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Topic: The Dark Side of Faith

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Ojai, California

    The Dark Side of Faith

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    October 1, 2005
    LA Times.com
    The dark side of faith

    It's official: Too much religion may be a dangerous thing.

    This is the implication of a study reported in the current issue of
    the Journal of Religion and Society, a publication of Creighton
    University's Center for the Study of Religion. The study, by
    evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation
    between levels of "popular religiosity" and various "quantifiable
    societal health" indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the
    United States.

    Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population
    expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by
    their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services.
    He then correlated this with data on rates of homicide, sexually
    transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

    He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially
    higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger
    percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the U.S.
    — which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible
    literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage
    of atheists and agnostics) — also has by far the highest levels of
    homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

    This conclusion will come as no surprise to those who have long
    gnashed their teeth in frustration while listening to right-wing
    evangelical claims that secular liberals are weak on "values." Paul's
    study confirms globally what is already evident in the U.S.: When it
    comes to "values," if you look at facts rather than mere rhetoric, the
    substantially more secular blue states routinely leave the Bible Belt
    red states in the dust.

    Murder rates? Six of the seven states with the highest 2003 homicide
    rates were "red" in the 2004 elections (Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada,
    Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina), while the deep blue Northeastern
    states had murder rates well below the national average. Infant
    mortality rates? Highest in the South and Southwest; lowest in New
    England. Divorce rates? Marriages break up far more in red states than
    in blue. Teen pregnancy rates? The same.

    Of course, the red/blue divide is only an imperfect proxy for levels
    of religiosity. And while Paul's study found that the correlation
    between high degrees of religiosity and high degrees of social
    dysfunction appears robust, it could be that high levels of social
    dysfunction fuel religiosity, rather than the other way around.

    Although correlation is not causation, Paul's study offers much food
    for thought. At a minimum, his findings suggest that contrary to
    popular belief, lack of religiosity does societies no particular harm.
    This should offer ammunition to those who maintain that religious
    belief is a purely private matter and that government should remain
    neutral, not only among religions but also between religion and lack of
    religion. It should also give a boost to critics of "faith-based"
    social services and abstinence-only disease and pregnancy prevention

    We shouldn't shy away from the possibility that too much religiosity
    may be socially dangerous. Secular, rationalist approaches to
    problem-solving emphasize uncertainty, evidence and perpetual
    reevaluation. Religious faith is inherently nonrational.

    This in itself does not make religion worthless or dangerous. All
    humans hold nonrational beliefs, and some of these may have both
    individual and societal value. But historically, societies run into
    trouble when powerful religions become imperial and absolutist.

    The claim that religion can have a dark side should not be news. Does
    anyone doubt that Islamic extremism is linked to the recent rise in
    international terrorism? And since the history of Christianity is every
    bit as blood-drenched as the history of Islam, why should we doubt that
    extremist forms of modern American Christianity have their own
    pernicious and measurable effects on national health and well-being?

    Arguably, Paul's study invites us to conclude that the most serious
    threat humanity faces today is religious extremism: nonrational,
    absolutist belief systems that refuse to tolerate difference and

    My prediction is that right-wing evangelicals will do their best to
    discredit Paul's substantive findings. But when they fail, they'll just
    shrug: So what if highly religious societies have more murders and
    disease than less religious societies? Remember the trials of Job? God
    likes to test the faithful.

    To the truly nonrational, even evidence that on its face undermines
    your beliefs can be twisted to support them. Absolutism means never
    having to say you're sorry.

    And that, of course, is what makes it so very dangerous.

  2. #2

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    If you actually read the article, Mr Paul has an obvious bias. He also asserts that societies that accept the idea of evolution show higher degrees of societal health, drawing an unsubstantiated corrolary between this belief and behavior.

    The article's similar unsubstantiated correlation between "Red" and "Blue" states is also disingenuous. If one hopes to show the societal superiority of "Blue" regions, then they will need to explain Washington DC to me.

    As to the article's premise on crime, STDs, etc and belief in God, I can only look towards want I have seen in my life....as a rule, those who go to church, really believe in moral law, etc are not the people I've known who use drugs, engage in promiscuous behavior, etc. These have typically been the people that are agnostics and atheists. Of course there are people of faith who commit crimes, but I don't see this belief as any causal factor.

