Sunday, 12 December 2004

God can harm your moral health

It has been my observation that strong religious beliefs do not make anyone more virtuous; few of the really good people I have known have been particularly devout, and few of the pious ones have been notably good. There is, as statisticians would say, zero correlation. Or, to put it another way, as a force for the moral improvement of mankind the Bible simply doesn’t work.

Further, I have long suspected that there is actually a negative correlation (i.e., the more godly, the less pure in heart), and an article in The Sunday Times by Andrew Sullivan, from which I quote below, suggests that there might be some evidence for this.
What is certain is that in the United States of America the god-fearing parts where "traditional values" are upheld are not those parts where traditional values are healthiest.


  • The states with the highest divorce rates are AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, MS, NC, OK, SC, and TX. All voted for Bush in the recent election.
  • The states with the lowest divorce rates are CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI and VT. All voted for Kerry.
  • The Bible Belt divorce rate is about 50% higher than the national average.
  • There is no measurable difference in divorce rates between those who are “born again” and those who are not.
  • In Texas, where the religious right and its rhetoric against teen-age sex is strong, teen births as a percentage of all births are 16.1%, while in liberal, secular Massachusetts they are less than half, 7.4%.
  • In America, where the religious right ferociously condemn abortion, there are 21 abortions per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44; liberal Holland has 6.4%, less than a third of this.
  • The leading members of the forces of social conservatism in America are hardly exemplars of the values they purport to espouse: Rush Limbaugh has had three divorces and an addiction to painkillers, Bill Reilly has just settled a sex harassment suit that indicated a highly active adulterous sex life, and Bob Barr, the congressman who wrote the Defense of Marriage Act, has had three wives.

The article was entitled: Where the Bible bashers are sinful and the liberals pure. This is perhaps a crude generalisation, as is the suggestion that Republicans are vociferous about sin but commit more than their share, while Democrats don’t talk about it so much but commit rather less. America is more complicated than that: as Sullivan points out, Bill Clinton was a product of a Republican state while Bush was for more than half his life a dissolute wastrel from a Democrat-state family.
Of course, all this is fairly incomprehensible from a UK standpoint. As the most secular nation of the western world, we do not expect, or even want, our leaders to be publicly devout. Religious zeal is regarded as bad form and our Prime Minister’s sanctimony is an electoral handicap (as are his wife’s dotty superstitions).