Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Time to Choose: God or Country?

The proof is in: Believing in god hurts your country. Don't believe me? Ask the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the bureau's findings, with a headline that attempts to mask the root cause of the problems it identifies. I've bolded the code words that tacitly refer to religion or its influence. And I've italicized the references to those forces that stand in opposition.

Southern states, including Georgia, often style themselves as the last bastions of traditional family values that other parts of the country abandoned long ago. Supposedly, this is still the kind of place where Mom, Dad and the kids traipse to church on Sunday and then show up at Grandmom's for chicken dinner.

...According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report...the South leads the nation in unwed births. In Georgia, nearly four in 10 babies are now born out of wedlock, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state birth records...The newspaper review found that in 1980, single mothers accounted for 22 percent of births in Georgia. A decade later, the percentage increased to almost a third of births...

Georgia has the ninth highest teen birth rate in the nation, a list led by Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Georgia also shares a history of low educational achievement with those states.

That demographic shift toward single motherhood is troubling for a variety of reasons, not least because it often condemns both mother and child to lifetimes of grinding poverty...And it's no secret that the children of single mothers living in poverty have a hard time overcoming those hurdles.

...in the calculus of teen pregnancy, girls without any plans for college or careers generally believe they have less to lose from early motherhood than those with higher aspirations. Education — and the opportunities that come with it — is often the best form of birth control.

But the most obvious — and the most controversial — strategies to combat teen pregnancy are to offer effective sex education, make birth control easily accessible and keep abortion legal.

States such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, for example, boast far lower teen birth rates than Georgia. In part, that's because fewer teens in those states become pregnant in the first place...

...It may be politically popular to try to persuade teens to remain celibate and to restrict their access to information and contraceptives, but those tactics generally backfire, according to research. They produce higher pregnancy rates, higher birth rates and higher abortion rates.

As long as Georgia refuses to acknowledge that fact, and also refuses to look at itself and its children honestly, progress will be very difficult.
It shouldn't be news to anyone that all three of the big monotheistic religions include important strains that marginalize and disenfranchise women. Still, a wily theist will at this point remind us that synchronicity does not imply causality. In other words, just because we find two things together -- religion, with its attendant ignorance and high pregnancy rates, with its attendant poverty -- does not mean we can conclude that one thing caused the other. Fair enough. But the fact is that one of the primary selling points behind just about every religion is its unexplained power to make life better. We hear all the time about the corrupting power of secularism. Twenty-first century American politicians still actually tell us that belief in god corresponds with an improved moral climate.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the U.S. Census Bureau have disproved that correlation. Better still, for the first time, a study in the latest issue of peer-reviewed, academic journal, the Journal of Religion and Society, has taken up the challenge of testing the hypothesis that monotheism makes life better. The study looked at democracies, and how their social progress (indicated by such factors as crime and health) compared with their intellectual progress (indicated by such factors as belief in a magic man who lives in the sky). It's a relatively new kind of study because only now are we entering a stage in history that allows us to gauge secular, stable democracies over time. With apparently zero help from the marketing department, the study's been titled, "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." It offers the following observations (it's pretty user friendly, but I'll bold the highlights for you skimmers out there):
A few hundred years ago rates of homicide were astronomical in Christian Europe and the American colonies (Beeghley; R. Lane). In all secular developed democracies a centuries long-term trend has seen homicide rates drop to historical lows (Figure 2)....Despite a significant decline from a recent peak in the 1980s (Rosenfeld), the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy that retains high homicide rates, making it a strong outlier in this regard (Beeghley; Doyle, 2000). Similarly, theistic Portugal also has rates of homicides well above the secular developed democracy norm. Mass student murders in schools are rare, and have subsided somewhat since the 1990s, but the U.S. has experienced many more (National School Safety Center) than all the secular developed democracies combined...The positive correlation between pro-theistic factors and juvenile mortality is remarkable, especially regarding absolute belief, and even prayer (Figure 4). Life spans tend to decrease as rates of religiosity rise (Figure 5), especially as a function of absolute belief...

[16] Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies (Aral and Holmes; Panchaud et al.), rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the U.S. than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies (Figure 6). At all ages levels are higher in the U.S., albeit by less dramatic amounts...The two main curable STDs have been nearly eliminated in strongly secular Scandinavia. Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data. Early adolescent pregnancy and birth have dropped in the developed democracies (Abma et al.; Singh and Darroch), but rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. where the decline has been more modest (Figure 9)...
In other words, if you're anti-abortion, anti-STD, anti-homicide, anti-infant mortality, anti-school massacres and pro-longevity, the societies that reject your god manifest your values better than you do. And even if you aren't convinced that there's a causal connection, shouldn't the consistent pattern of correlation oblige you -- if you really value an infant's life more than your belief in a magic invisible man -- at least to demand that your religious leaders (which, these days, includes politicians) account for their failure to make good on their claim that adherence to their religion yields the benefits you value?

[18] 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 (Figures 1-9)...The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health...No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional...

[19] If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution 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...

"Hey!" you cry, "There might be, um, mitigating circumstances!" You bet there are, but they mitigate away from the magic man:

Conclusion

[20] The United States’ deep social problems are all the more disturbing because the nation enjoys exceptional per capita wealth among the major western nations (Barro and McCleary; Kasman; PEW; UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). Spending on health care is much higher as a portion of the GDP and per capita, by a factor of a third to two or more, than in any other developed democracy (UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). The U.S. is therefore the least efficient western nation in terms of converting wealth into cultural and physical health. Understanding the reasons for this failure is urgent, and doing so requires considering the degree to which cause versus effect is responsible for the observed correlations between social conditions and religiosity versus secularism. It is therefore hoped that this initial look at a subject of pressing importance will inspire more extensive research on the subject. Pressing questions include the reasons, whether theistic or non-theistic, that the exceptionally wealthy U.S. is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious, less wealthy prosperous democracies. Conversely, how do the latter achieve superior societal health while having little in the way of the religious values or institutions? There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.

That's where the study gets it wrong. It's not the responsibility of the research community to address these issues, until our broader community, our American community, demonstrates that it supports such an effort. Until the Americans who go to the polls are willing to demand that our leaders account for the correlation between our primitive (creationist, theistic) thinking and our rapidly slipping status in comparison with secular societies, our politicians will neither fund the least nor heed the greatest amount of research on this issue. And we'll continue to pay the price until we're willing to decide: God or country?

1 comment:

ceej said...

check this out:
http://select.nytimes.com/2005/10/19/opinion/19friedman.html

though I wish it were clearer exactly what is "fake".

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