You all know the arguments.

  • It’s important to raise your children in a faith tradition, because otherwise they won’t know right from wrong
  • People who don’t fear the wrath of God have no incentive to be good
  • Increasing secularization is responsible for all the social ills in America (and depending on whom you ask, for the natural disasters too)


But as is often the case, what we know just ain’t so.  Consider this study, published in the Journal of Religion and Society.  The author looked at several western democratic nations and compared their rates of religiosity with their rates of social problems.  For the purposes of the study, religiosity = stated belief in God, church attendance, biblical literalism, and rejection of the theory of evolution.  Social problems = homicides, juvenile and adult mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and abortion.


You’d think, wouldn’t you, that the most religious societies would have the lowest rates of social ills.  In fact, the opposite is true.


Selected quotes:

Japan, Scandinavia, and France are the most secular nations in the west, the United States is the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds.


Despite a significant decline from a recent peak in the 1980s (Rosenfeld), the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy that retains high homicide rates.


The positive correlation between protheistic factors and juvenile mortality is remarkable, especially regarding absolute belief, and even prayer (Figure 4). Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise (Figure 5), especially as a function of absolute belief.


Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies (Aral and Holmes; Panchaud et al.), rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the U.S. than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies.


Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data.


Early adolescent pregnancy and birth have dropped in the developed democracies (Abma et al.; Singh and Darroch), but rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. where the decline has been more modest (Figure 9).


In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.


Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.


The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.


Please note: correlation is not causation.  Let me say that again (I’m feeling very Joe Biden today): Correlation Is Not Causation.  The results of this study do not suggest that religiosity causes the social dysfunctions discussed.  But it does disprove the popularly held notion that secularization causes such dysfunctions. 


Yes, that does mean my attention-grabbing headline is bull puckey.  I’m just practicing for my future soulless corporate marketing job.


Another note to please note: if anyone comments, “all those Americans who claim to be religious aren’t *real* Christians,” I swear I will reach through the screen and wap you upside the head.



  1. ·         I can’t quote my sources, and don’t want to do the legwork to get them again, but the results about sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy and abortion also correlate highly with a lack of sex education.  Now I don’t know for sure, but I know the religious right loves to preach abstinence and that we shouldn’t be teaching sex ed in middle school.  I think any education that promotes health and knowledge that keeps kids safe and healthy and gives them options when they are making tough decisions is a good thing.

  2. I am a Christian, and I wouldn’t argue any of the three things you mentioned, not to the extent you stated them. Having a nation that overall claims Christianity doesn’t mean people will be good. As I said, I am a Christian, and I am far from good in myself. However, I have hope, and I have a relationship with God. When I share my faith, I share it because I want everyone to experience the love I experience on a daily basis, love that has changed me from being a person who lived in constant fear and anxiety to someone who experiences peace, though I am still in the process of changing every day. I want everyone to have the opportunity to know God, because He’s my passion, and I believe we were made to thrive and enjoy His endless love. I respect people’s decisions not to believe what I believe, and I also affirm that bad things would be a part of society even if everyone was a Christian. We all start in different places, and none of us is perfect. Interesting post.

  3. True, religiosity does not cause those social ills.  It also does nothing to solve or prevent them, except offer empty threats of Hell.  I believe that doesn’t work because most people who believe in Hell also believe they, personally, won’t be going there.  Being believers, they believe they’ll be forgiven for whatever they’ve done as long as they keep believing and are very, very sorry.

  4. I’m not certain the widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is refuted.  As far as I can tell from the vaguely written article, there were no Godless communities included in the study of empirical correlation between “religiosity” and “social dysfunction.”  This is an extremely vague and questionable statement:  ”the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.”  Not to mention the fact that *no other variables* were addressed, like political philosophy, age or diversity of population, number of practiced religions, structure of criminal justice, etcetera.  In fact, as far as I can tell, this is just an article decrying the fact that the United States is both prosperous and socially “dysfunctional,” with an attempt to blame religion on the side.

  5. @ordinarybutloud – I don’t think the study was vague at all.  The criteria were made explicitly clear.  All of the nations included were prosperous, democratic, “first world” countries.  And if you look at the graphs, some of those countries are pretty darn close to “godless.”  The paper does not decry anything.  It sets out to observe whether there is a correlation between religiosity (which is clearly defines) and social dysfunction (which it clearly delineates).  The author reports on the data and concludes with a call to deeper and more focused investigations, as authors of academic papers are wont to do. 

