Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Virtue of Godlessness...


    “The non-religious, proevolution 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.”

This is how a story Tuesday in the UK TimesOnline titled, Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side,' concludes. It's writer, Ruth Gledhill, reviews a new report by Gregory Paul for the Journal of Religion and Society, that determines the United States to be the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies; "sometimes spectacularly so” citing its Christian heritage and beliefs as the primary cause of damage to society. At least this was the nature of the reports findings as portrayed by Ms. Gledhill.
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 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.

...He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.
Mr. Paul is reported to have used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions. But, it remains vague how the information confirmed his findings or how the idiosyncracies of individual belief informed the nature of societal evolution. Nevertheless,
He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the U.S. unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.
Assuming for a moment that statistical data indeed suggests the U.S. to be a dysfunctional society, it is unclear from the story, just exactly what specific data Mr. Paul assembled to cultivate that conclusion. There seems to be a number of factors that were conveniently ignored. For instance, of the 57 most populated metropolitan areas of the world, the U.S. is home to 11. Japan has 3. Germany, UK, and France each have 1. Skandinavian nations are not represented. The dehumanization of urbanization has long been known to contribute to a state of social distress. That does not even begin to factor the socio-political aspects of those local governments and the tendencies of urban populations to defy traditional social trends as cited by Mr. Paul, yet wholely ignored in his analysis. Drug use, promiscuity, crime, prostitution, violence, poverty, agnosticism and general social degeneracy are magnified by density. Additionally, the trend toward rejection of both religion and philosophy in favor of conditional pragmatism in urban culture promoted by a majority of popular institutions would undermine any assertion of collective conformity of a moral persuasion. It is a fact that negates many of Mr. Paul's particular presuppositions with only that one additional consideration. Furthermore, any assumption that presumes a consummate rejection of evolution theory on the part of Christian sensibilities, is fatally flawed at best. Clearly, there is reflected a naive understanding of the observed culture inherent to the overall analysis that undermines any subsequent conclusions.

With the incomplete picture presented by the Times Online, one is encouraged to go straight to the source of the report for clarification. the Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look is a lengthy and quite cumbersome psuedo-anthropological survey targeted toward the author's hypothesis; Christianity promotes profound social illness. Ignoring for a moment the motivation of such research, it is fair to note that Mr. Paul does not, as Ms. Gledhill asserts, draw conclusions in his report. In fact, he clearly states that his findings should be used as the beginning for extended discussion and analysis.
This study is a first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists. The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined. This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health. It is hoped that these original correlations and results will spark future research and debate on the issue.
That being said, Mr. Paul's correlations remain clearly suspect. The author of the report attempts to certify statistical presumptions as scientific principle, while the writer of the article attempts to peddle ambiguous assertions caressed by her own agenda as fact.
One seems ridiculous, while the other is patently absurd.

1 comment:

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