In the news this week, we have 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.
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.