  6. So what if we look at the social ills they didn’t consider?  Japan has a suicide rate double that of the U.S. (and rising).  France’s suicide rate is even higher.  Finland and Sweden have among the highest percentage of rape victims in the industrialized world, nearly three times the the rate in the U.S.  France is merely double.  Seems to me like the authors went data fishing to support their preconceived notions.  Same as I did above.  I wish that I could crap out nonsense like this and call it science.

  7. @S__Diddy – Where are you getting your stats?  This list puts the US at #9 in rapes per capita, with Finland coming in at #21.  And the study does note that the youth suicide rate in the US is merely average.  I just didn’t highlight that point, because, you know, it didn’t fit my thesis.  You can call it data fishing if you want, but the author looked at multiple indicators in 18 countries.  That’s a lot of fish.Are all data crunching papers crap, in your view, or are some legit?

  8. “Another note to please note: if anyone comments, “all those Americans who claim to be religious aren’t *real* Christians,” I swear I will reach through the screen and wap you upside the head.”Promise?  I wanna seeeeeeee!!!!!

  9. Yeah, me too! I want to experience you reaching through the screen!  That would be almost a Christmas Miracle it would be so amazing!  Although I don’t want you to hit me when you do it.I have no arguments. As a Christian, I do really try and convince people that evolution is OKAY and, guess what, probably true and God can handle that just fine.  I am also a huge proponent of birth control but more for social reasons that religious, although I think the whole being stewards of the earth thing includes not overpopulating it, so maybe there are some religious reasons…  Anyway, I also try not to judge anyone’s relgiousity (I don’t think that’s a word, but you can fill in the right one for me, right?), but I just secretly think they are crazy and a little scary. My children will know WAY more than they want to about human reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases – we’ll see how that works out!

  10. @transvestite_rabbit - I only have the quoted sections to go by, but there are lots of words like, “less,” “decrease,” “tend,” “more,” “almost always,” and “high” which I consider vague, and then lots of other words like, “prosperous,” “theistic,” “dysfunctional” and “acceptance” [of evolution] which in my admittedly overly logical mind require precise definition to be meaningful.  Of all people, I am not opposed to a Godless ideal, but I don’t think this article proves that a Godless citizenry might not be headed for societal disaster, either because of its godlessness or for any other reason.

  11. You’re funny. I like you. Popped over from Paoguy’s site (boy hasn’t he got even more cube like since he got back from Iran? I liked him better when he was shit scared and wanting to come home to his bossy little wife) and I disagree with him, as usual.  You’re right the only legal marriage should be as they do it in France (and Spain?). Civil marriage in the morning and if you’re religious, a church ceremony in the afternoon. I’m going to subscribe and keep an eye on you. PS. ever considered working for the public/civil service? It has its rewards too.

  12. My two cents: A good friend of mine who is a Swedish nationalist told me recently that he does NOT want to return to his home country because the suden influx of Muslim immigrants are responsible for the higher rape statistics. True or not, Europe does have an awful lot of Muslim immigrants, and this may or may not have been figured into the results some people quote. Personally I think that as soon as religious persecution of any stripe is punished as immoral and illegal, people will probably get along better. I look at my atheism the same way I look at my tattoos. I have tattoos (atheism), I don’t care if other people who don’t have tattoos (atheism) get them or not, I try not to judge people by tattoos (religious belief) just don’t push your anti-tattoo rhetoric to limit my freedom to have any damn part of my body tattooed (celebrate my freedom from religion).That’s pretty easy to understand. Now onto gay marriage….

  13. um, so, being raised by TR, I don’t really know enough about religion to say anything about it.If you reach through my screen, don’t break it!

  14. The spiritual realm doesn’t care about whose holy book is more holy.  One thing I hate about most religions is they tell you their religion is the only TRUE religion, and you’ll burn in hell for eternity if you don’t believe.OK – Praying is a good way to get problems off your shoulder, but it WON’T get you lower health or life insurance rates! Bad things will always happen to good people, and good things will always happen to bad people. But one rule to live by will always lead to a better life: Do unto others as they will then do unto you!

  15. I am a Christian—please don’t lump me together with all the “religious” people.  I think anytime we assume all the (name any group of people here) are all alike we make the mistake of not getting to know people as individuals.  I can’t fix the problems of the past religious freaks (of any kind) or prevent them from doing damage in the future, nor can I influence the tribes in Africa or the unrest in India happening today, but I can be kind and helpful to the people I meet every day not matter who they are, in hopes that, one by one, it will spread and change the world for the better.    Okay, I’m ready for you to come through the computer now…  

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