Aug 17, 2010

Religiosity: A Hindrance To "The Good Life?"

I wish I had more time to research the subject and write a more in-depth post, but unfortunately I haven't got much time. So I'd like to just throw out this question to all my readers for discussion:

Why is it that -- generally speaking -- the countries of the world which have the best standard of living, peace and stability are also the least religious?

There's an interesting article here about worldwide religiosity and it's interesting to look at the world map of religiosity. Contrast that with the UN Human Development Index or this study on Newsweek. Of the top 10 countries listed there, I would say that Canada is probably the most religious, even though last time I checked, only around 17% of Canadians go to church on a regular basis. And then there is the question of happiness. According to this recent study, the "happiest" countries in the world are -- once again -- the most irreligious. Of course, there are other relevant factors that determine how "happy" a country is, such as democracy and political/economic stability. But does religion play a role in how those elements are (or aren't) implemented in a society?

So what do you think? Is there are a real link between religion and quality of life/standard of living? Does religiosity hinder peace, stability and progress -- even happiness? Are there other factors? Or is it all a matter of coincidence?

20 comments:

Urban Koda said...

I think absolutely, but that's just my opinion.

As for reasons... I think giving up religion takes you out of a specific group, and makes you part of the nation. And then naturally from that most people would start to work together for the common good of the nation, rather than their religion.

J G-W said...

I think there's a LOT to be said on this topic from a religious perspective...

I agree with the scriptural perspective that there is a "true Church" and a "Church of Satan." And what conventionally passes as religiosity is in fact a form of psychological and spiritual slavery, and falls in the latter category... "Blind obedience" and "otherworldliness" are the bane of truth and happiness. This is the kind of religion that Marx spoke of, when he said that our happiness demands its abolition...

For this reason, though I personally am a believer, I am generally very sympathetic toward atheists. I believe true religiosity grounds us in a profound commitment to knowledge (science!!), justice, concern for the poor, stewardship of the planet (ecology!!), etc. Every atheist I know is also profoundly committed to ethical living and demonstrating love through concrete action in this world. True faith should do the same thing for us, but at a potentially much deeper level of our commitment, because we understand our ethical commitments in this world as having cosmic ramifications.

True faith, however, is extremely rare. And as a believer, I'm willing to go on record saying that no faith at all is better -- is truer and closer to true faith -- than bad faith -- which treats people like shit because of their gender or the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or because they're poor. The majority of what people call "religion" involves us in ethical systems where folks can think of a million reasons to excuse heinous behavior and not a single reason to do the right thing. I want none of that...

The Faithful Dissident said...

"I think giving up religion takes you out of a specific group, and makes you part of the nation. And then naturally from that most people would start to work together for the common good of the nation, rather than their religion."

An interesting observation, Urban. In my own case, I think that even when I was a TBM, I was concerned about the same issues that I am now. However, it wasn't until I felt like I had lost my religion that I really felt motivated to do more. I suppose this has much to do with the transformation of my personal world view. Whereas I used to feel like I was different from everyone else because I had "the truth" and therefore viewed everything and everyone from a Mormon lens, once my religious world crumbled, I felt like I was just as "lost" as everyone else and felt like I needed/wanted to do something more concrete for the common good. Like JGW, I'm still generally a believer, but I have to say that I now feel like I "get" the irreligious better than the religious now. I feel more at home in the unbeliever camp now, even though I'm not really one of them.

I don't want to be unfair, because I know that religion can bring people a lot of personal peace and fulfillment. It can also be a big motivator to do good and to serve others when individuals may otherwise have a tendency to be too self-absorbed or selfish. But since I've become more socially aware, have actually gotten more involved, and met and interacted with people who are interested in and involved with various NGO's, organizations, and causes, I've been interested to observe what kind of person tends to get involved. There are exceptions, of course, but I have to say that those who seem the most passionate about the things I care about most (human social and economic justice, peace and stability, as well as animal rights) tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum and generally irreligious -- some even atheist. And some of them have personal bad experience with religion, which has perhaps motivated them to get active in social causes.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"Blind obedience" and "otherworldliness" are the bane of truth and happiness. This is the kind of religion that Marx spoke of, when he said that our happiness demands its abolition..."

Interesting, JGW. The right-wing likes to paint Marx in rather black and white terms, thereby making even social democracy out to be inherently incompatible with religion. But when we see examples of all the human beings in the world who have suffered as a result of blind obedience to a particular religion, one can wonder how much worse it could have been if we lived in a world full of atheists. Or maybe we'd be having this same conversation from the opposite perspective? Who knows...

"Every atheist I know is also profoundly committed to ethical living and demonstrating love through concrete action in this world."

