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...hypocrisy; cognitive dissonance; higher rates of STD infection, teen pregnancy, abortion, and poverty; mass societal dysfunction; early mortality; homicide; and, in rare cases, delusions and psychosis. Is Living Under the Influence (of religion) less dangerous than Driving Under the Influence?

In the news recently, we had the case of Eunice Spry, a British woman who systematically tortured her adopted and foster children because of her religious convictions. She did pleasant things like forcing the children to eat their own vomit for being greedy, and making a child with nighttime enuresis (bed-wetting) at the age of 4 wear a sign reminding everybody that she was an evil attention-seeker. It doesn't stop there, either. She also prevented a teenaged girl who was injured in a car accident and temporarily confined to a wheelchair from walking in order to collect more compensation money, despite the fact that the prognosis was she would regain ability to walk within 6 months. After moving out, they children submitted to medical examinations which showed evidence of internal scarring due to Eunice's punishment of choice-forcing the children to vomit and then eat it.

If you aren't sick by now, you should be. Obviously, this woman's problems extended beyond her religious beliefs, but her absolutely inhumane treatment of those children was done under the guise of punishing them for what would seem to be the seven deadly sins. All she would need to do is chop somebody's pregnant wife's head off and send it to them and we could make a movie. Oh, wait, somebody already did. In my opinion, crimes like these should be a more serious offense than murder. Going Andrea Yates on them would have been merciful. I almost wish that a hell existed so she could go there.

Don't go away yet, there's more. A Washington, D.C. woman, Banita Jacks, sat in her home for over two weeks with the decomposing bodies of her 4 daughters who were apparently "possessed." Now tell me: Where would she get this idea of demon possession if it hadn't been planted in her mind by religion? I realize that before mental illnesses were understood, demon possession was a common diagnosis, but we're living in the 21st century here, people. That concept would not have survived the Enlightenment if it wasn't for the eternally ubiquitous presence of that festering boil we refer to as religion.

I know the next argument that you're going to make, too. "Well, she was insane, so she would have done something horrible anyway." How do you know that? How do you know that she would have had any concept of a "demon" if it wasn't placed there? The bible clearly states that this is a war not of flesh and bones, but of spirits and the forces of good and evil. One is to arm themselves for battle and prepare to deflect the attacks of satan and his minions. People still believe in this stuff! Does anybody get this? The Pope is calling for mass exorcisms, and some evangelical christians believe that sicknesses are caused by satan and that you can "cast them out in Jesus' name." It is a travesty that the more obsequious among us have bought the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. Anybody who cannot see the correlation here is either blind or indifferent and will allow these things to continue to happen. All because we can't talk about religion like that-it's just not nice.

Obviously, the vast majority of religious people do not commit these kinds of crimes, but there is an overwhelming amount of violence perpetrated upon people that is religiously motivated. I've already pointed out the child abuse that occurs in the name of religion, and some christian parenting sites teach you how to "switch" your children with PVC tubing from the age of 9 months. Incidentally, a devotee of theirs was charged with first-degree murder when she wrapped her 4 year old son tightly in blankets because he kept getting out of bed and he suffocated to death.All because god is a god of order, not chaos, and you must maintain order in your home. Talk about fragile egos on these people who won't be manipulated by the cries of a hungry newborn baby.

I said this in my first post on this topic, and obviously I need to repeat myself for the either dense or dishonest critics, but even if religion only exploits existing mental illnesses, should we not give people one less reason to kill or harm others? Imagine a scenario in which small groups of racist people are still terrorizing anybody with darker skin than them, but since the vast majority of white people don't act that way, we just shouldn't address it.

In all honesty, the reason that most religious people do not act like the Phelps family is because they are nominal (insert religion here) only. A study done by the Barna Group, a christian research firm, showed that many young Americans see christians as hypocritical, and that they really are hypocrites. They surveyed 1003 adults on 20 "lifestyle elements," including things such as altruism, sexual behavior, and substance abuse. The results: on 15 of the 20 behaviors, evangelical christians were indistinguishable from us heathens, and the areas in which they do differ (porn consumption, cursing in public, playing the lottery, and music piracy), the difference is minor (One-third of heathens vs. one-quarter of christians) except for the music piracy, in which there is a 7% difference. That is not likely because of the commandment to not steal, but rather that resisting the urge to download music is much easier than resisting the urge to have sex. If that's not causing cognitive dissonance, I don't know what will.

On a larger scale, we have three studies on the impact of religion on society, and neither of them is going to vindicate religion. The first was published in the Journal of Religion and Society and authored by Gregory Paul, a social scientist. He concluded that:

"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.

