left biblioblography: And The Jury’s In – Again – Religion Improves Nothing

Sunday, December 27, 2009

And The Jury’s In – Again – Religion Improves Nothing


Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

I rather enjoyed this article by the author (authoress? Is it PC to use that term?) of the Meme Machine.

Are we better off without religion?

Popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions. This is the conclusion of the latest sociological research (pdf) conducted by Gregory Paul. Far from religion benefiting societies, as the "moral-creator socioeconomic hypothesis" would have it, popular religion is a psychological mechanism for coping with high levels of stress and anxiety – or so he suggests.

I've long been interested in Paul's work because it addresses a whole bunch of fascinating questions – why are Americans so religious when the rest of the developed world is increasingly secular? Is religious belief beneficial to societies? does religion make people behave better?

I’d assume that there’s a number of variables – it’s likely ingrained into our collective consciousness because of the Establishment cause, appears on our money, and there’s a degree of diversity among the religious that possibly rivals the amount of biological diversity of the coral reefs in Australia.

Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky's famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that "without God all things are permitted". Then there are Americans defending their country's peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

Citing G. Washington is an argument from tradition, and nobody needs the supernatural to be decent folks.

Atheists, naturalists and humanists fight back claiming that it's perfectly possible to be moral without God. Evolutionary psychology reveals the common morality of our species, and the universal values of fairness, kindness, and reciprocity. But who is right? As a scientist I want evidence. What if – against all my own beliefs – it turns out that religious people really do behave better than atheists, and that religious societies are better in important respects than non-religious ones, then I would have cause to rethink some of my ideas.

This is where Gregory Paul and his research come in. I have often quoted his earlier, 2005, research which showed strong positive correlations between nations' religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction. It seemed to show, at the very least, that being religious does not necessarily make for a better society. The real problem was that he was able to show only correlations, and the publicity for his new research seemed to imply causation. If so this would have important implications indeed.

In this latest research Paul measures "popular religiosity" for developed nations, and then compares it against the "successful societies scale" (SSS) which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others. In other words it is a way of summing up a society's health. The outlier again and again is the US with a stunning catalogue of failures. On almost every measure the US comes out worse than any other 1st world developed nation, and it is also the most religious.

Read the rest – it’s a good article, and it illustrates all the nonsense we’ve been discussing here for years. Religion improves nothing and no one. We share morals, none of this ‘borrowing’ folderol. Superstition is the fear of death, dimly cloaked, a ruse and tool of the alpha shamans, who shake their book at us and expect that we shake in fright as a response. It may have served some purpose in centuries past, but our species has evolved to having no need of shadowy wraiths and ghosts of Xmas pasts to keep us in lockstep anymore.

It is good to be free. To breathe, to know that our lives are our own, and the shackles of anachronism are broken.

Be free. Breathe. Our lives are works of art, to be made beautiful.

Be free.

Till the next post, then.

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