I can think of a couple of individuals right now, both of whom are non-believers and are working for humanitarian organizations. They are both extremely talented and highly-skilled. They could probably be making more money if they worked somewhere else, but their world view and ethical awareness has obviously prompted them to do more for the common good -- despite their unbelief.

"The majority of what people call "religion" involves us in ethical systems where folks can think of a million reasons to excuse heinous behavior and not a single reason to do the right thing. I want none of that..."

Excellent quote.

Stephen M (Ethesis) said...

I meet many people who do not need either the sense of community that religion offers. If they do not feel any other needs, then they do not feel moved towards belief.

Andrew S said...

Don't know if anyone has addressed this, but what if you're guessing the direction of correlation incorrectly?

For example, you ask, "Does religiousity hinder peace?" Couldn't it instead be: "Does peace hinder religiousity?"

At least in a lot of these countries, there is a strong social welfare network that plays the same role in a formal context that religion might otherwise play in more informal contexts.

Or, think about when -- anecdotally or empirically -- people tend to turn to religion. It's usually when things are going really bad. The stereotype is that when people are successful, then they turn away/move away from religion.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Interesting thoughts, Andrew.

"The stereotype is that when people are successful, then they turn away/move away from religion."

Isn't this one of the core messages of the Book of Mormon? That people become successful, prosperous, and then turn away from God? Also, the doctrine of "opposition in all things." From a faithful perspective, it can make one question -- assuming that this doctrine is true -- whether building up a prosperous, peaceful, stable society is to our spiritual detriment. I'll use Norway as an example. It's consistently at the top of "best place to live" charts and hard to beat in terms of gender equality, human rights, and standard of living. Yet it's hard to find a country that's more irreligious. And it's pretty much the same story in all the other countries that top those lists. Have we made such a good society for ourselves that God is displeased? But if everyone started going to church every Sunday and living their religion, would we be able to maintain our quality of life?

Even if we look at the list of US states that are most religious (according to the article with the world map), it tends to be those who have more poverty and racism (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, etc.). Why is that?

We know that everyone in life is going to experience trials and suffering, from the richest to the poorest. Mormon doctrine tells us that there is a point to our suffering, that it will make us better people, bring us closer to God, etc, etc. We revere people like Job, Joseph Smith, or the pioneers because of all the hardships they endured. It can be argued that God wanted these people to suffer. That they had to suffer in order to be stronger, more righteous, etc. But in order for suffering among these individuals and others to occur, there usually needs to be a sociological failure of sorts, such as socio-economic inequality, bigotry, religious intolerance, etc.

If we all built up Zion and actually lived the law of consecration, suffering would be minimal. It wouldn't be totally eradicated, but it would be far less. Life would be as good as it gets. But maybe it would be spiritually detrimental?

And then we're back to your question, Andrew: does peace hinder religiosity?

Andrew S said...

Well, remember that it is not the prosperity itself that really leads to ruination and destruction in the BoM. It's *pride*. The thing just is that people are more susceptible to pride when they are doing well than when they aren't.

So the question is really: are peaceful and prosperous nations and states tending toward being arrogant and proud? Are they tending toward not helping the less fortunate, etc.,? If these are not the case, then there is nothing to be displeased about

As far as what I can tell, the old church (including law of consecration days) wasn't exactly a glamorous place to be (worldly-wise). Now, we know that the church didn't exactly do the consecration thing WELL, but I am still led to believe that if it were implemented properly, it wouldn't necessarily lead to fabulous financial success or whatever. There would still be struggling, so to speak, because certain indicators of worldly success (e.g., wealth) aren't necessarily indicators of spiritual success (humility, long-suffering, charity, etc.,)

I don't think, then, that it is *peace* that hinders these things. Rather, peacetimes are a prime breeding ground for other undesirable things that we humans should be striving to overcome (pride), but since we don't, we get bumped down a peg to try again. We learn our lesson a little, become successful in many respects, but then forget the lesson we just learned and stay in the cycle.

thefirestillburning said...

I would postulate that their should be little correlation between religion and the human development index, because the HDI has little to do with anything but material development One of the points made in the citation about the index in the OP is that immortals with infinite material wealth would rank below some pretty undeveloped countries if they should decide they didn't need to be literate. So it clearly reflects certain cultural ideals, but not others.

FireTag

C. L. Hanson said...

I tend to agree with Andrew, especially his first comment.

When people are doing well -- and particularly when they feel like they're in control of their own life -- religion is lower on the priority list. It's when you feel like there's nothing real that you can do about your problems that prayer starts looking like a good strategy; it feels better than doing nothing at all.

Ahab said...

"From a faithful perspective, it can make one question -- assuming that this doctrine is true -- whether building up a prosperous, peaceful, stable society is to our spiritual detriment."