"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

"The non-religious, proevolution 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." (TimesOnline.co.uk)

The next was a Pew global survey that graphed the correlation between religiosity and wealth. Although the U.S. was an outlier, there was still an inverse statistical correlation between rates of religious belief and wealth. Attached to that article was a site you can use to determine rates of religiosity in different areas of the US and the corresponding population data. (It is slightly dated with 2000 as the year the data was collected.) There is a similar correlation in the US among different areas as there is among countries worldwide. Below are the two graphs plotting the data.

wealth religiosity

US demographics

The third and final study is perhaps the most comprehensive. Phil Zuckerman analyzed levels of organic (not coercive) atheism and how the countries scored on the "Human Development Index," which rates countries on various indicators of societal health such as homicide rates, gender equality, poverty, literacy, and infant mortality. Not surprisingly, higher levels of atheism have a positive correlation to better levels of societal health as measured by these statistics. The top 25 countries all have very high levels of non-believers with the exception of Ireland. There was an increase in suicide rates among some of the atheistic countries, but the author notes that all of those countries were formerly parts of the USSR and are still suffering from the effects of that.

(nb: The link to the study itself is gone, but it is available in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism)

So, due to the insistence of numerous people, I have been working on a more official thesis on theism as a mind disorder, but getting the actual studies often requires expensive memberships or trips to the library. Don't worry-it's coming. Even if you disagree on that point, I think that there's enough data here to support the claim that religion has deleterious effects on society. One should use caution while using religion until one is certain of its effects.

Originally posted to Kelly OConnor on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 07:38 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Imagine... (6+ / 0-)

    As Bill Maher says often, religions cause the wars.  It's funny that people get shocked when told their religious beliefs are mere superstitions!  Which they clearly are.  

  •  More blood has been shed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fritzrth, ExStr8, LynneK, carver

    in the name of religion, than for any other reason.

    "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." --Blaise Pascal

    by lyvwyr101 on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 07:54:53 AM PST

    •  Bumpersticker... (0+ / 0-)

      But questionable.

      Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot weren't killing in the name of religion.  Nor was Hitler, for that matter.

      Nor Genghis Khan.

      "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

      by ogre on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:38:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If the crusades (0+ / 0-)

        had the modern weaponry that hitler etc had, the death toll would have been a whole lot higher.

        The crusades happened from 1096 CE to approx 1270 CE

        That's almot 200 years of nothing but fighting over religion.

        We have no future because our present is too volatile. We only have risk management. The spinning of the given moments scenario. Pattern Recognition. ~W. Gibson

        by Silent Lurker on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 09:14:13 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If. (0+ / 0-)

          And Genghis?  Worst slaughters in history, and if HE'd had modern weaponry...

          But you've shifted gears from fact to historical if/thens.  As a historian and a fan of alternative history, I'm fine with those contemplations.  But not as part of an argument about facts.

          Oh, and the crusades were, like almost all religious wars, not just about religion.  The origin of the crusade was an idea by the pope to get Christian European knights to stop killing each other and other Christians--by turning them elsewhere.  Religion was the device more than the motivation.  After they started, the motivation for the major crusaders tended to be economic self-interest--who gets to become king there, and who can climb up the feudal status ladder a step or three?  Not to mention the fun and profit in sacking cities (religion making a convenient device again--sack an infidel city... or Constantinople, heck, it's all $$$good$$$!)

          "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

          by ogre on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 11:17:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  ok then (0+ / 0-)

            all of the crusades were pre modern. More people were killed for religion than any other reason in pre modern history. They had no weaponry capable of mass killing. Pre modern era.

            Don't compare Stalin, Mao,Pol Pot because they were post modern and had weapons capable of mass killing  

            Hitler was killing in the name of religion. He was killing in the name of a white christian god.

            We have no future because our present is too volatile. We only have risk management. The spinning of the given moments scenario. Pattern Recognition. ~W. Gibson

            by Silent Lurker on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 08:15:58 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Madeline Murray O'hare suggested... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vacantlook, ExStr8, esquimaux

    a label be placed on Bibles that "this book may be hazardous to your mental health". Along with cigarette package labeling, this should have been inplemented many, many years ago!

    I worked as a psychiatric attendant while in college and far too many of the patients were disturbed my what their religion had taught them. One fellow believed all women were evil because Eve made Adam eat the apple, for example.

    I would agree that the less religion, the better the mental health of the people but tearing them away from these primitive beliefs is very difficult under the best of circumstances.

