Possibly my favourite article on this blog so far is the Religion and Morality post. I was originally intending to conclude that article with some statistics on how atheists and theists compare on the sorts of issues people normally use to judge morality, but as the article was very lengthy already, I thought I should save it for another post. So here it is.
Before theists trot out their usual arguments that the greatest mass murderers in history were atheists—or that the communism is an example of how atheism leads to unhealthy societies—please read my Religion and Morality article, which covers these misconceptions thoroughly. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, check out the results of Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index. As is graphically represented in this Epiphenom article, the most atheist countries are the most peaceful—and the most religious countries are the most violent. These results may not mean religion makes people more violent though—it could mean violence makes people more religious. So to make these comparisons as meaningful as possible, we have to eliminate socio-economic factors as much as possible. Hence, it is most instructive to compare the US—which is by far the most religious western country—with other western countries. As can be seen when we do this, the US rates alongside such countries as China, and is behind (often well behind) other western countries.
What’s more, there’s just no escaping the fact that all the most peaceful countries are the most atheist, and the most violent countries are also the most religious (unless we falsely consider the Russian Federation to be atheist, which would make it the lone exception anyway). Even if we accept that violence makes people more religious, clearly atheism does not make people less moral as theists often assume—otherwise, it simply wouldn’t be possible for the most atheist countries to be the most peaceful. We may be able to overlook the religiosity of the most violent countries on socio-economic grounds, but it is impossible to ignore the peacefulness of the most atheist countries.
Okay, so what about other measures of morality, such as the abortion rate? As atheists generally do not even consider abortion to be immoral in the first place, surely this one would work out in favour of more religious countries? Curiously though, exactly the opposite is true! Why is that? Because along with resisting abortion, most religions also resist sex education and contraception. By far the best way to avoid abortion is to avoid conception—most religions say the best way to do this is through abstinence, but as the statistics show, that simply doesn’t work in practice. People will always have sex, and it seems they will nearly always abort any unwanted pregnancies that may result as well, regardless of how religious they are. The only difference is how willing they are to use contraception. So religion not only leads to higher abortion rates, but higher rates of STDs as well—as is so tragically the case in many third world countries.
Okay, okay, but surely it would be even more instructive to look at the statistics within just one given country? That way we can largely eliminate all the socio-economic, political and historical complications altogether. In that case, how about the percentage of atheists in US prisons relative to the general population? It just so happens that the US Federal Bureau of Prisons has detailed statistics on the religious affiliations of inmates. Depending on who you ask, atheists represent between 8-16% of the US population, and given the unwillingness of many atheists in the US to admit to their lack of beliefs, it is entirely possible that the real figure may be as high as 20% or more. Yet atheists represent only 0.2% of the US prison population. That means atheists are up to 100 times less likely to go to jail than theists in the US! This statistic is even more stunning when you consider the fact that most Americans view atheists with suspicion, so one would imagine that US juries would be far more inclined to convict atheists than theists, all other things being equal.
Even many atheists fear social anarchy should all theists accept that God doesn’t exist. Happily though, the statistics unambiguously show the opposite.