    Mr Paul's "study" is an indictment of religion as a mechanism to validate evolution, and any scientifical theory that attempts to validate one theory by discrediting another is pseudo-science at best.

  3. #3

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    Talk about an axe to grind...my god.

    He says that America has more religous people than, say, the middle east? He's basing his assertions on absolute numbers as opposed to percentages or a per capita basis. That alone negates any corrolaries he's going to draw between different countries.

    I'm embarassed for this "writer" and the LA Times. They should think about getting back to journalism.
    Michael Peter

    If music be the food of love...
    play on

    William Shakespeare


  4. #4

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    I'm not particularly religious in the traditional western sense but my God what a bunch of bunk.

    Most of the pregnant teen drugged out mothers too be that I saw in New York wouldn't step foot in a church much less pray.

    What he probably did is go to some poor azz neighborhood in the south to do his survey and then went to the South Hamptons to servey the east coast. For heavens sake just go to the streets. I have a hard time believing that your bible toting southern girl from the subburbs is getting pregnant more often than your time square hooker.


  5. #5

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    Of course it's a load of BS. Religion or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with virtue - not that I measure virtue by the number of people someone doesn't bonk or the number of joints someone doesn't smoke.

    Sometimes you have to wonder who's funding these academic studies that ignore common sense. I remember reading about a study that determined rich people actually are happier than poor people.

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Ojai, California

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    It seems that all but one of you so far hadnt taken the time to read the study. Here it is:


    You've responded with meaningless knee-jerk reactions based on your personal experience and beliefs. In science we call that anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is just about worthless.

    Wes, since you say you read the artticle, all I can say is that you not only missed the main point, you also dont understand how science works.

    The study starts off by stating what most people assume to be true: Religion provides a structure to human behaviour that brings with it increased order, a greater sense of responsibility, a more ethical society in general.

    The study was launched to test that assumption. It was conducted WORLD-WIDE.

    If the study is biased, its bias would be concealed in the many statistics that support its conclusion. Without a hell of alot of research, I cant tell if that's true as Im quite sure you cant.

    So who's skewing the facts here, Wes? Who's REALLY biased?

  7. #7

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    My reaction isn't knee-jerk at all, it's using common sense. Of course the assumption that religious people are more ethical is ludicrous. You don't need no stinkin' study to prove that.

    That aside, how can you possibly eliminate any of the variables from a study like that, let alone all of them? You can't just look at two societies' crime stats and correlate religion with them! The first problem is how to determine who's religious and who isn't. Then you have to figure out how to decide what's good and what's bad. We're all moving around in the range between ax murdering and Mother Theresa-style altruism.

    But I think the most important thing is that even if you could establish some kind of link either way, the fact that there are millions of religious criminals and millions of nonreligious upstanding citizens and v.v. makes the whole silly thing farcical. In some ways this is like studies that try to connect intelligence to race. Even if, say, 60% of all Asians were proven to be "smarter" than the average caucasian (which of course isn't the case), that would mean nothing as a practical matter since you can find millions of geniuses and nitwits in both races.

  8. #8

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    Quote Originally Posted by runamuck
    You've responded with meaningless knee-jerk reactions based on your personal experience and beliefs. In science we call that anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is just about worthless.

    Wes, since you say you read the artticle, all I can say is that you not only missed the main point, you also dont understand how science works.

    So who's skewing the facts here, Wes? Who's REALLY biased?
    How am I skewing any facts? And I do understand science, but thanks for the insult.

    For any scientific principle to hold merit, the theory must be directly supported by facts. Mr Paul does not give any real data that supports his proposition. Scientists can make any corrolary they wish and support with similar data. While an admitted first look, the study draws a conclusion without citing any data that demonstrates a positive corrolary relationship.

    The study also disregards the fact that the US has higher levels of immigration and cultural integration than every other countrey in the study. Furthermore, Mr Paul asserts, "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."

    This statement is patantly ignorant of the socioeconiomic differences between the south and northeastern parts of the US. Like it or not, the more common predictor of the bahaviors Mr Paul addresses is illegitimacy, which is higher in the south than the northeast. In fact, it is far more likely that the negative societal health issues are related to the levels of illegitimacy in a society, not religious belief.

