Christianity and Dysfunctional Societies


Mark Fulton

My own view on religion is that…I regard it as…a source of untold misery to the human race.”

(Bertrand Russell)

We should all be aware of the damage done to communities by churches throughout history in the name of Christ. In the last sixteen hundred years there have been literally hundreds of wars started or inflamed by Christian intolerance, including wars between different Christian denominations. Millions of people were murdered in the Inquisition, the witch-hunts, and as a consequence of forced conversions in America and Africa. For centuries women, homosexuals, Jews, and Muslims have been attacked or suppressed. Churches have opposed secular education, attacked individuals, fought against each other and been resistant to scientific advances. It is obvious that Christianity has been the cause, rather than the cure, for many of the ills of the world.

Many people are still disgusted by the typical church’s pursuit of power and money, as well as the fighting and wars. Surprisingly, even people who still call themselves Christians are commonly of the same opinion.

Churches sometimes claim that if all communities were Christian the result would be moral health, peace, and happiness. Really? I don’t believe that, and have some statistics to back up my opinion. There is a good study that addresses this very issue. The American, Gregory Paul, is an independent researcher on subjects dealing with paleontology, evolution, religion, and society. In 2005 he undertook a study titled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.” It was published in the Journal of Religion and Society. This paper can be found at http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005–11.html.

Gregory Paul was attempting to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with social health. He wrote that his paper was a “first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists…not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health.”

The paper compared statistics from first-world developed countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States). It focused on these prosperous democracies, because “levels of religious and nonreligious belief and practice, and indicators of societal health and dysfunction, have been most extensively and reliably surveyed” in them. Also, “The cultural and economic similarity of the developed democracies minimizes the variability of factors outside those being examined.”

“Dysfunctionality” was defined by indicators of poor societal health, such as homicide rates, youth suicide, low life expectancy, STD infection, abortion, early pregnancy, and high childhood (under five years old) mortality. “Religiosity” was measured by belief in biblical literalism, frequency of prayer, and service attendance, as well as absolute belief in a creator, in order to quantify religiosity in terms of ardency, conservatism, and activities. The study had a massive sample size of eight hundred million, mostly middle-class people, who effectively acted as a huge epidemiological experiment. The data was relatively current, collected in the middle and latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s from the International Social Survey Program, the UN Development Program, the World Health Organization, Gallup, and other reputable sources. What did the results show?

Japan, Scandinavia, and France were the most secular nations. The United States is the only nation in the study considered to have high rates of religiosity, a feature other studies have demonstrated is otherwise limited only to the so called second and third worlds.

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide. The US has by far the highest homicide rates.

There is a remarkable positive and consistent correlation between pro-theistic factors (especially regarding absolute belief in God, and prayer) and juvenile mortality.

Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise, especially as a function of absolute belief. Denmark was the only exception.

Higher rates of belief and worship of God in all countries correlated with higher juvenile and adult sexually transmitted diseases. Rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection were six to three hundred times higher in the USA than in less theistic secular developed democracies. Gonorrhoea is markedly more prevalent in the USA’s adult population too. The USA also suffers from uniquely high adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates. These STD’s have been nearly eliminated in strongly secular Scandinavia. In my opinion, the reason is obvious. Christian parents and schools refuse to educate adolescents about basic sexual hygiene.

Belief in and worship of a creator shows a positive correlation with increasing adolescent abortion rates in all countries. Rates of abortion are uniquely high in the USA. Some Christians claim abortions are more common in secular communities, whereas the facts suggest exactly the opposite.

Belief in and worship of a creator strongly correlates with higher early adolescent pregnancy. Teenage birth rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. than in all the other countries. In my opinion, the high rate of adolescent pregnancy and abortion is because Christians typically refuse to educate adolescents about contraception.

No democracy in this study was shown to have both strong religiosity and comparatively high rates of societal health in any of the parameters measured. The opposite is true. Only the secular, pro-evolution democracies had the lowest rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex-related health issues, and abortion. The three least theistic democracies—Japan, France, and Scandinavia—also have the best figures in these categories.

Interestingly, within the United States, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west have markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, and youth pregnancy rates than in the northeast part of the United States, where secularization and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.

Let’s pause for a moment to discuss religiosity in America. President Ronald Reagan once said,

“Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.” I suspect there is much truth in that! (For a list of US presidential quotes about the Bible, see http://renew-daily.blogspot.com/2010/10/read-them-and-weep.html).

There is a widespread belief in American folklore that America is God’s country because metaphorically it is a shining city upon a hill. The source of this idea is in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says to his disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14, KJV.) Some recent American presidents and presidential contenders, namely John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, and George W. Bush, have all claimed that the US was a “shining city on the hill,” by which they meant a shining example to the rest of the world.

The facts contradict this assumption. “God’s country” has the highest rates of murder, juvenile mortality, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and adolescent pregnancy in the developed world. “God’s country” has recently gone to war in two Islamic countries, partly because of the Christian beliefs of George W. Bush’s government.

I have no wish to offend Americans. My comments are not meant to be anti-American, but to point out that there is a strong positive correlation between Christian religiosity and social problems.

We should not, however, conclude this study definitively proves that Christian religiosity causes a dysfunctional society. Correlation implies, but does not prove, causation. Nor should we interpret the data as saying that Christianity flourishes in dysfunctional societies. Both could be caused by a third factor, or the correlations could just be spurious.

What we definitely can conclude from this very large study is that there is no evidence that Christianity has a beneficial effect on society in first-world countries in the parameters mentioned. Christian societies are not better, healthier, or safer than secular societies.

There is hope for America yet. Gregory Paul believes the country is inevitably becoming as secular as its peers. Please see his brief article on this at http://www.energygrid.com/society/2008/01gp-religiousright.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO32W5yXJkA&feature=player_embedded

http://www.markfulton.org/christianity-and-dysfunctional-society

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