I think that fundamentalist religious leaders would be opposed to a peaceful, stable society because instability and suffering tend to make susceptable people more DEPENDENT on religion. Perhaps this is why the Book of Mormon blames impiety on prosperity?

Ahab said...

To go back to the original question, I think that FUNDAMENTALIST religion is detrimental to the good life because it squelches qualities needed to make the good life possible: reason, autonomy, self-efficacy, compassion, and appreciation for the world around oneself.

Having said that, I do believe that non-fundamentalist forms of religious expression can be compatible with the good life. It all depends on the extent to which they allow the above qualities to blossom.

Badgerdown said...

I think that religion can be quite a hindrance... but only if we let it. As Urban Koda stated above, religion can help divide people into groups of 'us' and 'them'. The more we allow ourselves to be divided we find it easier to continue the divide. That said, I think that the ethical coeds that religion brings can be themselves divisive if we are not careful. For instance, those members of religious organizations that are not gay, don't think they know any gays, etc... feel quite right in treating those individuals differently based on a ethical code and sometimes ever demonizing them. The same religion can have an ethical code that states that you do not treat people differently due to ethics breaches (hate the sin, love the sinner, etc...), but people are just not good at that. It feels better to say 'I am better because I do not do that'. Every religion has a lot of ethical codes, every individual is going to be breaking at least one of them, and it seems a lot easy to stick with the black and white (you did this so you are bad) than the gray (I shouldn't judge. He may be gay but I don't read my scriptures... we are all in this together). And I think it is this way of dividing believes from not- believers and then believers from believers that keeps us as individuals and the world in general from finding peace. We all want it and we all crave it, but the more excuses that we have for division amongst ourselves as a race will keep us from having it.

This is just my thoughts... and thanks for a great post to think on. I haven't read any blogs including yours for six months and it was great to start off my Sunday morning with this one! I really love the way your blog forces me to think... and keeps me thinking!

Sonia

The Faithful Dissident said...

Thanks for your comments, Ahab and Sonia. I appreciate hearing your perspectives. And welcome back to my blog, Sonia. Glad you enjoy it here. :)

revzak said...

You might try this link to a Creighton University publication. It supports your thoughts with research.
http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-1.html
Rev. Zak

revzak said...

Here is another link you might like.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/10/11/better-off-without-him/

It isn't exactly what you are talking about, but it is something to think about. It also refers to the Creighton article.

Rev. Zak

revzak said...

Here is another link you might like.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/10/11/better-off-without-him/

It isn't exactly what you are talking about, but it is something to think about. It also refers to the Creighton article.

Rev. Zak

Roblynn said...

I just found your blog and love it, thanks for sharing.
As a comment on this question. We live in what was voted the "happiest country on earth", Costa Rica.
I have to tell you they are the most "religious" people we have ever met. At least they think so in their very naive catholic way.
When you ride the bus they all cross themselves every time you pass a church, all the parents and kids cross each other when they are dropped off for school, etc. The good part is they don't really let it interfere with their sense of fun.
I think their being the happiest country has more to do with not having a military. There is much to be said for a pacifist country and the effect it has on the population.
Just my observation after five years here.
Pura Vida.

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

I just discovered your blog and I identify with much of it.

I've lived in 18 different countries in the past two years and what I have decided is, the nicer the place is, the less friendly and nice the people are especially to strangers. And the poorer the place, very often, is where you will connect with more people and where you will be blown away by the kindness of the locals.

In Italy it's very difficult to make friends, although the living standard is very high.

In Ghana they are very religious and the nicest people you will ever meet but they have a lot of difficult problems to deal with.

In other words, it depends on how you view the good life.

More and more, I see the good life as one which values people over possessions.

Anonymous said...

Yes, religion has a great impact on human civilization. Communist Eastern Europe (1945-1990) is a splendid case in point.

After 45 years of identical policies dictated from the Kremlin, there were enormous gaps in prosperity between the various countries of the region. The most prosperous, sophisticated and economically developed of them all was the DDR, the only nation in the region with a protestant background. It was followed by the catholic countries like Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, ahead of orthodox christian places like Russia and Bulgaria. Muslim Albania was last.

The same happened within countries: in Yugoslavia, catholic Slovenia and Croatia beat orthodox Serbia and Montenegro, while muslim Kosovo and Bosnia were the backwaters. In the USSR, Lutheran Estonia was followed by catholic Lithuania and Armenia ahead of the orthodox heartland. The "Stans" were last.

Relgions impose a mindset, a worldview. Some mindsets will help you in life, others will drag you down. Personally I think atheism is best, if it comes with humanist values. We atheists can also be "holier than thou", and such self-righteousness will bring us nowhere.

Just my two cents.

Diederik Manderfeld, Antwerpen