Monday, October 03, 2005

Secular Health

My own background, the GOP, Bush, the elections of 2000/2004, and some discussion by Jage has sensitized me to stuff like this study published in the The Journal of Religion and Society current issue.

It's a study done of the relationship between a nations degree of religious beliefs/secularity and health by Gregory S. Paul of Baltimore. I looked him up and I *think* he's this guy , but I'm not positive. Anyway, this journal is a respected periodical.

I was originally turned on to this by Dr. Dean Edell who quoted the study on his radio show. As I've said before, Deano is a no-bullshit kind of science guy. So if he quotes it, the study carries some weight with me.

Abstract: (emphasis throughout is mine)
Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in religiosity in favor of secularization in the developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular. Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.
From the introduction:
This study is a first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists. The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined. This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health. It is hoped that these original correlations and results will spark future research and debate on the issue.
Quote from the conclusion:
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 developing 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.


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).
As is mentioned, this is a first correlational study that would require many more studies to verify the validity of the correlation. But doesn't it seem to ring true to our experience in the U.S.?

As Arte Johnson would say on Laugh-In (yeah, I'm dating myself).....Verllly Inteeeressting.....


At 5:36 PM, Blogger Jage said...

It is truly a sad note that such religious/psychological correlations and revelations are generally relegated to the obscure backrooms of serious research in our country. But, as is the case with most discussions involving the reality of the religious stagnation of cultural development, it's just not a topic that the majority of Americans can discuss together and still maintain an air of civility. And that almost predictable reaction is basically the crux of the problem here…our society is experiencing the long-term effects of a schism to our psyche. Though I won't bore any with the gory details of it here in this comment, I once developed a philosophical model which was based on a comparison of the evolution of societies (when viewed as a holistic and living entity) to that of a child's stages of developing consciousness and attempts at understanding/assimilating his/her place in the scheme of existence, with the earliest of tribal groups equated to the perceptional abilities of an infant around 2-3 years old. In short (and focusing on our own backyard for this analog), American society is basically at the mental development of a 12 to 13 year old child. We have reached a point where we have been filled with knowledge (and exposure to technology) that has provided the capacity to define and relate to the world around us, yet at the same time we are finding this 'hard' information, more often than not, in direct conflict to the 'soft' knowledge implanted in us by our non-educational influences throughout childhood. When a child's sense of mythos is generally the result of indoctrination by those most influential to his/her development (e.g., parents/family, friends, church, etc.), it become difficult for some to dismiss these mores and taboos in light of new information that may diminish its integrity. Recent trends such as 'Intelligent Design' and pundits assigning religious intent behind the plans of our Founding Fathers are examples of attempts to embellish these truths of reality in a way to allow our 'soft' knowledge to survive. As a societal whole, we are at a crossroads in choosing whether we will pursue mental enlightenment or continued enslavement to antiquated ideologies; a choice that our collective psyche just can't to process yet. And this delay in decision is presently creating such dichotomous turmoil in our society that it could probably be compared to behavioral aspects of classic personality disorders (psychologists in the audience feel free to comment). Unfortunately, with the propensity of the current American government (during the past 50 years) to consider and weigh in on matters of morality for the whole, we may find ourselves in an even more precarious position in the next few decades if the choice between truth and belief becomes a legislated and required behavior, rather than an accepted awareness brought about by education…does anyone really understand anymore how much intellectual ground we lost in the Dark Ages? Unfortunately, I doubt it. Here's to the hope that our shared future doesn't hold a harsh reminder for all of us…

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Greyhair said...

Well said.

I'm a bit less pessimistic about the future. I think the "fad" of being Christian, as opposed to those who really *are* Christian is waning.

Anyone remember when everyone was drinking Billy Beer? Americans tend to do that...alot.


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Jage said...

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