Study suggests religion can damage society
Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published this week in the Journal of Religion and Society.
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.
The London Times reports that the study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.
It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as the UK and Australia, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.
Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its "spiritual capital". But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.
The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal associated with the Jesuits' Creighton University in Nebraska, reports: "Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
"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 study concluded that the US was the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. 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.
Mr Paul said: "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."
Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side' (London Times 27/9/05)
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies (Journal of Religion & Society Vol 7 2005)
Study says belief in God may contribute to society's dysfunctions (ABC Radio The World Today 28/9/05)
29 Sep 2005