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30 January 2013

Religiosity and the numerous ills to society

The other day I posted this quote on Facebook and it got a lot of likes:
"Atheists are routinely asked how people will know not to rape and murder without religion telling them not to do it, especially a religion that backs up the orders with threats of hell. Believers, listen to me carefully when I say this: When you use this argument, you terrify atheists. We hear you saying that the only thing standing between you and Ted Bundy is a flimsy belief in a supernatural being made up by pre-literate people trying to figure out where the rain came from. This is not very reassuring if you’re trying to argue from a position of moral superiority."
~ Amanda Marcotte
Which of course reminded me about a lot of other things regarding morality and atheists. 
One of my favorite papers is from the Virtual World project (which lists itself also as Moses Creighton, and appears to be an educational site because of the .edu extension). They have a Jopurnal of Religion & Society.  I suggest you read Volume 7 from 2005.

To say that it shows rather interesting data is probably an understatement.  So why would the quote I posted on Facebook remind me of this paper?  Well, the ills of society that for some reason are so disproportionately high  in the US, even though we are supposedly such a religious nation are aspects of morality.  Just read the abstract (emphasis mine):
Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in religiosity in favor of secularization in the developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular. Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.
Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but after a while, you may start to wonder.  And this isn't the only data-point to consider... For instance, this article talking about our religiously motivate prudishness also mentions a lot of dysfunction.  They also note the correlation of (emphasis mine again):
“Prudes,” they would argue, should be upheld as exemplary role models because a sexually repressive society is also a society with fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer sexually transmitted diseases. But not only do the facts not bear that out, they also demonstrate that the exact opposite is true. Countries that embrace many of the things social conservatives detest (comprehensive sex education, pro-gay legislation, nude or topless beaches, legal or decriminalized prostitution, adult entertainment) tend to be countries that have  less sexual dysfunction than the United States, not more. And when one compares sexual attitudes in the United States to sexual attitudes in Western Europe, it becomes evident that there is a strong correlation between social conservatism and higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.
Okay, so there is the whole societal ills thing, but what about some other measure of adherence to morality?  I think that maybe one measure could be prison populations.  What about them?  Well, generally Americans seem more inclined to believe a default position of christianity, but there was this one study that showed a much higher percentage of christians in jail than atheists.  Granted this is from 1997, and the past 15 years has changed the American landscape quite a bit.

Maybe a measure of morality that the religious would be more familiar with?  How about the so called "seven deadly sins"?  That may provide some insight?  The University of Kansas Geography department made a great info-graphic on those imaginary "sins" and how they stack up by region.  Although it would have been nice to overlay those maps with a measure of actual religiosity, however it is generally accepted that religiosity does run deeper in the southern US as supported by the Pew Forum. So AGAIN there is a correlation that is the exact opposite of what the religious claim regarding religion and morality.

Now in my opinion, I think the really telling part is that all religion does is give away a person's accountability.  Instead of someone actually internalizing their morality, they end up just following what is told to them by some authority figure with no supporting evidence.  Sound just like religion?  Of course.  Add to this the horrible morality contained in the bible and other holy books.  This is morality based on bronze-age misogynistic ignorant tribal nomads...  Seriously?

The worst part is that there are way too many people in legislative positions that think it's just fine to attempt to legislate these bronze-age misogynistic ignorant tribal morals on the rest of the population.  All in all it's abject failure, and then there is the whole problem that the people that actually believe the bullshit version of morality seem to have a problem adhering to it, while at the same time screaming about their freedoms.  And of course, they will gladly deny freedoms to groups they consider immoral just because of the same holy books, but in reality have no real bearing of morality

Well, I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  After so many correlations, I am starting to wonder if there is some causation here?  What do you think?