Friday, January 17, 2014

Research: Six year high in religious violence

One of the favorite arguments against secularism is that religion prompts people to be moral, and without religion to guide them, our species would descend into a self-consuming vortex of mayhem: in other words, we need gods to be good. It's a point on my list to address, but the PEW research discovering that religious violence is at a six year high brought it to mind. Going through the study, I've noticed two interesting correlations. Firstly, countries with secular democratic ideals and less restrictions on free speech, etc., seem to have fewer problems with this. Secondly, and even more tightly correlated, is religiosity and violence; European nations, for instance, with substantial, highly religious minorities see this same kind of violence (albeit on a smaller scale) from the religious communities. In the United States, we don't tend to have religious rioting or anything along those lines...but the people who shoot abortion doctors, who advocate violence against gays, etc., are almost exclusively religious. Furthermore, self-describing atheists make up a tiny, tiny fraction of America's incarcerated criminal body -- less than one tenth of one percent. Rather than atheism leading to upticks in violence, the opposite seems to be true: atheists are less, not more, violent than their religious counterparts. Granted, correlation isn't causation (I do think there is a danger to believing that you have a divine authority behind you, and a divine sanction on your actions; but that's something I'll lay out elsewhere), and it's possible, for instance, that non-violent people are drawn to atheism in the States (which doesn't address low crime rates/high morality in largely atheistic societies like Sweden, but I digress). At any rate, it's a longer topic than I have time to address right now, and I'm in the process myself of learning more on the question of moral origins (which this topic is surely a facet of)...so, getting back to the PEW study:

The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.1 There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.

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