It fails to take into account the fact that all of these are totalitarian governments run by ideologues (notice they all have names beside them). The only reason they are secular is that such totalitarianism permits room for nothing else. They didn't have a Green party holding them back either. So what?

Also, I notice from the website, that the .edu campus to which it belongs is 'A Catholic Jesuit University in Omaha Nebraska since 1878'. Which would be cool, if it wasn't for us secular folks wanting all those jesuits burning in ovens with the queers and the coons and the reds and the jews.
posted by Sparx at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2005


As an atheist, I declare this article stupid.

stbalbach:

Extreme secularism is a religion.

No, secularism by any definition is the lack of religious foundation in one's philosophy. Maybe you could say this of "extreme atheism", but even that is probably wrong. If you think "extreme" secularism is stupid and dogmatic, just say that.
posted by Edgewise at 3:20 PM on September 27, 2005


Perhaps it's not the religiousness that makes them so touchy
about stuff.
posted by cytherea at 5:48 PM on September 27, 2005


The title is "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies"

Confused about correlation and causality? They ain't the same thing.
posted by warbaby at 6:44 PM on September 27, 2005


Here's a tought:
What if looking for supernatural explanations and solutions makes one disregard explanations and solutions that would improve one's society, thus leading to a decline of one's society as compared to others?

...


Nah, that can't be the case - Intelligent Design will give our society exactly the same benefits as science.
posted by spazzm at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2005


Correlation does not equal causation.

Yes, but causation typically does not exist without correlation (unless you can prove another variable "masks" the effect of the causal variable). Correlation doesn't prove causation, but it's need to make the initial prima facie case that causation might be there.

On the other hand, the newspaper article, like most newspaper accounts of social science articles, completely overstates the conclusions. At best, the journal article shows that being a religious, God-believing society doesn't make you a more "functional" society than more secularized societies. This is a notable finding in itself, although I don't consider all that new. Unfortunately, the journal article does not much work at all considering other potential variables (e.g., income inequality, racial inequality, cultural heterogeneity) that might explain why the United States has a level of dysfunction that most European countries do not have.
posted by jonp72 at 9:38 PM on September 27, 2005


George_Spiggot: Gregory S. Whatever wants to objectively address the issue of religion being correlated with or causing these problems (and he is implying that there may well be a causal relationship if you read just a very very tiny bit between the lines, particularly in the Conclusion) about as much as Michael Newdow's fight against the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance is about his daughter's welfare.
posted by shoos at 10:30 PM on September 27, 2005


shoos: "reading between the lines" translates to "seeing what you want to see". Both his thesis and his data are unwelcome to you, but as you're unable to contend with them you resort to the Bill O'Reilly tactic of putting words in his mouth and motives in his head and contending with those instead.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:21 PM on September 27, 2005


Right.
posted by shoos at 6:40 AM on September 28, 2005


And anyways, obviously the data shows that societal ills cause people to turn to religion.
posted by shoos at 6:41 AM on September 28, 2005


And anyways, obviously the data shows that societal ills cause people to turn to religion.

...which entirely fails to fix the societal ills. So you end up with societal ills plus a stupid population. Result!
posted by Decani at 7:50 AM on September 28, 2005


Lots of powerful negative reactions in this thread. Lots of people imputing conclusions that aren't stated, and getting inordinately upset at the way journalists report on science. Lots of anger, lots of fear....

What are y'all afraid of? Morality is something you learn growing up, from your family and members of your community; you don't get it from a book. If you have strong and morally consistent communities and families (and you can't reliably have one without the other), you will raise children who treat one another like human beings, instead of opportunities to screw somebody.

As a kid, and a believer, I used to say that I wouldn't trust someone who needed God to keep him honest. I still feel that way. In fact, as soon as someone starts talking about God the External Motivator, I start looking over my shoulder for the hand trying to pick my back pocket...
posted by lodurr at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2005


I would love to have an all-wise being tell me what to do, it would make life so much simpler. But I think imagining one and trying to infer what he wants you to do is a recipe for mental illness at worst and at least a serious disconnect from reality and from other people at best. The hard thing in life is to learn to observe the world around you and make intelligent and/or compassionate choices based on experience and the available evidence. I'm 100% in favor of religious freedom -- excepting only in the governing of others who do not consent to be governed in that way -- but I do believe that religion is often used as an excuse to abrogate one's responsibility to behave intelligently, by instead responding to the imagined whims of a phantom, and that can't be healthy for those people and anyone around them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2005


What are y'all afraid of?

pseudoscience, especially either pro- or anti-religion
posted by shoos at 12:21 PM on September 28, 2005


Arrrrrr, matie! I can't stop this global warming on my own; who's with me?!? Come on! There will be plenty of bootie to share!

Arrrrrr!
posted by Doohickie at 6:14 PM on September 28, 2005


So you'd prefer she think like you then? Isn't this what people of faith are famously accused of?

To know something is to be not dismayed by it? How does that work anyway. I know about murder and I'm dismayed by it.


Hmmm. I think my sarcasm blinker was on the fritz. Your point is exactly what I was trying to get at -- There will always, ALWAYS be societal norms, taboos, dismay, etc. Balancing freedoms with norms and expectations is the tough work of keeping a culture going.
posted by verb at 8:28 PM on September 29, 2005


« Older This explains EVERYTHING....  |  e=mc^2*100... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments