[Slate] American Religious fervor, by the numbers

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Thu, 1 Jul 1999 12:30:41 -0400

In this instance, though, conservatives are claiming to have found
a cause without even showing a correlation. Why not? Maybe because
they can't. The United States is the most religious of all the
industrialized nations. Forty-four percent of Americans attend
church once a week, compared with 27 percent in Britain, 21 percent
in France, 16 percent in Australia, and 4 percent in Sweden. Yet
violent crime is not less common in the United States--it's more
common. The murder rate here is six times higher than the rate in
Britain, seven times higher than in France, five times higher than
in Australia, and five times higher than in Sweden. Japan, where
Christianity has almost no adherents, has less violent crime than
almost any country. There are a few advanced nations that have high
rates of church attendance and low rates of violent crime--Ireland,
Italy, and Belgium--but they're the exceptions.

Within the 50 states, there is no evidence that a God-fearing
populace equals a law-abiding populace. The Bible Belt has more
than its share of both praying and killing. Louisiana has the
highest churchgoing rate in the country, but its murder rate is
more than twice the national average. The same pattern generally
holds in the rest of the South. Tom DeLay's Bible-toting state of
Texas has a murder rate triple that of Massachusetts, which is
"ungodly" enough to have elected two openly gay members of
Congress. New York, the very symbol of godless depravity, is
perfectly average when it comes to extralegal slaughter. In
Washington state, where Sunday morning slugabeds are more common
than anywhere else in America, murder is 38 percent less common.

House Republicans have also failed to notice that the school
shootings have not occurred in hotbeds of secular humanism--say,
Berkeley, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass; or New York City--but in towns
that Norman Rockwell and James Dobson would be proud to call home.
Pearl, Miss.; West Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Edinboro, Pa.;
and Springfield, Ore., are not exactly Madalyn Murray O'Hair
country. Littleton was fertile ground for evangelical churches.

If there is any apparent correlation between the prevalence of
Christian devotion and law-abiding conduct, it's the opposite of
the one claimed by Republicans: Religion and violence seem to go
hand in hand. That doesn't mean faith actually causes murder. But
it does suggest that when Republicans contemplate the Ten
Commandments, they should pay more attention to the ninth, which
prohibits false witness.