Thursday, December 15, 2005

Derb on Religion, Morality & Social Science:

John Derbyshire has some interesting things to say on the connection between religion and morality, which parallels what I wrote in this post on Daniel Lapin's absurd thesis reacting to the data showing that secular citizens may actually be more law abiding and moral than religious citizens.

Derb writes:

This is a routine rhetorical flourish in reports of this kind. I imagine most American conservatives, including most nonreligious ones, would respond to that with some thought like: “Well, thank goodness we are not that secular. It’s our religiosity that gives us ballast, preserves our cherished institutions from unnecessary change, and keeps us on the straight and narrow.”

Is this true, though? So far as the straight and narrow is concerned, the notion that religious belief is a social good does not actually bear up very well under examination. India is much more religious than Japan, but much worse behaved. (Homicide rates 0.034 per 1,000 vs. 0.005; adult HIV/AIDS infection 0.9 percent vs. 0.1; etc., etc.) Similarly within these United States. George Barna’s surveys show that African Americans are the most religious group in U.S. society, Asian Americans the least religious, white Americans intermediate. The statement “My religious faith is important to me” draws an affirmative response from 52 percent of Asian Americans, 68 percent of whites, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 89 percent of African Americans. However, statistics on various kinds of social dysfunction and misbehavior — crime, illegitimacy, drug addiction, AIDS infection — vary in precisely the opposite way, Asian Americans having, and causing, the fewest problems, African Americans the most. (Barna’s surveys turn up a lot of counterintuitive results: For example, that born-again Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians.)

Note: I don't draw a causal conclusion. I could, but I won't conclude that therefore, "religious beliefs are bad for society." It may well be that many of those with devout religious beliefs would behave even worse if they didn't possess them. I'm of the mind that devout religion isn't for everyone, but it works well for some people, helps them keep their lives in better order and gives them a better peace of mind.

It could also be that atheism and irrelgiosity tend to work better for the really bright, well-educated folks, who tend to be more law abiding anyway. When Washington gave his farwell address telling us of the connection between religion and morality, he also noted how "the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure," could serve the same effect. Irreligiosity and civility may go hand and hand only if tended to be accompanied by bright, well-educated minds.

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