Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sodom and Gomorrh

Rorschach has a post about an interesting study which argues that the more religious countries may in fact be the more sinful ones:

"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.

"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

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.

The implication is that religion may not be that helpful as an aid towards a more ethical or moral society. Or is it? The problem with correlational studies like this one is that they tell us nothing about causality. In this particular study, for example, we find out that the United States appears to be both more religious and more "sinful" than most Western European countries. But we can't actually conclude that it's the religiousness which causes the sin. It could be the other way round: the sin might drive people to religion, or it could be that there is something else about religious people that makes them both pious and sinful at the same time, or countries which have large religious majorities might have small very sinful minorities who are not religious, or the correlation might be just a historical coincidence.

If we could get data from many time periods and if we could establish that the religiosity was first and then the sinfulness followed we'd have a stronger case for arguing that it's the Bible-thumping which causes extramarital humping and so on.

Despite all these academic and uninteresting reservations I do agree that the study shows us that the Christian Right in the United States is full of baloney when it portrays this country as the last shining and virtuous one among the Sodom and Gomorrh of the corrupt west.