    "What a peaceful world it would be if Barbara had aborted!"

    by DevonTexas on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 07:56:04 AM PST

    •  I totally agree... (0+ / 0-)

      ...and as I stated above, I am working on a thesis concerning religion and its correlation to mental disorders. I am a neuropsychology major and I hope to study the origin of religious belief in the brain...someday. :-)

  •  I disagree with your assessment (5+ / 0-)

    because most of your citations have to do with religious fanatics. I would humbly suggest that it is not religion, in and of itself, that causes the problems you mention, but, rather a fanatical devotion to what one perceives as the teachings of said religion. For example, if one looks at the teachings of Jesus, one would notice that those teachings frown upon child abuse.

    "Truth never damages a cause that is just."~~~Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by LynneK on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:16:12 AM PST

    •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ogre

      It is easy to paint an extreme picture with extreme examples.  You need to be careful about using anecdotal evidence as discribed in the first few paragraphs.  Generalizations like this tend to repulse and muddy your arguements.  By and large, as you say, most religious people are not this way.

      This world is broken, I want a new one.

      by jimraff on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:26:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If religion isn't the problem... (0+ / 0-)

      ...then what exactly is the origin? Sure, some people are worse than others, but remove religion and nobody would be subject to its influence. Think about a prescription drug that gets pulled from the shelves because a small percentage of people experienced harmful side effects. It doesn't need to have that effect on everybody--just a small fraction of the people taking it. I feel that religion should have been recalled centuries ago.

  •  The problem is that fanatics control policy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ogre

    The issue isn't the extent of religious practice in this country - it's that a very narrow group of radicals with a political agenda have thrust themselves to the center of power for the past 7 years (and have been trying for decades).

    Remember, this country was built by people fleeing religious persecution.  We should celebrate our religious heritage - of religious diversity - not shun it.

    We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

    by CA Libertarian on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:23:02 AM PST

  •  Where women have power (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homogenius

    there are lower rates of poverty, child abuse, abortion, STDs; we all know religion is the greatest misogynist machine on Earth.  The problem I have though, is lumping "belief" with "religion".  I believe that living a spiritual life is personal and shouldn't be lumped with organized religion, which is a cruel rip-off.

  •  My brother in law and his wife are... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    homogenius, Spoc42

    ...rock solid fundamentalist and raised their 2 kids with those beliefs.  My wife and I are atheist and raised our 2 daughters accordingly.  My daughters are married with two children each.  They both graduated from college and are teachers.  My brother in law's kids are not married, never finished high school and both are in jail.
    Religion worked out real well for them.

    The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it. - 8.25 / -5.64

    by carver on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:32:18 AM PST

    •  The tougher the rules, the stronger the rebellion (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BluejayRN, carver

      Your story is anecdotal, but there is some truth here - children ultimately rebel against rules that are too harsh and illogical as they observe more of the world around them.

      We're pro-choice on everything! - Libertarian slogan

      by CA Libertarian on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:37:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  True ! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CA Libertarian

        I realize the story is anecdotal, however, as a high school teacher for 30 years I saw this correlation more than a few times.. It manifested as anti-social behavior, hostility, drug use, pregnancy and criminal acts.
        During a conference with the parents of a particularly disruptive student, I was assured that he would improve after an exorcism they had planned with their minister. As hard as it may be to believe - it didn't seem to work.

        The only shame in ignorance is taking pride in it. - 8.25 / -5.64

        by carver on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 09:23:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Reasonably factual, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vacantlook, esquimaux

    but probably not going to fly very well here.

    I will add that there are demonstrable links between religiosity and psychosis, that have been known at least since William James wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902.

    Surprised you didn't mention the prison vs. population stats for atheists vs. believers.

    It's much more difficult to solve the chicken-and-egg problem of which comes first (my own field of study is religion and psychosis).  Does a person's religious beliefs cause them to become psychotic (for some believers in demons and armageddon/rapture, the answer seems to be 'yes'), or do people with psychosis or vulnerabilities towards it tend to gravitate to religious movements which somehow validate their fears and abnormal cognitions (again, the evidence says 'yes').  The relationship appears to be bi-directional, and since their are genetic components to psychosis this also means that religious psychotics are practicing assortative mating in these churches (marrying fellow church-members) and spreading their genes for religious mania and psychosis.

    It's not a popular field of study.

    Mark Twain -Let me make the superstitions of a nation and I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.

    by Kingsmeg on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:43:14 AM PST

    •  It seems to be... (0+ / 0-)

      ...flying just fine. Why would you assume that it wouldn't fly?
      I am familiar with the prison studies and use them in other articles that I've written.
      I also deal with your next point in a different post, likely coming soon.

  •  the danger is not religion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spoc42

    it is buying into any orthodoxy, using it to avoid taking responsibility for life's problems.

    The Democrats in 2008 are fighting over the soul of their Party, and so far the pro-soul side is losing.

    by Zacapoet on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 09:18:54 AM PST

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