September 27, 2005
Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
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
The study counters the view of believers that religion is
necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a
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 paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society,
a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their
churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on
the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly
“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
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.
He said that most Western nations would become more religious
only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the
existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of
evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there
was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.
“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the
dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most
citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.
“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must
experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”
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