Religious belief is beneficial to society
Religious belief is sometimes justified by the fact it brings benefits to society or significant subsections of it, sometimes including non-believers. This claim is often made regardless of the actual existence of God. Evidence cited includes: religious people and institutions help the needy, or created great works of art or science.
If the argument is extended to draw the conclusion that God exists, it is an invalid conclusion because it is an appeal to consequences.
The opposing view is that religion is harmful to society. This article focuses on the broad social effect of belief to society. Religious belief is also said to bring psychological benefits to the believer.
- 1 Examples
- 2 Criticism
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Religious people are more generous
The positive link between religiosity and charity is perhaps the best evidenced positive outcome.
- "The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions. "
- "Religion, Bloom points out, does actually seem to make people more altruistic and generous. Religious people give more to charities than non-religious people, including secular charities. "
"The fact that people are inspired to heroic acts of kindness by the teachings of Christ says nothing about the wisdom or necessity of believing that he, exclusively, was the Son of God"
- "a large body of solid research shows… a positive effect of religion on reducing crime, deviance, and delinquency—often a very strong effect. "
- Main Article: Religion is the social bond in society
In animal species that live together as groups, certain anti-social behaviours are controlled and suppressed to maintain the cohesiveness of the group. Many non-human animals exhibit pre-moral tendencies of fairness and reciprocity. Religion may have emerged as as evolutionary means to enhance group cohesion by supposing the existence of supernatural beings that monitor individual behaviour.
"Finally, since religion is a community-based enterprise, it largely discourages disengaged individualism. While this has its hazards -- lock-step conformity, tribalism, narrow-mindedness, etc. -- it does promote social integration among its members and that is generally good for psychological functioning. The religions we have with us today did not just drop from the sky, they evolved, with a primary selection criterion being how well they created trusting, cooperative groups motivated for collective action. The motivations they employ and the actions they engender may be good or bad from an outside perspective; but, by and large, being part of a tight-knit social group is psychologically beneficial for its members."
- — Matt J. Rossano, Why Religion Is Not Delusion, Huff Post, 06/23/10
Apologists also point to societal improvements by religious thinkers:
- "The reformation of British society in the 19th century (and many similar phenomena elsewhere in the world throughout history) through such moves as the abolition of slavery, child labour, child prostitution, prison reform and the establishment of schools and hospitals through the work of Wilberforce, Booth, Fry, the Clapham Sect and others was largely the result of the evangelical revival of the 18th century and lends strong support to the existence of a redemptive supernatural God who changes and shapes human lives and societies. "
- "On a wider scale, no identifiable group of human beings has had a more positive impact on their contemporary culture than those who have been motivated and directed by the Bible. They have founded countless schools, hospitals and charitable institutions [...]"
- "The abolished the slave trade and freed the slaves, and they improved the conditions of workers in mills and mines and of prisoners in gaols. They protected children from commercial exploitation in the factories of the West and from ritual prostitution in the temples of the East. [...] They seek in whatever way they can to express their solidarity with the poor and hungry, the deprived and the disadvantaged."
- "Atheists don’t give credit for what the Church and Judaism have done for civilisation: the creation of our notions of justice, the hospital system, the university, public schools, charity, progress, truth and freedom itself."
William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, points out that science and learning was promoted by religion:
- "It was the Catholic Church that created the first universities, and it was the Catholic Church that played a central role in the Scientific Revolution "
The problem with this is the societies that are discussing were almost 100% Christian, so they are really talking about humanity in general. There does not seem to be any attempt to identify if these societal improvements were actually motivated by the Bible or the participants just happened to be Christians. Also, they are whitewashing the problems caused by Christians, the unresolved problems in society, and in the environment that were largely caused by Christians. Christian promotion of education is arguably overshadowed by religion suppressing learning at least as much. Most often, the lifting of oppression was achieved when the oppressors were almost entirely Christian too: for example, the Atlantic slave trade was created and operated by Christians.
"The fact that religious faith has left its mark on every aspect of civilization is not an argument in its favor, nor can any particular faith be exonerated simply because certain of its adherents made foundational contributions to human culture."
- "In America, the higher fertility of the religious majority makes up for the low fertility of others. Thus, one of the primary blessings of American faith is that we are not faced with the many problems resulting from a shrinking population."
