Think religion makes society less violent? Think again. (Op-Ed)

Nov 17, 2015

A city employee removes wooden crosses that were placed in a plaza by organizations protesting against the government inaction over the alarming murder rate in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Sept. 1. (Salvador Melendez / Associated Press)

By Phil Zuckerman

If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

We can start at the international level. The most secular societies today include Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Hungary, China and Belgium. The most religious societies include Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Colombia, Senegal, Malawi, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Jordan, Algeria, Ghana, Venezuela, Mexico and Sierra Leone.

It is the highly secularized countries that tend to fare the best in terms of crime rates, prosperity, equality, freedom, democracy, women’s rights, human rights, educational attainment and life expectancy. (Although there are exceptions, such as Vietnam and China, which have famously poor human rights records.) And those nations with the highest rates of religiosity tend to be the most problem-ridden in terms of high violent crime rates, high infant mortality rates, high poverty rates and high rates of corruption.

Take homicide. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.

Now consider the flip side: peacefulness. According to the nonprofit organization Vision of Humanity, which publishes an annual Global Peace Index, each of the 10 safest and most peaceful nations in the world is also among the most secular, least God-believing in the world. Most of the least safe and peaceful nations, conversely, are extremely religious.

As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: “If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case.”


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9 comments on “Think religion makes society less violent? Think again. (Op-Ed)

  • @OP – As professor Stephen Law of the University of London observed: “If a decline in religiosity were the primary cause [of social ills], then we would expect those countries that have seen the greatest decline to have the most serious problems. But that is not the case.”

    This looks fairly easy to explain.

    Secular communities have the least serious problems of ethical failures – going by objective measures.

    Theistic communities have the least problems of ethical failures according to the self delusions of faith-thinking, and the (dogmatic) circular thinking of what constitutes ethical behaviour!



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  • Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

    Let’s flip that around cause-and-effect-wise:

    Where living conditions are poor, faith in god(s) and religious participation is strong due to its utility. Where living conditions are better, religion loses its utility (for most) and secularism can prevail.



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  • I’m convinced that the only society in which different religions can live peacefully side by side is a secular one.

    If anyone knows of a theistic society where this is happening, I’d be most interested in learning about it please.

    Of course, if sufficiently credulous, ignorant, psychopathic or sociopathic individuals exist and get together in any society they can cause mayhem.

    The World and its dog witnessed that in Paris on Friday.



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  • Once you mention Norway and Japan in the same sentence, is anyone else immediately reminded of another statistic – that of suicide rates? I expect that the correlation between suicide rates and atheism will be close – but then, there is an excellent correlation between increasing literacy and increasing suicide rates.

    Facts are facts, but there is always a limit as to how much you can read into them. In this case, the author is an academic and careful to avoid simplifications and to draw only modest conclusions.

    “It is, of course, impossible to conclude from any of this data that secularism, in and of itself, causes societal well-being, or that religiosity causes social ills. Peacefulness, prosperity and overall societal goodness are undoubtedly caused by multiple, complex factors — economic, geographic, cultural, political, historical and so forth. That said, it is clear that a strong or increased presence of secularism isn’t the damaging threat to society so many continually claim it to be. If only the likes of O’Reilly and Huckabee would take heed.”

    And it would require a whole lot of detailed evidence and analysis of all these “economic, geographic, cultural, political, historical” factors to draw further conclusions.



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  • The UK has allowed tolerating the intolerable, to the point where intervention is belatedly required!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34933970

    Madrassas in England will face regulation and inspection under government plans published on Thursday.

    Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron said some children were “having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate” in these Muslim supplementary schools.

    Muslim organisations accept regulation is needed to protect children’s welfare but maintain concerns about radicalisation are misplaced.

    The UK contains about 2,000 madrassas.

    Under the plans, any out-of-school setting providing intensive education would be required to register and be open to inspection.

    This is likely to cover almost all madrassas, as the proposals suggest six to eight hours a week as the threshold for regulation.

    Many Muslim children attend madrassas to learn Arabic in order to recite the Koran and understand the principles and practices of their faith.

    The plans suggest there would be a range of prohibited activities that could prompt intervention: from appointing unsuitable staff to failure to ensure the safety of children.

    Corporal punishment would be banned, along with teaching that “promotes extreme views” or is deemed incompatible with fundamental British values.

    New powers would be created to impose sanctions, which could include closing down premises or banning individuals from working with children.



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  • Meanwhile as one of the more extreme examples of the “peaceful” effects of religion:- It seems following the “wrong” religious sects can be fatal where Caliphate theocracies abound!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34954233

    A booby-trapped mass grave containing the bodies of at least 110 people from the minority Yazidi sect has been found in northern Iraq, officials say.

    The grave was found close to the town of Sinjar after it was recaptured from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group earlier in November.

    IS captured Sinjar in August 2014, with reports of massacres and enslavement and rape of Yazidi women and girls.

    This is said to be the sixth mass grave found in or near the town.

    The grave is located some 10km (six miles) west of Sinjar, in Nineveh province, senior official Mahma Khalil told AFP news agency.

    It was surrounded by bombs and has not yet been excavated. The estimate of the number of bodies inside comes from witnesses to the victims’ executions.

    Sinjar’s mayor, Mahma Khalil, told the BBC this was the biggest of the mass graves found so far, though he expected further discoveries to be made.

    He appealed to international organisations for help in compiling evidence for the International Criminal Court, of what he called IS’s genocide of the Yazidis, who made up a majority of the population in the town.

    Less than two weeks ago a grave was found which was thought to contain the bodies of about 80 women. Aged between about 40 and 80, they were deemed too old to enslave and rape, one official speculated.

    Yazidis practise a form of religion which combines elements of Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions and are considered heretics by IS.



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  • I think this illustrates aspects of the problem!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-34956969

    Pope Francis – visiting his first conflict zone – has said he hopes next month’s polls in the Central African Republic (CAR) will open a “new chapter” for the country.

    CAR has been torn apart by violence between Muslim rebels and Christian militias.

    The Pope was speaking after arriving in the capital, Bangui.

    .Acting President Catherine Samba-Panza has asked him for “forgiveness” for the country’s recent religious violence.

    I am sure the Muslim rebels will appreciate the pope’s “forgiveness” of the Christians attacking them, and his arrogance as a foreign visitor in “forgiving” them”!

    The religions of “peace”!!!!! -and politicians with a “Catholic mandate”!!!



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  • The data doesn’t really back you up on suicide rates. Norway is low rate and falling. Japan’s was high but falling nicely until “the lost decade” of the nineties when its economy hit a brick wall and suicides shot up again.



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