The Trouble With God-Fearing Nations

The Times has published a story on a study published by The Journal of Religion and Society entitled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.

Here is what The Times thinks it says:

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

Here is the actual conclusion of the author:

“The United States’ deep social problems are all the more disturbing because the nation enjoys exceptional per capita wealth among the major western nations. Spending on health care is much higher as a portion of the GDP and per capita, by a factor of a third to two or more, than in any other developing democracy. The U.S. is therefore the least efficient western nation in terms of converting wealth into cultural and physical health. Understanding the reasons for this failure is urgent, and doing so requires considering the degree to which cause versus effect is responsible for the observed correlations between social conditions and religiosity versus secularism. It is therefore hoped that this initial look at a subject of pressing importance will inspire more extensive research on the subject. Pressing questions include the reasons, whether theistic or non-theistic, that the exceptionally wealthy U.S. is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious, less wealthy prosperous democracies. Conversely, how do the latter achieve superior societal health while having little in the way of the religious values or institutions? There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms. It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.

The study was done to spur more study into the relationship of religion and societal health. It makes no dramatic sweeping conclusions. It asks that these issues be studied and looked at. Furthermore the study if anything doesn’t damn religion as a whole. It says that Western governments who are more secular are doing better on issues of societal health.

This should be a jumping-on point for people of faith to examine how religion is affecting politics in America. Are Christians who want more political influence inadvertently holding America back from a society that they would find more desirable (at least in terms of societal health)? I know that as a person who adheres to a minority faith I want to see more examination of how government and our policies are influenced by Christian thought.

The Revealer calls the study “a step backwards for social science.”

Is America a churchgoing nation? Various studies place Americans’ attendance of religious services (a category including more than just church services) at around 40 percent, hardly a representative majority. Is America God-blessed by consensus? One only needs to look at the recent court ruling concerning the “under God” clause of the Pledge of Allegiance to know the answer. Is skepticism the only alternative to Christianity? Where would America’s Muslims, Pagans, and practitioners of Falun Gong fall under Paul’s study?

Jason Pitzl-Waters