By Mathew Goldstein
Dr. Alex McFarland, host of the national Stand Strong Tour, was quoted recently as saying the following: "From a societal standpoint, any time we reject a belief in God and, thereby, a belief in absolute morals based on the Word of God, we see the disintegration of a healthy society. From the breakdown of the family and the killing of the unborn to the rejection of the rule of law and of moral boundaries, the consequences are far reaching." Given the large number of people with diverse religious affiliations who very confidently express similar unqualified sentiments, the question to ask here is what does the available evidence say about the relationship between a society being healthy and a society being religious? To answer this question someone needs to identify measures of how healthy and religious a society is, take those measurements, and evaluate the results.
We have new data addressing both questions. On April 13 the international polling organization WIN/Gallup released the results of a massive new survey into religion worldwide. The latest update of the Social Progress Index was published the previous week. This was also a mammoth undertaking, painstakingly assessing the nations of the world against a battery of benchmarks divided into three categories: “Basic Human Needs”, “Foundations of Wellbeing” (health and basic education), and “Opportunity” (personal rights, freedom, tolerance and advanced education). Now we need someone to combine the data and see if the correlations support McFarland's assertion.
This is a task for Epiphenom. Epiphenom found that the Gallup poll allows us to rank 59 countries by the percentage of citizens who are non-religious. The least religious countries scored highest on the Social Progress Index and the most religious countries scored worst. This trend is apparent across all three categories.
Back in 2009 Epiphenom showed the less religious countries were also more peaceful, and research since then has shown that they are more democratic, have less corruption, more telephones, do better at science, have less inequality and other problems, and are generally just less dysfunctional and have better quality of life. Regardless of the underlying cause and effect direction, and regardless of how frequently many different people adamantly assert otherwise, there is only one properly justified conclusion here: A non-religious society and a healthy society are mutually compatible.