RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towardshigh murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, accordingto research published today.
Accordingto the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary fora healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
The study counters the view of believers that religion isnecessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthysociety.
It compares the social peformance of relatively secularcountries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes ina creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservativeevangelicals 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 holdthat religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helpsto lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuityand abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have beendescribed as its â€œspiritual capitalâ€. But the study claims that thedevotion 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: â€œMany Americans agree that theirchurchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on thehill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly scepticalworld.
â€œIn general, higher rates of belief in and worship of acreator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and earlyadult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion inthe prosperous democracies.
â€œThe United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.â€
Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist,used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup andother 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 worldâ€™s only prosperousdemocracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devoutnations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates ofgonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than inless devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from â€œ uniquelyhighâ€ adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescentabortion rates, the study suggested.
Mr Paul said: â€œThe study shows that England, despite thesocial ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than theUSA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religiousnation than America.â€
He said that the disparity was even greater when the US wascompared with other countries, including France, Japan and theScandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful inreducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseasesand abortion, he added.
Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because ofHurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number ofdifferent studies suggested that religion might actually contribute tosocial ills. â€œI suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by thepoor societal performance of the Christian states,â€ he added.
He said that most Western nations would become more religiousonly if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existenceof God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution wouldnot enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked declinein religious belief, Mr Paul said.
â€œThe non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict thedictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizensardently believe in a moral creator.
â€œThe widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.â€