An article seeded by Killfile reports on a study that appears to show a correlation between more religious societies and higher rates of various social ills such as crime, STD's, abortion, etc. This article will discuss what I see as some of the reasons that religion may play a real - albeit unintended - role in the breakdown of society.
** Please note, this is not a condemnation of anyone's personal belief in a higher power, but rather an observation on the effect that many organized religions, and Christianity in particular, have/has on the individual and the larger social group.
There are certain aspects of religion in general that, depending on their interpretation and implementation by the individual, can lead to societal ills. First among these is the belief that anything done "in the name of God" is righteous, even if it means engaging in behavior or actions that might otherwise be considered "sinful". A prime example of this would be putting out false and deceptive information in order to influence the decisions of others toward one way of thinking. Such can be said about many Christian churches and organizations that have put out flyers and websites claiming that abortion can lead to things like cervical cancer – when there is no actual scientific proof to support this – just to deter women from getting an abortion. These "Christians" subscribe to the theory that the end justifies the means – in this case, that lying (supposedly a "sin" in Christianity and expressly forbidden in the 10 Commandments) to a woman in order to prevent her from having an abortion (which they obviously consider to be the larger "sin") is okay even in the eyes of their God.
The problem with this type of thinking is that you cannot control the results. For instance, once a religious group that claims to follow those Commandments and all the other tenets of Christianity begins to set up an apparent hierarchy of "sins" (ie: that lying, in some cases, is a lesser evil than allowing a woman to get an abortion), they are by extension giving permission for their followers to do the same thing. These groups have, in effect, condoned lying for their followers by implying that the ends (preventing an abortion) justify the means (lying). This mindset eventually is likely to become accepted by all the followers of that particular church or sect, who may then use that same poor logic to justify far less "altruistic" acts such as stealing, being unfaithful to a spouse, mistreating their children, drinking and drug use, murdering a homosexual, blowing up a women's clinic with patients and employees inside, etc. All these individuals have to do is use the same "creative logic" that the church or religious group itself used to justify committing one "sin" in order to prevent someone from committing another, ostensibly more heinous, "sin".
There is also the fact that people can use religion as an excuse for an extensive list of behaviors that a secular, enlightened society finds abhorrent. For instance, any man can find plenty of examples in the Bible that might support his desire to humiliate and dominate his wife, abuse her and his children, have more than one wife, or have one or many mistresses on the side. Of course, such behavior is not socially acceptable in today's world – but it IS accepted by some religious sects, and even those that do not explicitly accept that kind of behavior provide a tacit endorsement with their very rigid rules regarding divorce and a woman's "place" in the home and family, "spare the rod" child rearing theories, etc. Moreover, religion is often used to justify even more horrific behaviors, such as slavery, oppression, abuse, rape and pillaging, war, terrorism, etc.
But perhaps the most insidious form of damage done by religion is one that takes place entirely inside the head of the individual. Guilt.
Guilt is a big part of religion, especially Christianity. And guilt can drive people to extremes that they otherwise might never have sought. There are literally thousands of examples of this I could cite, but I will use just one for now. Ted Haggard – a man who obviously has some homosexual inclinations, but who was so guilt-ridden by them because of his belief that homosexuality is a "sin" that he could only act on them in secret, with the aid of drugs. In the end, his duplicity was discovered, and the repercussions were felt not only by him and his family, but by his entire (very large) church congregation. (Note: Mr. Haggard recently claimed he had been molested as a child, and that this led to his later actions – but this only supports the guilt issue, as almost every child that has ever been molested has suffered through feelings of shame about having been victimized in that manner, and those feelings of shame are often related to the victim's religious beliefs or that of their family and community.)
So here we have a list of reasons that there may be a correlation between a high rate of religious belief and higher rates of crime, indiscriminate sexual activity, abortion, drug use, etc. Guilt, fear, assigning a hierarchy to certain "sins", justifying bad behavior by claiming it can lead to a "good" result, etc., all contribute to the ills that we as a society must face, and all can be attributed, at least in part, to the various religions of the world and their influence over the minds and hearts of their followers.
Once again, I want to remind those reading this that I am not trying to disrespect anyone's personal beliefs. I am, however, trying to provide a rational, objective look at the role that organized religion may play in the various problems that plague society. Although I am no longer a believer myself, I have no wish to destroy anyone else's beliefs, or even see an end to organized religion. Such organizations and belief systems offer a great deal of comfort to many people, and there is nothing wrong with that. But when they go beyond that role and begin trying to dictate behavior for everyone, or do more harm than good by creating an "us vs. them" worldview, or preach one thing and then do something entirely opposite – they are no longer serving as beacons of goodness, and can actually do a great deal of harm to society as a whole.