News item from THE WEEK
This item is from the Oct. 14, 2005 issue of THE WEEK, a news magazine.
A religious society is a moral society – or so goes the conventional wisdom, said Rose Brooks in the Los Angeles Times. But in a new study in the Journal of Religion and Society, evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul suggests just the opposite. Paul ranked 18 “prosperous democracies” according to their religious fervency. He then correlated religious observance with various indicators of “quantifiable social health,” such as the frequency of homicides, teen pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and child mortality. The results are startling. The more religious a society is, Paul found, the more social problems it has. The U.S., which by far is the most fervent advanced nation in the world, is first in nearly all the categories of social ills. This correlation is even more vividly illustrated within the U. S., where the highest rates of abortion, murder, divorce, and teen pregnancy are not in the supposedly godless blue states. They’re in the Bible Belt, where church attendance is highest. Admittedly, “correlation is not causation,” and it’s possible that “high levels of social dysfunction fuel religiosity,” not vice versa. Still, Paul’s study provides food for thought. It suggests that “nonrational, absolutist belief systems” of any kind – Islamic, Christian, or other – have a dark side,” and actually backfire in more “sinful” behavior, not less. “It’s official: Too much religion may be a dangerous thing.