One of the major questions in 21st century sociology is why are Americans so much more religious than citizens in other industrialized nations. The answer, if there is one, will help us understand why evolution is rejected by so many Americans.
Gregory S. Paul is a writer who has long been interested in this question. His latest contribution is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology (Paul, 2009).
Paul examined the correlation between religiosity and the Successful Societies Scale (SSS). SSS measures things like crime rates, divorces, mortality rates etc. The United States (U) seems like an outlier compared to other countries.
Does belief in God cause a society to be dysfunctional or are less successful countries more likely to encourage religiosity? Or is there no obvious cause and effect behind this correlation?
You'll have to read the paper to see how Gregory Paul address these questions and how he rules out many possible explanations. I find his conclusion quite intriguing—I never thought of it this way.
Among the prosperous democracies all but the U.S. have adopted most or all of a set of pragmatic progressive governmental policies that have elevated these nation’s societal efficiency, success and security while reducing personal levels of stress and anxiety. These include reduced socioeconomic disparity and competition via targeted tax and welfare strategies, handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, protection for women in abusive relationships, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, rehabilitative incarceration, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs, and perhaps most importantly job security and universal health care that make it difficult for ordinary citizens to suffer catastrophic financial failure. Social ills are correspondingly suppressed. As a member of the 1st world the U.S. is an anomalous outlier not only in its religiosity, but in social, economic and political policies as well. Provided with comparatively low levels of government support and protection in favor of less restrained capitalism, members of the middle class are at serious risk of financial and personal ruin if they lose their job or private health insurance; around a million go bankrupt in a year, about half due in part to often overwhelming medical bills. The need to acquire wealth as a protective buffer encourages an intense competitive race to the top, which contributes to income inequality. The latter leaves a large cohort mired in poverty. Levels of societal pathology are correspondingly high. The evidence indicates that the modulation of capitalism via progressive policies is producing superior overall national circumstances compared to the more laissez-faire capitalism favored in the U.S.Sue Blackmore is intrigued but skeptical [Are we better off without religion?]. She thinks this may be too simplistic and of course she's right. There's no one reason why America is lagging behind other nations in evolving a better society and there's no single explanation for its religiosity.
The relationship of religion to these patterns appears to be both passive and active. Starting with the passive, the middle class majorities of western Europe, Canada, Austro-Zealand and Japan apparently feel sufficiently secure in their lives that increasingly few citizens feel a need to seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, resulting in dramatic drops in religious belief and activity (Norris and Inglehart, 2004; Paul and Zuckerman, 2007; Zuckerman, 2008). With the implosion of the general religious belief, few subscribe to a fundamentalist world-view that provides the base for creationist opinion,. That there are no major 1st world exceptions to this pattern, and that a significant religious revival has yet to occur in a secular democracy, indicate that the socioeconomic security process of democratic secularization is highly effective even though it is an accidental side effect of progressive economic policies. The universality of the effect is further supported by Asian Japan experiencing the same basic secularization process as the EuroChristian heritage secular democracies. America’s high-risk circumstances, the strong variation in economic circumstances, and chronic competitiveness help elevate rates of social pathology, and strongly contribute to high levels of personal stress and anxiety. The majority of Americans are left feeling sufficiently insecure that they perceive a need to seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, boosting levels of religious opinion and participation. The nation’s good ratings in life satisfaction and happiness is compatible with a large segment of the population using religion to psychologically compensate for high levels of apprehension; America’s apparently high level mental illness (Bijl, 2003) may be in accord with this suggestion. The ultimate expression of this social phenomenon is the large minority who adhere to the evangelical Prosperity Christianity and Rapture cultures whose Bible-based world-view favors belief in the Genesis creation story. The results of this study are therefore compatible with and support the socioeconomic security hypothesis of democratic secularization.
But I still think Paul's point is worth considering.
Paul, G.S. (2009) The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions. Evolutionary Psychology 7: 398-441. [PDF]