Christianity and Dysfunctional Societies
There have been literally hundreds of wars started or inflamed by Christian intolerance. Millions of people were murdered in the crusades, the Inquisition and the witch-hunts. For centuries women, homosexuals, Jews, and Muslims were attacked or suppressed. Churches have opposed secular education, fought against each other and resisted scientific advances. They have been the cause of, not the cure for, many of the world’s ills.
Bertrand Russell had good reason to state
“My own view on religion is that…I regard it as…a source of untold misery to the human race.”
Church people commonly claim that if all communities were Christian the result would be moral health, peace, and happiness. I do not believe that, and have some statistics to back up my opinion, as there is a good, very large study that addresses this issue.
The American Gregory Paul is an independent researcher on subjects dealing with paleontology, evolution, religion, and society. In 2005 he undertook a study titled
“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.” It was published in the Journal of Religion and Society.
Gregory Paul was attempting to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with social health. He wrote that his paper was a
“…first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists…not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health.”
The paper compared statistics from first-world developed countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.) It focused on these prosperous democracies, because
“levels of religious and nonreligious belief and practice, and indicators of societal health and dysfunction, have been most extensively and reliably surveyed” in them. Also,
“The cultural and economic similarity of the developed democracies minimizes the variability of factors outside those being examined.”
“Dysfunctionality” was defined by indicators of poor societal health, such as homicide rates, youth suicide, low life expectancy, STD infection, abortion, early pregnancy, and high childhood (under five years old) mortality. “Religiosity” was measured by belief in biblical literalism, frequency of prayer, service attendance, and absolute belief in a creator, in order to quantify religiosity in terms of ardency, conservatism, and activities. The study had a massive sample size of eight hundred million people.
The data was collected in the middle and latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s from the International Social Survey Program, the UN Development Program, the World Health Organization, Gallup, and other reputable sources. What did the results show?
Japan, Scandinavia, and France were the most secular nations. The United States is the only nation in the study considered to have high rates of religiosity, a feature other studies have demonstrated is only found in the so called second and third worlds.
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide. The US has by far the highest homicide rates. So the more “Christian” the society you live in, the more likely you are to be murdered.
There is a remarkable and consistent positive correlation between pro – theistic factors (especially regarding absolute belief in God, and frequency of prayer) and juvenile mortality. So the more “Christian” the society you live in, the more likely you are to die before your fifth birthday.
Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise, especially as a function of absolute belief. Denmark was the only exception. So the more “Christian” the society you live in, the less your life expectancy, unless you live in Denmark.
Higher rates of belief and worship of God correlated with higher juvenile and adult sexually transmitted diseases. Rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection were six to three hundred times higher in the USA than in all the less theistic democracies, and were markedly more prevalent in the USA’s adult population too. The USA also suffers from uniquely high adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates. These STD’s have been nearly eliminated in all the strongly secular countries. These statistics are not the result of a lack of medical care or antibiotics in the USA. In my opinion, the reason is obvious; Christian parents and schools usually do not educate teenagers about basic sexual hygiene. So, the more “Christian” the society you live in, the more likely you are to contract a nasty sexually transmitted disease.
Belief in and worship of a creator shows a positive correlation with increasing adolescent abortion rates in all countries. Rates of abortion are uniquely high in the USA. It also strongly correlates with higher rates of early adolescent pregnancy. Teenage birth rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. than in all the other countries. In my opinion, the high rate of adolescent pregnancy and abortion is because Christians typically refuse to teach adolescents about contraception or provide them with contraceptives. So, if you are a teenager, the more “Christian” the society you live in, the more likely you are to get pregnant, and the more likely you are going to have an abortion.
No democracy had both strong Christian religiosity and comparatively high rates of societal health in any of the parameters measured. The opposite is true. Only the more secular democracies had the lowest rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex-related health issues, and abortion. The three least theistic democracies—Japan, France, and Scandinavia—also have the best figures in these categories.
Interestingly, within the United States, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west have markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, and youth pregnancy rates than in the northeast part of the United States, where parameters of secularization approach European norms. So, if you live in the more “Christian” parts of the USA, you are more likely to be murdered, more likely to die at a younger age, more likely to get pregnant if you are a teenager, and more likely to catch a STD, than if you live in the more secular parts of the USA.
President Ronald Reagan once said,
“Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.” I suspect there is much truth in that, though in the opposite sense to which he intended! (For a list of US presidential quotes about the bible, see  ).
There is a belief in American folklore that America is “God’s country” because, metaphorically, America is a shining city upon a hill. The source of this idea is in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus says to his disciples,
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14, KJV.)
Some recent American presidents and presidential contenders, namely John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, and George W. Bush, have all claimed that the US was a “shining city on the hill,” by which they meant an exemplary example of an ideal society. The facts contradict this claim. “God’s country” has the highest rates of murder, juvenile mortality, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and adolescent pregnancy in the developed world. “God’s country” has recently gone to war in two Islamic countries, partly because of the Christian beliefs of George W. Bush’s government, which was probably only elected due to the Christian vote.
I have no wish to offend Americans, but only to point out that there appears to be a strong positive correlation between Christian religiosity and social problems.
There is hope for a brighter American future; it is slowly becoming less religious.
No one should, however, conclude that this study absolutely proves that Christian religiosity causes a dysfunctional society, or that Christianity flourishes in dysfunctional societies. Correlation implies causation, but does not prove it. Both could be caused by a third factor, or the correlations could just be spurious.
This very large study does prove that there is no evidence that Christianity has had a beneficial effect on societies in first-world countries in the parameters mentioned. First world Christian communities are not better, healthier, or safer than their more secular peers, and in fact the data suggests the very opposite.
I suspect that firmly held Christian beliefs subtlety “dumb down” some people. The typical Christian has a somewhat impaired ability, or a reluctance, to admit when they have a problem. “Belief” can subtly impair communication skills, particularly when it comes to listening and taking advice from authoritative others. Belief can also diminish people’s confidence to address problems rationally. This is a real shame, and I suspect these are the underlying reasons for the above statistics.