Will the Religious Right Use Scientific Research to Hype Their Views?

“We seem to prefer a comfortable lie to the uncomfortable truth. We punish those who point out reality, and reward those who provide us with the comfort of illusion.” – Bill Moyers


A great little piece found on the Global Economic Intersection (Econintersect) website addresses the issue of manufacturing public opinion; something that many in today’s crowded information markets are charged with and where a good portion of them are actually guilty of it.  One of the compelling aspects of this article is it’s re-introduction to the terms of Immanuel Kant’s “conceptual reality” and Georg Wilhelm Hegel’s “perceptual reality”.

Good science is an example of the application of perceptual realism.  Somebody comes up with a hypothesis, a possible theoretical explanation of how some reality works, then real world experiments are designed to test whether reality actually works like that.  If reality consistently behaves contrary to how the hypothesis says it should behave, then the hypothesis is judged to be false.  If test results are uniformly consistent with the hypothesis, then scientists can tentatively believe that they might have discovered some truth about how reality works.  For perceptual realists, reality is the ultimate judge of the truth or falsehood of our ideas, no matter how attractive or comforting those ideas might be to us.

Conceptual realists, contrarily, take their ideas to be prior, and reality must be made to conform with their ideas.  “Ideologues” judge beliefs and ideas by conceptual realism.  They decide beforehand that they “know” how reality is, then they interpret everything in the real world so that it conforms to their “worldview”.  You cannot change their ideas by showing them facts that contradict their beliefs, because they will simply interpret those facts in ways that support their preconceived beliefs.  Just as perceptual realists reluctantly abandon their favored ideas to preserve the sanctity of evidence, conceptual realists readily abandon contradictory evidence to preserve the sanctity of their cherished beliefs.    – Manufacturing Public Opinion 

The subject matter that this article stimulates is itself a blog piece yet to be written by me but I bring it into play here following another interesting story on a recently released study that suggests there is a correlation between a country’s crime rate and the christian notions of heaven and hell.  It is my suspicion that this study on religious views will be taken out of context to enhance the conceptual reality of those within religion who have pounded us over the head for centuries that we’re going to hell in a hand basket if we don’t turn from our “godless ways”.

Religion is often thought of as psychological defense against bad behavior, but researchers have recently found that the effect of religion on pro-social behaviors may actually be driven by the belief in hell and supernatural punishment rather than faith in heaven and spiritual benevolence.

In a large analysis of 26 years of data consisting of 143,197 people in 67 countries, psychologists found significantly lower crime rates in societies where many people believe in hell compared to those where more people believed in heaven.

“The key finding is that, controlling for each other, a nation’s rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates, but the nation’s rate of belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates, and these are strong effects,” lead author Azim Shariff, professor of psychology and director of the Culture and Morality Lab at the University of Oregon said in a university news release.

Shariff noted that because the findings were based off of correlational data, they do not prove causation.   SOURCE


Though the authors of this study points out that a correlation between these religious views and a nation’s rate of crime do not prove causation, somehow this critical piece of information will be omitted in the sermons of the most fundamentalist church pulpits in this country.  The perception that the heinous act of 9/11 was an act of God was invoked by Jerry Falwell to explain why a God, who has the power to protect what many feel is a God-blessed country, but who chose instead to allow evil of this level to occur on our soil.  What else could a devout follower do who holds to the myth that godlessness is the cause of all that is wrong in society today?  Surely we must be the recipients of God’s wrath because like the Jews of the Old Testament, we have strayed from our religious moorings, as people like Falwell have claimed.

But the study does not indicate that “godless” people and high crime rates are connected.  In fact, it points out something quite the opposite.  It is the nation that believes more in God’s mercy and thus his willingness to forgive wrong doings that sees higher crime rates.  God-fearing people thus are the factor in the study that shows a correlation between good and evil.

“Ad Exstirpanda” issued by Pope Innocent IV in 1252 stated that heretics were to be “crushed like venomous snakes”.


It is religion as a whole that seems to be in play here.  It is the belief by millions who have a conceptual reality of a divinity who watches our every move and knows our every thought that forces behavior that may or may not lead to higher rates of crime.  The non-religious, like myself, are not absolved of committing crimes against the state but neither are their actions that hurt other people viewed with the notion that in the end, when they die, they will not be prevented from entering the gates of heaven if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior and seek absolution from the clergy before their death.  To them, death is final.  Rewards and punishment in another life carries little weight with their actions this side of death

The fear that the non-religious have no moral code is also a bogus conceptual notion put forth by the more ardent apostles of godlessness-is-evil-incarnate school of thought.  Yet the thought of murdering another human being didn’t stop the anti-abortionist Scott Roeder from gunning down Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his longtime church as he handed out the church bulletin back in May, 2009.  Neither does the insult to military families who have lost a loved one in the service of their country stop the “God Hates Fags” crowd from the Westboro Baptist Church of Wichita, Kansas to picket the funerals of these soldiers.  Roeder and the Westboro clan are like many christians who have conceptual perceptions that feel their actions are warranted against gays and those people who choose to end an unwanted pregnancy and the doctors who assist them.


The christian fundamentalist will cherry pick this study to foster the comfortable lie many of them live with that their religious faith is a superior form of belief.  That belief allows them to condemn anyone who doesn’t believe as they do and thus see it as anything but wrong to persecute non-believers.  It ignores those tenets in their own scriptures that call for tolerance and compassion for those outside their circle, without fully understanding that this isolationist view prevents them from seeing that some of the greatest human atrocities have been committed by religious zealots around the world.

In the final analysis however it seems that this study by the University of Oregon is flawed if you accept the notion that punishment is a deterrent to prevent evil.  After all, my home state of Texas is at the heart of the Bible belt in this country yet the numerous executions that this state carries out tends to show that the murder rate, with the exception of Michigan, is higher than the non-death penalty states in this country.  Not that executions are always an exact indicator of guilt.

The death penalty itself has often shown that too many people have died from wrongful conviction in this country,  many who suffered from the conceptual reality of “christian” juries and judges.  This doesn’t take into account either the lynchings that occurred for decades in the deeply religious South by many whites who are more likely to fear hell than heaven.


5 responses to “Will the Religious Right Use Scientific Research to Hype Their Views?

  1. In my years in Corrections, I really don’t think fear of punishment really stopped many people from doing crimes. They all thought that they could get away with it, or had it justified in their minds why their actions were correct.
    I frankly don’t see how God can keep tract of everyone’s mis-deeds. I had a caseload of 170, and barely kept my head above water. A caseload of four billion; impossible.

    • The authorities have always used some sort of fear tactic that would keep people in check. The ultimate check here is that if you slide by and are able to avoid the earthly authorities for any wrong doing, the infinite authority will exact justice in the assumed next life.

      I’m not sure any other major religion has this kind of damnation concept of hell.

      “The purpose of Hell in Islam is not to punish the Muslim wrong-doers. Because, for them Mohammed will recommend paradise, beautiful virgins and young boys on the Day of Judgment. His recommendation is final and Allah cannot deny it. It is available to all murderers, rapists, arsonists, cheats, thugs, pickpockets and pimps provided they are following Islam. On the contrary, a flaming Hell is reserved only for all Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians, no matter how pious and God-fearing they may have been.” SOURCE

  2. The astonishing thing is that the study used the difference between percentage believing in heaven and hell to determine the countries that supposedly believed in hell. The irreligious countries had very small differences in these percentages. That does not mean that they actually believed in hell. It meant that they were irreligious.

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