I read Steve Chapman’s op-ed piece “Rich Santorum’s Moral Delusion” in the Chicago Tribune just after returning from church this morning, and I think it’s an important piece not just about Rick Santorum but about the effect of religion in general.
A couple of paragraphs:
Consider homicide, which is not only socially harmful but a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Mississippi has the highest rate of church attendance in America, according to a Gallup survey, with 63 percent of people saying they go to church "weekly or almost weekly." But Mississippians are far more likely to be murdered than other Americans.
On the other hand, we have Vermont, where people are the most likely to skip church. Its murder rate is only about one-fourth as high as the rest of the country. New Hampshire, the second-least religious state, has the lowest murder rate.
These are no flukes. Of the 10 states with the most worshippers, all but one have higher than average homicide rates. Of the 11 states with the lowest church attendance, by contrast, 10 have low homicide rates.
Chapman also cites the familiar statistics showing that states which allow gay marriage often tend to have less divorce and teen pregnancy than other states – so much for gay rights undermining the family structure.
What impact does gay marriage have on how kids handle sex? Massachusetts, the first state to legalize it, has less teen pregnancy than the country as a whole. Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, which have also sanctioned same-sex unions, are also far better than average.
Does gay marriage undermine the health and stability of heterosexual marriage? Not so you can tell. Massachusetts has the nation's lowest divorce rate. Iowa and Connecticut are also better than most. Vermont and New Hampshire are about average. In the Bible Belt, by contrast, marriages are generally more prone to break up.
So is religion a sham? No, but religion does tend to make you think that you perhaps know better than others. An appropriate parable for all of us is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”