2 different studies have recently come to my attention regarding the role religion plays in our lives and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Apparently, the more religious a society is, the less healthy it is yet, people are happiest when they have a social network that they usually get from religion. So….. mixed results.
The first study is from 2005. It was a study of other studies and basically looks at how religiosity affects societal health across many different quantifiable issues such as murder rates, suicide rates, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, juvenile and early adult mortality rates, and abortion, just to name a few. Turns out that the more religious a society is and the more it rejects evolution, the more murders, std infections, teen pregnancy, and abortions it has. The less religious a society is and the more it accepts evolution, the less it has problems with all these issues, including teen pregnancy and abortions. The only trend that isn’t affected by religiosity is teen suicide, which is about the same everywhere you go.
My favorite 2 favorite quotes from the study are these:
“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 United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.”
I don’t like these quotes because I like America being last but because this researcher, who was hoping to prove that religiosity benefits society, was so totally shocked at his results. His conclusion is that “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.”
So apparently if we want to improve the health and well-being of our society, we do need to become less religious. Which means that the New Atheists are right. But is that really the case?
In another study done by researchers at Cornell University, they found that regardless of what you believe, unless you have a community of people who are not only your friends but who also support you in your beliefs and more importantly re-enforce your beliefs, you will be unhappy. And apparently the affect is pretty dramatic. The researchers are quick to say that it isn’t religion that is making you happy it is the sociological structure and support you gain from being involved in a religious group that helps make you happy. It doesn’t matter what your worldview is – you benefit from being in a group that re-enforces your worldview.
At the moment – organized religions corner the market on having ready-made communities willing to re-enforce whatever worldview you have. Humanist and Freethought groups have only been around for about 70 years now and they are just now playing catch up.
The problem is that when you walk into a Freethought, Humanist, Atheist or other non-theistic group, what you get is a lot of argumentation and debate about religion. And it turns people off. Seriously, it does. I understand why people in our movement can be so passionate about those issues and I am very glad they are out there fighting for my right to not be religious, but we need to provide people with friendly alternatives because, let’s face it, not everyone wants to be an anti-theist activist.
I think – and this is just my opinion – but I think that if we truly believe that people and society would be better off if we were overall less religious and less dogmatic as the first study shows us, then we need to give people a viable friendly and supportive community to join. As the researchers at Cornell point out “We’re group creatures, we create social worlds and we need those social worlds to be reinforced to be comfortable.”
In my experience, most non-religious people just want to be with other people who value honesty, compassion and responsibility as much as they do. They don’t care about religion and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Though they do think morality is very important and like to spend time talking about that. I had someone comment on my other blog that he liked my writing specifically because nowhere when I am talking about Humanism do I talk about religion. All I discuss is Humanist values and how to be a better person for the sake of being a better person. People really do like that.
Further, these same folk tend to view anti-theist activity as offensive and debasing. Many of us have friends of faith we really like and think highly of. The idea that they are somehow immoral because they believe is just offensive.
So as we grow and move forward as a movement, let’s take some time to make sure that Humanists who just want to be Humanists have a space to organize and come together as Humanists without all the other baggage that is actually irrelevant to Humanism. Let the Humanist movement focus on Humanism and leave the anti-theist activities to other more suitable organizations.
Humanism is unique in the Freethought world because it is the only portion of the larger Freethought movement that has morality as its central issue. Atheists can’t talk about Humanist morality. Freethinkers can’t. Brights can’t. Only Humanists can. So let’s talk about that and make it the focal point of our activities and outreach as Humanists and leave the debate about religion to others.