An excerpt from a Cambridge paper that helps prove what most of us have already figured out. Religion is an excuse and is used by some people to
Atheism and Societal Health -
Indeed, countries containing high percentages of non-believers are among the most healthy and wealthy nations on earth (Paul, 2004). Of course, we must always distinguish between those nations where non-belief has been forced upon the society by dictators (“coercive atheism”) from those societies wherein non-belief has emerged on its own without governmental coercion (“organic atheism”). Nations marked by coercive atheism -- such as China, North Korea, Vietnam, and former Soviet states -- are societies marked by all that comes with totalitarianism: poor economic development, intellectual censorship, widespread corruption, ubiquitous depression, etc.. However, nations marked by high levels of organic atheism – such as Sweden, the Netherlands, and France -- are among the healthiest, wealthiest, most educated, and most free societies on earth.
Consider the Human Development Report (2004), commissioned by The United Nations Development Program. This report ranks 177 nations on a “Human Development Index,” which measures societal health through a weighing of such indicators as life expectancy at birth, adult literacy rate, per capita income, and educational attainment. According to the 2004 Report, the five highest ranked nations in terms of total human development were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All five of these countries are characterized by notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top 25 nations ranked on the “Human Development Index,” all but one country ( Ireland) are top-ranking non-belief nations, containing some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, of those countries ranked at the bottom of the “Human Development Index” -- the bottom 50 -- all are countries lacking any statistically significant percentages of atheism.
Concerning the infant mortality rate specifically (number of deaths per 1,000 live births), irreligious countries have the lowest rates, and religious countries have the highest rates. According to the CIA World Factbook (2004), out of 225 nations, the top 25 nations with the lowest infant mortality rates were all nations containing significantly high percentages of organic atheism. Conversely, the 75 bottom nations with the highest infant mortality rates were all very religious nations without any statistically significant levels of organic atheism.
Concerning international poverty rates, the United Nations’ Report on the World Social Situation (2003) found that of the 40 poorest nations on earth (measured by the percentage of each nation’s population that lives on less than $1.00 a day), all but one (Vietnam) are highly religious nations with statistically minimal or insignificant levels of atheism.
Concerning homicide rates, Fajnzylber et al (2002), looked at 38 nations (excluding those in Africa) and found that of the top ten nations with the highest homicide rates, all but one (United States) were highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the bottom ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but one ( Ireland) are highly secular nations with high levels of atheism. Fox and Levin (2000) looked at 37 nations (again excluding Africa), and found that of the top ten nations with the highest homicide rates, all but two (Estonia and Taiwan) were highly religious nations containing statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism. Conversely, of the bottom ten nations with the lowest homicide rates, all but two ( Ireland and Kuwait) were relatively secular nations with high levels of organic atheism.
Concerning suicide rates, this is the one indicator of societal health in which religious nations fare much better than secular nations. According to the 2003 World Health Organization’s report on international male suicides rates (which compared 100 countries), of the top ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, all but one (Sri Lanka) are strongly irreligious nations with high levels of atheism. It is interesting to note, however, that of the top remaining nine nations leading the world in male suicide rates, all are former Soviet/Communist nations, such as Belarus, Ukraine, and Latvia( viii ). Of the bottom ten nations with the lowest male suicide rates, all are highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.
Concerning literacy rates, according to the United Nations’ Report on the World Social Situation (2003), of the 35 nations with the highest levels of youth illiteracy rates (percentage of population ages 15-24 who cannot read or write)( ix ), all are highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism.
Concerning gender equality, nations marked by high degrees of organic atheism are among the most egalitarian in the world, while highly religious nations are among the most oppressive. According to the 2004 Human Development Report’s “Gender Empowerment Measure,” the top ten nations with the highest degrees of gender equality are all strongly organic atheistic nations with significantly high percentages of non-belief. Conversely, the bottom ten are all highly religious nations without any statistically significant percentages of atheists. According to Inglehart and Norris’s (2003) “Gender Equality Scale,” of the top ten nations most accepting of gender equality, all but two (United States and Colombia) are nations marked by high levels of organic atheism; of the bottom ten (those least accepting of gender equality), all are highly religious nations marked by statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism( x ). According to Inglehart (2003), countries with the most female members of parliament tend to be countries characterized by high degrees of organic atheism (such as Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands) and countries with the fewest female members in parliament tend to be highly religious countries (such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iran).
In sum, countries marked by high rates of organic atheism are among the most societally healthy on earth, while societies characterized by non-existent rates of organic atheism are among the most destitute. Nations marked by high degrees of organic atheism tend to have among the lowest homicide rates, infant mortality rates, poverty rates, and illiteracy rates, and among the highest levels of wealth, life expectancy, educational attainment, and gender equality in the world. The only indicator of societal health mentioned above in which religious countries fared better than irreligious countries was suicide.
Of course, it is essential to clearly state that I am in no way arguing that high levels of organic atheism cause societal health or that low levels of organic atheism cause societal ills such as poverty or illiteracy. If anything, the opposite argument should be made: societal health causes widespread atheism, and societal insecurity causes widespread belief in God, as discussed by Norris and Inglehart (2004) above.
The causes of the glaring differences in societal well being among the world’s rich and poor nations are numerous (Diamond, 1999; Landes, 1999). Certainly among them include the birth and development of the industrial revolution, the lingering residue of colonialism and international conquests, and international trade policies that heavily favor the interests of wealthy/first world nations and their multi-national corporations over the interests of developing/third world nations. Again, to suggest that widespread belief or non-belief in God is the cause of societal health or societal pathology is not my intention. Rather, I am simply seeking to clearly establish that high degrees of non-belief in God in a given society clearly do not result in societal ruin, and high levels of belief in God do not ensure societal well-being. This is an important fact to stress because politically-active theists often equate atheism with crime, immorality, and societal disintegration. From Muslim fundamentalists in Iran to Christian fundamentalists in Indiana, the argument is loudly trumpeted that belief in God is “good for society” – an ultimate panacea -- while rejection of the belief in God is bad for society. The above discussion reveals that this thesis is baldly incorrect.
And to top it off, Denmark has been declared the happiest country on Earth. Odd isn't it? We keep hearing about how America will crumble without the god-botherers, and rapture index, politicians invoking invisible, vengeful sky daddies, etc. The Founding Fathers had it right from the get go. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. Because right now we are seeing and feeling what happens when religion influences politics.
State sponsored bigotry, the poor (some might say criminal) treatment of the poor, women, and basically anyone who doesn't belong to 'their' club and know the secret handshake. When the populace complains we are told to 'put our faith in god, the president and the government'...can you HONESTLY think of any less trustworthy combination?
I say it is long past time we TAX churches, mosques, temples, etc; enforce the separation of church and state especially in politics, education and congress. If someone is so hopeful of the rapture, do the kind thing and call your local mental health hotline before they hurt themselves or someone else.