10/02/2005

Effect Measure: Sunday Sermonette: empirical data that religion is bad for you

Sunday, a day of rest. But I can still wheel the machinery of science in to x-ray religion as a kind of busman's holiday.

It goes without saying that in the US most people believe that religious belief--specifically belief in a creator, regular worship and prayer--are good for society at large, contributing to a "culture of life." Indeed, almost alone among developed nations, the US has retained an exceptionally high degree of religiosity in the twentieth century.

Aha. As an epidemiologist I see a natural experiment. Let's compare measures of societal health in secular versus religious countries!

Unfortunately for my academic resume, I have been scooped. TimesOnline reports a new study in the Journal of Religion and Society (.pdf of original paper here, for the unbelieving believers) that makes the relevant cross-national comparisons (hat tip, Michelle):

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...

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

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 delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

[snip]

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

Amen.
Effect Measure: Sunday Sermonette: empirical data that religion is bad for you

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