Conversations: Conservatism and Society

The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious adherence; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and infant mortality.

Sadly, the same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious literalism, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms.

Hang on, political party affiliation in the United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity!

True, but it is no secret that the ‘red states’ are primarily red because of the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians.

In that case, isn’t that a bit of a straw man?

No. Because this is not a simplified caricature, it is apt. That is to say, it is not unfair to suggest that if there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and societal health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don’t.

In fact, of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62 percent are in ‘blue’ states and 38 percent are in ‘red’ states. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, 24 percent in blue states. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the United States are in the pious state of Texas. The twelve states with the highest rates of burglary are red. Twenty four of the twenty nine states with the highest rates of theft are red. Of the twenty two states with the highest rates of murder, seventeen are red.

Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality—belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief.

That’s a good point. However, it cannot be denied that these statistics prove that atheism, as a phenomenon, is compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that widespread belief in God does not ensure a society’s health.

True. Countries with high levels of atheism are also the most charitable both in terms of the percentage of their wealth they devote to social welfare programs and the percentage they give in aid to the developing world. The dubious link between Christian literalism and Christian values is belied by other indices of social equality.

Not to mention the ratio of salaries paid to top-tier CEOs and those paid to the same firms’ average employees: in Britain it is 24:1; in France, 15:1; in Sweden, 13:1; in the United States, where 80 percent of the population expects to be called before God on Judgement Day, it is 475:1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to pass easily through the eye of a needle.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15-16)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

1 thought on “Conversations: Conservatism and Society

  1. I have on occasion held rather heated discussions with a blogger who calls himself ‘Tom Paine,’ who professes to have been an agnostic/atheist until having decided one day to read the Bible, which experience allegedly turned his life around. In a discussion of the upcoming Presidential election here in the States, ‘Paine’ was criticizing the Democratic party because of its many social programs that aid the poor and disenfranchised, saying that the framers of the Constitution intended a laissez faire system in which the cream rises to the top. He denounced welfare programs intended to help the poor, political correctness in general and Affirmative Action in particular, that strives to generate at least a degree of fairness into the hiring practices of the workplace and within the educational system, yet his viewpoint is shared by the majority of the religious, conservative, right-wing Republicans.

    Interestingly, the prophet, Amos, of Old Testament fame, around 750 BCE, traveled north from Judea to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, bearing what he called the word of his god to that Kingdom. One of his, and presumably his god’s, criticisms was that the people of the Northern Kingdom were using unfair trade practices in the marketplace and paying no attention to the plight of the poor and needy, warning that he will bring his wrath upon those who:

    “…sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;
    That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor and turn aside the way of the meek….”
    — Amos, 2:6-7 —

    In essence then, the religious, conservative, right-wing Republicans, according to Amos, stand for everything his god abhors. I’m guessing ‘Paine’ missed that part when acquiring his life-changing religious knowledge.

    In fact, all of the prophets, including Jesus, attempt to dissuade the wealthy from accumulating riches and advocate giving to the poor, in direct contrast to the religious, conservative, right-wing Republican platform.

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