Glib Fortuna's Heroes

Glib has a post at STACLU where he admiringly cites two columns, one by Alan Sears of the ADF and one by Mike Adams. Both of those columns are loaded with ridiculous arguments. The column by Sears is one of the funniest ones you'll read this week, trust me. In attempting to establish the "fury of the Left toward Christians", he cites such influential thinkers as Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna. Because every young leftist I know of gets all their ideas from the material girl. But his conclusions, the ones quoted by good ol' Glib, are just plain silly:

Somehow, the people at the wheel of our careening culture are convinced that - if we can only remove every spiritual incentive for upright, moral, selfless behavior - if we can just convince everyone that God doesn't exist - people will suddenly decide to be good.

No, not just good. Better than they've ever been before.

Really? Like who? Can Sears actually name someone who believes that if we got rid of religion, people would suddenly decide to be good? I mean actually name them and quote them saying anything like that? I doubt it. If he could, he most certainly would. What we have here is a pure straw man, foisting a position on one's opposition that is trivially easy to knock down; the problem is that no one actually takes such a position, and he damn well knows it. I know lots and lots of people who believe that religion is on balance a bad thing for society and wish it would go away; I know no one who thinks that if that were to happen, human nature would suddenly change and we'd all be Ghandi-like in our behavior. They are likely to have a far more realistic view of human nature than this. But his answer to these imaginary people is even better:

Legendary novelist Fedor Dostoevsky knew better.

"If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality," he wrote, "not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up." For, "if God does not exist, everything is permitted."

Everything. Liberty - political, social, sexual - runs amuck, without reason, without discipline, without limits. Justice is impossible, and unnecessary. Ignorance truly becomes bliss. Nothing has to make sense any more, because... nothing matters.

And yet, when you look at those nations with the highest rates of belief in immortality and in a God who threatens eternal punishment for our sins on earth and compare them with those nations that have relatively low rates of belief in the very ideas that Sears claims are vital to our moral behavior, what do you find? You find that those nations with the highest rates of such beliefs also have higher rates of violent crime of all types, higher rates of drug use and abuse, and even higher rates of those particular moral measures that Sears gets so upset about, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.

Among all the nations of the Western industrialized world, the US has the highest rates of belief in God and eternal punishments by a wide margin, higher than any nation in Europe, even Italy, and far higher than the most secular among them, like the Netherlands. Yet despite two decades of steadily decreasing violent crime rates, the US still leads all of those nations by a wide margin. The Netherlands, with far lower rates of belief in God than the US, has far lower rates of virtually every measure by which Sears would define a good society.

Gregory Paul of Creighton University published a fascinating comparison of the rates of religious belief in developed democracies with the rates of various measures of societal health. As he notes, among all those nations, the US is "the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds." Japan, Scandinavian and France have the lowest rates of "belief in God, attendance of religious services and Bible literalism." Among other things, he finds:

Despite a significant decline from a recent peak in the 1980s (Rosenfeld), the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy that retains high homicide rates, making it a strong outlier in this regard (Beeghley; Doyle, 2000). Similarly, theistic Portugal also has rates of homicides well above the secular developed democracy norm. Mass student murders in schools are rare, and have subsided somewhat since the 1990s, but the U.S. has experienced many more (National School Safety Center) than all the secular developed democracies combined. Other prosperous democracies do not significantly exceed the U.S. in rates of nonviolent and in non-lethal violent crime (Beeghley; Farrington and Langan; Neapoletan), and are often lower in this regard...

Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies (Aral and Holmes; Panchaud et al.), rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the U.S. than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies (Figure 6). At all ages levels are higher in the U.S., albeit by less dramatic amounts. The U.S. also suffers from uniquely high adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, which are starting to rise again as the microbe's resistance increases (Figure 7). The two main curable STDs have been nearly eliminated in strongly secular Scandinavia. Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution; again rates are uniquely high in the U.S. (Figure 8). Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data. Early adolescent pregnancy and birth have dropped in the developed democracies (Abma et al.; Singh and Darroch), but rates are two to dozens of times higher in the U.S. where the decline has been more modest (Figure 9). Broad correlations between decreasing theism and increasing pregnancy and birth are present, with Austria and especially Ireland being partial exceptions. Darroch et al. found that age of first intercourse, number of sexual partners and similar issues among teens do not exhibit wide disparity or a consistent pattern among the prosperous democracies they sampled, including the U.S. A detailed comparison of sexual practices in France and the U.S. observed little difference except that the French tend - contrary to common impression - to be somewhat more conservative (Gagnon et al.)...

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 (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly...

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical "cultures of life" that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution 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.

