That Religion and Bad Behavior article: A reader writes:
I think the meme in this "Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side" article in the London Times that Drudge pushed yesterday - that religion is bad for society - is starting to "tip" which means that a well put together response by you might also have a chance to circulate.
I doubt it! Lies go halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.
Newsgator highlighted this as the "top internet story of the day" today, with 127 blog links. I think it is pretty telling of journalistic biases that they would run with an article like this, and not with one about IQ.
The original article, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, appeared in the Journal of Religion & Society put out by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University. It's by Gregory S. Paul of Baltimore, MD, who doesn't list any academic qualifications (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
Paul's basic gimmick is an old chestnut, one I've seen dozens of times before: to make America look bad by comparing crime and other statistics for the entire American population, which is 27% black or Hispanic, to Europeans countries that are at least 90% white. That way you can prove that secularism or socialism or soccer or whatever you like about Europe is better for people than whatever you don't like about America.
This sleight of hand can be highly effective in duping readers into making apples to oranges comparisons between the U.S. and European countries. Why. Because we aren't allowed -- in polite society -- to write about how much higher the crime rates, abortion rates, STD rates and the like are for blacks and Hispanics than they are for whites or Asians,
But let's just put that key point about the racial make-up of the populations aside for the moment and look at some recent crime statistics for the overall American population, all races, versus various European populations. And America still comes out looking pretty good. Europe (not just Britain) has been undergoing a moral decline, at least as reflected in crime statistics, whereas the U.S. seems to have been on the moral upswing since a recent low point in the early 1990s.
Another reader scoffs at my initial objection to this article:
So the religious whites of the USA are less criminal
than in Britain. So what, you have one data point.
Whites in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Spain,
Portugal, France, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Finland,
Germany, and Nordic countries are all both less
religious and less violent than US whites...
Your theory fails.
Not so fast. That may (or may not) have once been true, but it's not true these days.
Here is the 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey report of the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. Figure 5 shows what % of respondents in 17 advanced countries said they were victims of "selected contact crimes" (robbery, sexual assault, or assault with force) in 1999.
The 17-country average was 2.4%. For the U.S., though only 1.9 % of the overall population had been victimized, putting the U.S. 13th out of 17 affluent countries in violent crime victimization prevalence. The most violent country in 1999 on this measure was Australia, at 4.1%, followed by England & Wales, Canada, Scotland, Poland, Finland, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, and then, finally, the USA (1.9%).
And, for American whites, that violent victimization prevalence figure would be significantly lower, perhaps down around, say, 1.2% -- because whites get victimized a lot less than blacks and Hispanics. (For example, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics states, "Blacks were 6 times more likely than whites to be murdered in 2002." That's a consequence of the fact, according to BJS, that, "Blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicide in 2002." For homicide, the white victimization rate, which includes a lot of Hispanics, was 59% of the overall American homicide rate, so, 1.2% looks like a good guess.)
This suggests that for American whites, the chance of being violently victimized in a year would probably be below even Belgium, Catalan Spain, and Portugal. Japan, though, would still be off in its own nonviolent universe at only 0.4%.
Of course, what matters for the question of whether the greater religiousness of American whites makes them behave worse than European whites is not the chance of being violently victimized, but the chance of them violently victimizing someone else. Since a moderate fraction of the victimizations of American whites are committed by nonwhites, further research might show that as of the last few years, Americans might be the least violent whites on Earth.
There are other ways to measure crime rates, and I'd encourage you to look at the other graphs in this chapter of the UN report. The summary graph for prevalence of being a victim of any kind of crime, including property crimes, shows Americans (of all races) coming in only 11th worst out of 17. On the other hand, if you measure total reported incidents of victimizations, Americans come in about fifth or sixth overall, reflecting the high rate of victimizations of minorities (by other minorities, it ought to be needless to say, but it's not).
The brand new version of this UN crime victimization survey will be out shortly. The Times of London had a preview, which showed roughly the same results as in 1999.
Of course, probably the biggest reason for America's low crime rates these days is because we lock up vast numbers of bad guys while the Europeans let them out too quickly. The big crime surge started in America in the 1960s when we cut prison sentences. We finally got tough in the 1980s and a decade later we saw a payoff. The European crime surge started later than the American one, so they are still in the liberal wimp phase of response. (Also, having more guns, our worst criminals kill each other off at rates high enough, especially during the cracks years, to put a dent, I suspect, in the total crime rate.)
As for abortion rates, the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher think tank reports that in America the number of abortions per 1,000 non-Hispanic white women fell from 19 in 1991 to 11 by 1999. The African-American abortion rate was about 54 in 1999 (or close to five times higher) and the Hispanic rate about 30, making the overall national rate almost twice the white rate.
The most recent Alan Guttmacher Institute report says that non-Hispanic whites have only 40.9% of all abortions in the U.S.
The abortion rate in America (all races) is currently 20.9, compared to a global average of about 38 in "developed countries." The white American abortion rate of approximately 11 compares favorably to five of the seven advanced, mostly white countries broken out in the most AGI report: Australia 22.2, Sweden 18.7, Denmark 16.5, Canada 16.4, England & Wales 15.6. The U.S. white abortion rate, however, is worse than in Germany 7.6 and Holland 6.5.
So, the crime and abortion evidence suggests that religion has a good effect on the behavior of America's whites, although probably not as good an effect as long prison terms.
A Scandinavian reader comments:
I grew up in one of those low-crime, low-everything, nice Scandinavian countries. I spent my high-school years in an area with a substantial evangelical population and I can assure you that the evangelicals were quite simply better behaved than us secularists in just about every category imaginable. Was it their faith that guided them to less anti-social behavior?
In summary, the popularity of this article is just another example of how the aversion to writing about racial differences in crime rates in America makes us stupider. This disingenuous essay about religion's effect on behavior comes along and lots of supposedly intelligent bloggers fall for it because they are clueless about racial differences in behavior.
And yet ... they aren't clueless at all when it comes to their own safety -- they don't buy a home for their family in a black underclass neighborhood, precisely because they know perfectly well how much more dangerous it is. They've just compartmentalized this knowledge into Facts I Live By and make sure it never contaminates the part of their brains where they fondle the Fantasies I Tell Other People to Live By.