Is Believing in God Bad for America?

Societies that have a strong belief in God are more murderous and have higher rates of suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and abortion. That’s the finding of this study in the Journal of Religion & Society.

From Benjamin Franklin to Feodor Dostoyevsky to nearly every politician in America today, it has become accepted in our culture that religious belief is good for a society. It was Dostoyevsky who said, “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.”

But does it really work this way? For his article, researcher Gregory S. Paul of Baltimore compared widely available data on several indicators of social health across many nations and compared the results with the percentage of people in each nation who believe in and worship God. His analysis, he says, indicates that the most secular societies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been the most successful in creating practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex ralated dysfunction, and even abortion. Says Paul, “the non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

Paul says the U.S. combines exceptionally high per capita wealth with exceptionally high rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion. “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.”

As a Christian, I find Paul’s findings deeply disturbing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they formed the basis for a fundamental review among Christians, Muslims, and Jews of who God calls us to be and what God calls us to do? Who’s ready to get us started?

If you are, I strongly suggest that you begin by reading Paul’s analysis. Then pray. Then post.

3 thoughts on “Is Believing in God Bad for America?”

  1. On September 11, 2001, I began a yearning that has continued to grow: A desire for some honest, soul-searching conversation among persons of various faiths. A few ground rules would be necessary, such as mutual respect for those of other faiths, refraining from trying to convert participants to one’s own faith, and a willingness to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. It would be a search for “common ground,” for what I call some “principles of our common humanity.” What are those values of human relationships that we can agree upon?

    As a Christian, I am very aware that my faith has not lived up to our potential when it comes to creating a better world. From the looks of things, I don’t think the Christian faith is alone in this shortcoming. We have gone through periods of crusades and inter-religious warring in our world’s history, and we are in a period of heightened religious tensions now. If given the choice between life in a secular culture that has a very low rate of violence and a religious culture that has a high rate of violence (particularly if it is fueled by religious intolerance and inter-religious warring), most rational people would choose a peaceful, secular culture. The faith question is: “Which choice would God make?”

    As I look for answer to that question, I look to the words of the prophet Amos, who had strong criticism of the religious practices of his day. In my mind, religion, per se, is “value neutral.” Religion can be as destructive and harmful as it can be healing and wholesome. I personally do not believe the research data (of religious cultures compared with the secular cultures mentioned in your blog) will be reversed until the various major religions (particularly Judaism, Christianity and Islam) can learn to be civil and respectful vis-a-vis one another. I also believe that the failure is not at the “grass roots” as much as it is in the leadership of the various faiths. At this point in human history, the religions of the world need leaders with global vision, not tunnel vision. We need leaders who think inclusively, not exclusively. We need leaders who focus on what unites rather than what divides. We need leaders who do not play to the sectarian fears or insecurities, but who embrace the highest qualities of their faith.

    Respected church historian Roland Bainton once said, “The worst wars are religious wars.” Years ago one of my friends remarked, “Psychosis is when there is no us, only them; agape love is when there is no them, only us.” Today we are short on people who think in terms of “we” and long on people who are view the world as “us versus them.”

  2. I enjoyed the comment by Ted. It is my belief that religion being man made is inherently flawed. I concentrate on the health of my spirit and my individual relationship with my God.

  3. The analysis in that article is seriously flawed. Some well known counterexamples might serve to illustrate the point. There have been many societies that were deeply religious that have rendered incredible benefit to society, for example, fifth century BC Greece. One analysis of the errors of the article is here:

    It is also well known that there are many factors that are higher in significance than religion in determining, say, rates of homicide by guns. For example, gun ownership is higher in significance, to state the obvious.

    Think for yourself, and be prepared with an open mind. It will very quickly become obvious that the article by Mr. Paul is seriously flawed and easily exposed for its errors.

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