So much for this notion that belief in God is necessary for a healthy society. The same thing, of course, is true within the United States. As I've documented before, one of the grand ironies of the "red state, blue state" distinction is that the red states - those alleged bastions of Christian belief - tend to have much higher rates of all those bad things that the right claims is the fault of the blue states. The top 5 states in murder per capita? All red states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. Highest divorce rates? 8 of the 10 worst are red states. Lowest divorce rate? That den of iniquity known as Massachusetts. In fact, 9 of the 10 lowest rates of divorce are in blue states. Teen pregnancy? You guessed it - the red states are much worse off. God-fearing Texas leads the way.

Now on to the Mike Adams column, which contains some similar howlers. Naturally, Glib is drawn toward some of the more absurd ones. For instance:

Have you ever read the 1802 letter from which the phrase "wall of separation of church and state" was taken? Is there any truth to the assertion that the letter was written to a group of Baptists in Connecticut ensuring that their church would be protected from the government by a one way wall of protection?

Well yes, I have read it; I don't think Adams has, nor is it likely that Glib has if he repeats this claim without pointing out why it's wrong. The letter says absolutely nothing about the wall of separation being a "one way wall of protection". Nor did it promise that the Baptists of Connecticut would be protected from the government. The Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson asking for his help in combatting the state religious establishment (Congregationalism, in this case). They praised him as a friend of religious freedom, which of course he was, and they said that they hoped his views would continue to be influential and would help do away with such establishments. Jefferson replied and agreed with them, but also pointed out that he had no authority over what the states did with their established churches. There is absolutely nothing in that latter that even begins to speak of a "one way wall of protection".

Is it true that Thomas Jefferson set up the University of Virginia - using state funds - with rules including a ban on swearing and an expectation that students would "attend religious services"?

No, actually, it's not true. In fact, the University of Virginia was the first secular university established in the United States, in stark contrast to Harvard and Princeton, for example, which began as seminaries. Jefferson, in fact, specifically forbid the university from having a theology department. In an 1814 letter to Thomas Cooper, Jefferson said, "a professorship of theology should have no place in our institution." And sure enough, UVA - totally unique among American universities - had no theology department at all, nor does it have any connection to any religious group. It did, however, have a serious focus on science (and continues to have to this day).

Given that Thomas Jefferson did not attend the constitutional convention, why is it that people often quote him when insisting that the "separation of church and state" is a "constitutional requirement"? Is it possible that many of these self-described liberals are unable to differentiate between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?

Jefferson simply popularized the phrase "separation of church and state", but it is Madison who was most influential in framing the first amendment and Madison used virtually identical language to describe it. Why does Adams ignore Madison to focus on Jefferson? Because he certainly can't dismiss Madison's influence on the subject. Indeed, Madison was far more strict a separationist than Jefferson, even arguing that military chaplains were unconstitutional (more strict even than most separationists today).


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Glib Fortuna's straw men are so egregious (I'm imagining a Godzilla-sized scare crow slathered in napalm and blazing away in a 50-acre cornfield) that it seems as though he's trying to sound as unreasonable as possible. That he could not realize that the most god-soaked portions of the country are hardly basions of morality seemingly could not have escaped him. I suspect, though, that like the other STACLU hominids, he's found a way to blame resistant liberals -- and hence an unopposed rule by Bible -- for this.

He should save himself time, if not the therapeutic outlet his mental masturbation surely confers, but just writing "America would be better if run dictatorially by Christians because I say so!" about once a week.

Fedor is an acceptable anglicization of ФÑдоÑ, although a bit awkward. Just have to remember to pronounce the "e" as "yo".

By MJ Memphis (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

In fact, the University of Virginia was the first secular university established in the United States, in stark contrast to Harvard and Princeton, for example, which began as seminaries.

Actually, Ben Franklin's Philadelphia College (later University of Pennsylvania) beat U.Va. by quite a few years. Also, note the following quote regarding Harvard:

Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. The mission of the College, according to the 1650 charter, was: "The advancement of all good literature, artes, and Sciences."

Princeton was founded during the Great Awakening, at least in part, to counter the fact that most of the other colleges had, by then, become very secular.

Gregory Paul of Creighton University published a fascinating comparison of the rates of religious belief in developed democracies with the rates of various measures of societal health.

It is particularly fascinating in that the negative correlation between popular religiosity and societal health persists even when religiosity is measured by attendance at worship services, rather than mere profession of belief. It will be interesting to see where this "first, brief look" at the subject leads. Thanks for highlighting it.

By Ramsey Wilson (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

I realize this is a cheap shot (and pointless), but does anyone else get cracked up at the incredible dorkiness behind this guy's handle?

Also a question: Do you know how these studies of religiosity across industrialized Nations treat religions like Buddhism and Shinto? Do they make distinctions btw different religions or no?