Re: [Slate] American Religious fervor, by the numbers

Ernest Prabhakar (
Thu, 01 Jul 1999 16:38:28 -0700

Obviously I'm biased, but this strikes me as an odd choice of statistic,
though arguably the religious right has brought it on itself by advocating
the sort of 'social gospel' they've always despised among liberals - trying
to make morality a matter of public statements rather than personal

As far as I can tell, they seem to be equating population levels of violent
crime with an average church attendance. Of course its risky to focus on a
single statistic, and not consider things like charitable donations, divorce
rates, or teenage pregnancy, but I guess murder is something that everyone
(except maybe Dr. K) agrees is wrong.

The more interesting question is how well more personal measures - like
individual church attendance - correlate with committing violent acts. Are
the people who attend church regularly more or less likely to commit
violence, vs just those who have lots of church-going neighbors? As Dennis
Prager (Jewish radio host) says, "If you're a white guy walking down a slum
in the middle of the night, and you see twelve big black guys walking
towards you on the street, would you or would you not feel better to know
that they had just come out of a bible study?"

It is also interesting to explore other correlations. The poor tend to be
more religious, but also have more severely dysfunctional homes and 'petty'
crimes of the sort that lead to violence. As opposed to the concealed
dysfunction and white-collar crimes of the well-off. Also, many western
states are both less dense and less religious due to similar individualistic
leanings. Is that a factor in Seattle's crime rate?

In terms of international comparisons, its hard to forget the obvious fact
that just about everywhere in the industrial world is both less religious
and has far less access to handguns. I personally have never understood
why the religious right considers the right to bear arms a moral issue,
since even if the government was out to get us I would still support
non-violent resistance.

Theologically speaking, one could even make a case that where the church is
active, Satan is also more active, and the population gets more polarized.

Also, since they focus on industrial nations, they are obviously dealing
with places that have a strong Christian heritage, whether or not they
currently practice it. When you talk about cultures that practice things
like widow burning and female circumcision, most Americans find themselves
implicitly affirming the Christian viewpoint.


-- Ernie P.

>From: Rohit Khare <>
>Subject: [Slate] American Religious fervor, by the numbers
>Date: Thu, Jul 1, 1999, 9:30 AM

> 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.