Gimme that old time dysfunctionality…

Ruth Gledhill reviews belatedly catches up with Gregory Paul’s study in the latest a 2005 issue of the Journal of Religion and Society. She begins thus:

Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

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 correlations between religious belief and social dysfunction won’t come as a surprise to my (mostly) secular liberal readers. However one should always be cautious about leaping from correlation to causation. Case in point: there is a strong regional correlation in the USA between religiosity and violent crime. However both are also negatively correlated with education and economic status, and these are rather more plausible causal agents.
Gledhill writes:

He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills.

Really? This could be interesting, and certainly worth reading. At the very least, it looks pretty conclusive that religion does nothing to mitigate or reduce social dysfunction.
UPDATE: Thanks to benjdm for the correction.

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