Smaller families are usually associated with stable societies. We already have an over-populated planet, so this is arguably a detriment to society.
- "Americans who never attend church are significantly less likely to have finished high school than are those who attend weekly. Moreover, overwhelming evidence exists that not only do religious people care more than the less religious about their children’s education, but they see to it that the children learn more."
The link between religiosity and education is complex, with different countries and generations showing positive or negative associations.
- "Weekly [church] attenders place more importance on high culture (painting, music of all kinds, dance, theater, and creative literature) than do nonattenders. "
There is also a significant amount of religiously inspired art.
- "Traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity as measured by belief in the occult and the paranormal."
This seems like Christians have swapped one unjustified belief for another. There is no significant benefit.
Moral concern higher among the religious
An interesting study found a correlation between self reported moral concern and self reported religiosity.
- "We find that religious belief is robustly positively associated with moral concern (4 measures), and that at least part of the negative association between belief and analytic thinking (2 measures) can be explained by a negative correlation between moral concern and analytic thinking. [...] It is important to note that individuals with high levels of moral concern will not necessarily behave more ethically in all situations.[...] Moral concern was indexed with the 7-item Empathic Concern subscale of the IRI (). A sample item from the IRI-EC is “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” [...] the measures of moral concern were all subjective (either self or peer-report). More objective measures of moral concern are wanted to further establish their relationship to religious and spiritual belief."
Another possibility is that religiosity causes an aggrandised view of a person's own morality. We don't see religious societies being significantly more moral than less religious societies, which we would expect if religion made people act morally.
Societies with higher well-being are less religious
According to many studies, societies with higher well-being are less religious. If religious belief was beneficial, would would expected the opposite to be true.
- "According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire).[...] those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today, such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc."
Belief irrespective of evidence
Since the belief in God is not based on evidence, it is possible the belief is untrue. The believer tacitly admits that they don't care if their view is consistent with reality. It is possible to participate in religions socially without regarding them as true, as in the case of Christian atheism.
Religion was incidental
Many religious people are greatly beneficial to society. However, they probably would have been so if they were of a different religion or no religion at all. Correlation does not entail causation. Also, this is a poor explanation because anti-slavery and other movements occurred at a particular point. Religion was present throughout history. Therefore, religion is not a sufficient explanation for the timing of these social movements. We must look to other factors to explain it.
Many people have used religious arguments that were anti-progressive and seem to be just as valid as pro-religious arguments.
There is little basis for these social movements in scripture. The Bible does not forbid slavery and says evil should not be resisted Matthew 5:39 .
Religion can do harm
- Main Article: Religion is harmful to society
Religion may negatively affect individuals physiologically and financially. Many societal problems, such as terrorism, bigotry, discrimination and totalitarianism, have been laid directly at the feet of religion.
- "For example, religious participation also often inspires people to be prejudiced against outsiders and minorities. In a 1950s study, the psychologist Gordon Allport showed that religious people were much more prejudiced against minority groups and foreigners than non-religious people. And in perhaps the most disconcerting study cited by Bloom, a research team recently found that exposing subjects to religiously themed words actually increased their levels of prejudice against African-Americans. [... However,] Religiosity that emphasized external rewards and social acceptance was associated with negative feelings toward members of other races, while religiousness that was focused on internal, subjective goals wasn’t."
A study of 1200 children from six countries found that children with a religious upbringing were less altruistic and more punitive than non-religious children. 
Atheists also do good
Atheists also do good, so by this logic, atheism is also justified. In a study looking moral actions in everyday life in the US and Canada, religious and non-religious people self reported about the same number of moral acts. 
- Atheism causes evil
- Is Theistic Religion A Consolation?
- Religion provides hope
- Religious belief has psychological benefits
- Rodney Stark, America's Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists, 2012
- Dave Niose, Misinformation and facts about secularism and religion, March 30, 2011
- Phil Zuckerman, Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, Sociology Compass 3/6 (2009): 949–971, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x
- What the Church has given the world, Catholic Herald, 6 May, 2011
- John Blanchard, Why believe the Bible?, 2004
- Stott, J. 1984. Issues Facing Christians Today. p. 19.
- Macrina Cooper-White, So Much For Religious People Being More Righteous, Huffington Post, 09/17/2014
- Hasn't Religion Led The World To Be a Better Place?, The Atheist Experience #583