    If you look at Figure 1 in the study, and by Mr Paul's own assertion, Japan is the model of societal health. Japan has an illegitimacy rate of only 1% because the society finds birth out of wedlock shameful.

    Furthermore, where are the crime statistics? Perhaps they were excluded because there isn't a positive corrolation between the crime rates and the belief in evolution as Mr Paul states. Following a recent study entitled, "International Crime Victims Survey", the following story recently appeared in the London Telegraph:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sean O'Neill, London Telegraph
    PEOPLE living in England and Wales are at greater risk of falling victim to crime than citizens of most other industrialised nations, according to a study published yesterday.

    The International Crime Victims Survey, based on 34,000 telephone interviews across 17 countries, found that 26 per cent of people - more than one in four - in England and Wales had been victims of crime in 1999. The figure for Scotland was 23 per cent and in Northern Ireland 15 per cent.

    Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said the research confirmed previous evidence "that levels of victimisation are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime". Mr Straw said that although the police and other agencies were working hard to reduce crime, "no one should be under any illusions about the challenges ahead".

    England and Wales were second only to Australia in the examination of "victimisation rates", details of which appeared in the Economist. There was a downward trend in crime levels from previous surveys in 1991 and 1999. People in England and Wales were at greater risk than anywhere else of having their cars stolen: 2.6 per cent fell victim to vehicle theft.

    The average rate was 1.2 per cent and the Japanese were least likely to have their cars stolen with a victim rate of just 0.1 per cent. Theft from cars was highest in Poland, where nine per cent of people had items stolen from their vehicles. In England and Wales the level was eight per cent.

    The percentage of the population which suffered "contact crime" in England and Wales was 3.6 per cent, compared with 1.9 per cent in the United States and 0.4 per cent in Japan. Burglary rates in England and Wales were also among the highest recorded. Australia (3.9 per cent) and Denmark (3.1 per cent) had higher rates of burglary with entry than England and Wales (2.8 per cent).

    The risk of robbery was comparatively low in all the countries surveyed. Highest rates were in Poland, where 1.8 per cent of the population said they had been robbed in 1999, followed by Australia and England and Wales (both 1.2 per cent). By far the lowest robbery risks were in Japan and Northern Ireland (both 0.1 per cent)

    After Australia and England and Wales, the highest prevalence of crime was in Holland (25 per cent), Sweden (25 per cent) and Canada (24 per cent). The United States, despite its high murder rate, was among the middle ranking countries with a 21 per cent victimisation rate.
    The rates of violent crime in Great Britian and Holland is contrary to Mr Paul's assertion and own data, given in Fig 1. Great Britian and Holland are close to the "model" of Japan in each figure, yet each nation is considered more violent than the US.

    Mr Paul's study is also flawed in that they do not consider those (like me) who do not consider evolution and God to be mutually exclusive.

  9. #9

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    Quote Originally Posted by runamuck

    You've responded with meaningless knee-jerk reactions based on your personal experience and beliefs.
    Ummmm...excuse me?

    I based my reaction on the ludicrous logic being used in this study, and I did so after I read the entire article you posted. I would've demonstrated the incompatibility of these two completely unrelatable factors but I didn't think it was necessary.

    Ya know, everyone breathes oxygen, and some people murder, and therefore oxygen causes some people to murder while causing others to not murder. Yes, it is that frickin ridiculous.
    Michael Peter

    If music be the food of love...
    play on

    William Shakespeare


  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Dorset, UK

    Re: The Dark Side of Faith

    The study is pure crap.

    The sample size is small for a statistical study, comprising 18 democracies with a large number of other variables between, which makes the link between religious and crime statistics pretty meaningless. It could easily mask a real positive link between them.

    To headline this study with "The Dark Side of Religion" is toxic nonsense.

    For a start you'd have to look at the nature of the beliefs and life styles of individuals. You'd find that many believe in a written doctrine, selectively, without getting the underlying message or making a true spiritual connection.

    I think that a genuine spiritual side does reflect positively in life style of individuals, and, more more importantly, on the average of behaviour of their peer group as a whole. As this, in turn, affects the life style of the offspring peer group, the effect can outlast the religious belief for many generations. It is therefore difficult to draw any conclusions from a study which correlates religion with crime rates in the same generation.

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