Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dispelling An Insane Religious Myth (No, You Don't Need God to be Moral!)


 Scale of healthy societies and religiosity.
It must irritate the atheist and secular humanist to behold the difficulty with which certain entrenched religious tropes can be removed from the memo-sphere.  This concerns the central issue of whether a human requires a god belief to be a moral person. It has arisen again with the results of a new survey that discloses, basically, that the denizens of the U.S. of A still don’t get it. Whether they need brain transplants or simple re-education is difficult to  say but the evidence is they will not be willing changelings any time soon on their own (any more, I suppose, than the neocons embedded in our gov’t)

The survey asked a simple question: Is belief in God essential to morality? While clear majorities say it is necessary, the U.S. continues to be an outlier.  In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person.  According to the survey report:
This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East”.
This isn’t at all astounding given more backward religious beliefs exist in these regions – mainly centered in a fundie-obsessed Christianity (Africa)  and a fundamentalist -style Islam (Africa and the Middle East).  However, a number of  Asian and Latin countries including: Indonesia (99 percent), Malaysia (89 percent), the Philippines (99 percent), El Salvador (93 percent), and Brazil (86 percent) also fell in the highest percentile of respondents believing belief in a god (small G) is central to having good values.
Meanwhile, we find clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the USA.
Incredibly, an eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are “living in sin”.  This is despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly underrepresented in the places where rapists, thieves and murderers invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.
Staying with the U.S., this correlation between a high rate of poverty and high degree of religiosity is supported by a 2009 Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study that determined the degree of religious fervor in all 50 states. The study measured a number of variables including frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth. Led by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 most religious states were Southern. Oklahoma ruined the South’s clean sweep by sneaking in at No. 7.
Not coincidentally, led again by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 poorest states are also found in the South, while Northern and Pacific states such as Wisconsin, Washington, California, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont are among the least religious and the most economically prosperous.

We see then that the Southern obsession with "godliness" (equating it to "goodness")  is what drags the whole U.S. down to the level of a backward nation in terms of its healthiness as a society. A point first made in an article (‘The Future of Religion’) appearing in Free Inquiry, Vol. 29, No. 1 Jan. 2009. The article showed that the most  economically unequal, unhealthy societies were also the most religious – which included believing one had to accept some type of a god to be a good or moral person. (The level of inequality was assessed using the Gini coefficient or index.  The graphic presented shows where the various advanced nations fall, with the U.S. shown as an outlier.

The primary finding that runs likes a thread through all this research is that religious belief and activity is a superficial coping mechanism easily cast aside when the majority in a given society enjoy true (not faux) democratic government, and a secure, comfortable and middle- class lifestyle. Those who claim the universality of religion or that it is integral to human nature commit the basic selection effects error, in that they conveniently overlook the data showing broad secularization of western Europe, Anglo-Australia, Canada and other developed nations.

Indeed, in 18 out of 19 of the most prosperous democracies the share of population reporting absolute belief in a god or gods ranges from between as little as a few percent to at most one-half. In some of these nations, mainly in Western Europe, two-thirds proclaim to be either atheists or agnostics.

Meanwhile the U.S., with its historically lower taxes, fewer public safety nets, and more poor than rich (by more than a 25:1 ratio) displays a greater disparity (especially in the South) than any other nation. Moreover, it displays a much greater social pathology. Understanding the basis of this pathology doesn’t take a genius. As anyone with more than air between the ears can see, on examining state by state budget deficits now exploding, in every case “re-balancing” is being done on the backs of the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the homeless. The results are predictable: loss of health care, loss of jobs and loss of overall security, as well as increase in drug use, violent criminality and prostitution.

British philosopher Nicholas Humphrey, in his superb book Soul Searching, has an excellent explanation for this clinging to God and religion in the U.S.

"Religions and quasi-religions offer remarkably effective medicine for orphaned minds. As Jung said: 'They give a human being that sense of wholeness, which he had as a child, but which he loses when he leaves his parents"

In other words, for the much suffering religious believer in the States, who cannot depend on the government for his sustenance or support, God and religion offer a sweet teat to provide the comfort and nurturance otherwise missing. The irony is that these same sufferers pillory Europeans as having a “Nanny state”,  but at least the Europeans have a genuine entity from which to elicit assistance, as opposed to a phantasm of the mind.

The conclusion from dozens of sociological and anthropological journals is inescapable: high levels of national religiosity are largely a symptom of dysfunctional socioeconomic governance and circumstances engendered by that governance. High levels of secularism are largely a result of healthier, more secure governance and conditions that arise from those enlightened policies. In particular, taxes are relatively high - but are used for the betterment and support of the commonweal -  as opposed to funding open-ended occupations, invasions, and tax cuts for the wealthiest. The latter must truly be amazed and secure that so many less well off citizens, who would otherwise be up in arms at their amassed and unholy wealth, are kept under full control through the use of a fantasy belief system.

Essentially, the Republican Party – still the main supporter of the rich and well-heeled -  has convinced tens of millions of Southerners that a vote for a public display of the Ten Commandments is more important to a Christians’ needs than a vote against cuts in education spending, food stamp reductions, the elimination of school lunches and the abolition of healthcare programs.
It may well then be past time to save the South from itself, and/or at least to save America from the South.  As a writer on observed:
it’s the religious South that continues to hold the country in some kind of 1860s time warp. While the more secular America is trying to deal intelligently with real problems — taxes, spending, environment, healthcare, education, inequality, and poverty – the South is rooted in religious fanaticism, ancient grudges and demagoguery.”
In other words, without the South’s religiosity, the United States would again look like a decent, developed, secular country, a country where it’s probable for an atheist to be elected into public office, and where the other 50 million law-abiding atheists wouldn’t be looked upon as rapists, thieves and murderers.
Can we ever get the South to enter the 21 st century and put all its religious codswallop behind? Maybe not until we can finally rid ourselves of the Repuke Party.

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