Testing the proposition that lack of religion leads to violence

When last we met, I noted Pat Robertson's contention that the cause of violence in the streets, i.e. Las Vegas, is that America has turned away from godliness. Or, as Robertson paraphrased Proverbs 29:18, “When there is no vision of God, the people run amok.”

Similarly, Tony Perkins asserted, "It’s time to recognize that the cure for violence isn’t in Washington. It’s in the hope and the healing offered through faith in God."

Let us subject this point of view to an empirical test by examining the relationship between state religiosity levels and murder rates.

Last year Pew compiled a religiosity ranking based on four criteria: the percentages of American adults who say 1) religion is very important in their lives; 2) they attend worship services at least weekly; 3) they pray daily; and 4) they believe in God with absolute certainty.

Those criteria, I surmise, would satisfy Robertson and Perkins as providing an accurate index of godliness. And according to Pew's index, six states get a rank of 70 percent or better: Alabama (77 percent), Mississippi (77 percent), Tennessee (73 percent), Louisiana (71 percent), Arkansas (70 percent), and South Carolina (70 percent).

At the other end of the scale, four states rank in thirties: Massachusetts (33 percent), New Hampshire (33 percent), Maine (34 percent), and Vermont (34 percent).

Turning to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2016, those top six religious states rank in the top 10 when it comes to murder rate: Louisiana (1), Alabama (3), Mississippi (6), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (9), and Arkansas (10). By contrast, the four least religious states rank close to last in murder rates: New Hampshire (50), Maine (49), Massachusetts (46), and Vermont (45).

In other words, in America there is an inverse correlation between religiosity and murderousness. You might even re-paraphrase Proverbs 29:18, “When there is no vision of God, the people behave themselves.”

Of course, correlation is not causation, and there are other ways to read the data. The South was a violent region of the country long before it became a religious one. You could argue that its high religiosity is a function of the effort of its citizens to control the violence -- and maybe even a semi-successful one.

On the other hand, New England -- now the country's least religious region but once the most -- has always been a pretty well behaved place, notwithstanding the occasional Indian war, witch hanging, and anti-Catholic riot.

The point is, at the societal level the pious association of godliness with good behavior is nonsense. There's far more evidence that gun control reduces violence than does religiosity.


  1. “Those criteria, I surmise, would satisfy Robertson and Perkins as providing an accurate index of godlinesS.”

    If you thought that, Mr. silk, you’d be wrong. Godliness for dominionists like Robertson and Perkins is dependent on only one variable: whether you do what they say and accept their version of god as the One and Only. .

    The Mouth of Sauron pretty much had the same criterion.

  2. “Of course, correlation is not causation, and there are other ways to read the data. ” He got one thing right. I would surmise the rest is conjecture.

  3. Now, if they had established how many of the murderers said 1) religion is very important in their lives; 2) they attend worship services at least weekly; 3) they pray daily; and 4) they believe in God with absolute certainty, we would have been able to compare apples with apples.

  4. What has been established, at least by evangelicals not interested in research, is that only god makes moral people, that our nation has fallen away from (their version of) god, that all of our social problems are caused by people who have fallen away from (their version of ) god, and only cure for all of this is for people to start going to church every sunday…
    and to vote republican and send them money and and get the gays and make this a Christian nation once again.

  5. It’s more blacks in those southern states than those other states, not religion, that makes for the higher murder rates.

  6. Logic – The quality of being justifiable by reason.

    Note the words “justifiable” and “reason”.

    Logic is, by definition, incapable of being “stupid” – unlike some people.

  7. Let the scientists do science, please. You’ll likely see a relationship between violence and education.

  8. ………Murder rate per 1m population……………% population “not religious”

    United States…………(2010) 42.01……………(2014) 39%

    United Kingdom……..(2009) 11.68……………(2017) 53%
    Netherlands…………..(2009) 10.83……………(2014) 66%
    China……………………(2010) 10.02……………(2014) 90%
    Sweden………………..(2010) 9.70…………….(2014) 76%
    Norway…………………(2010) 5.93…………….(2006) 31-72%

  9. What a joke as the holy books of many religions demand violence. Take for example the Koran:

    “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.” (Surah 5:51)
    “Believers, when you encounter the infidels on the march, do not turn your backs to them in flight. If anyone on that day turns his back to them, except it be for tactical reasons…he shall incur the wrath of God and Hell shall be his home…” (Surah 8:12-)

    “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme.” (Surah 8:36-)

    “…make war on the leaders of unbelief…Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them…” (Surah 9:12-)

    “Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [Jews and Christians]…until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” (Surah 9:29-)

    “It is He who has sent forth His apostle with guidance and the true Faith [Islam] to make it triumphant over all religions, however much the idolaters [non-Muslims] may dislike it.” (Surah 9:31-)

    “If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men.” (Surah 9:37-)

    “Prophet make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home.” (Surah 9:73)

    “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.” (Surah 9:121-)

    “Say: ‘Praise be to God who has never begotten a son; who has no partner in His Kingdom…” (Surah 17:111)

    “‘How shall I bear a child,’ she [Mary] answered, ‘when I am a virgin…?’ ‘Such is the will of the Lord,’ he replied. ‘That is no difficult thing for Him…God forbid that He [God[ Himself should beget a son!…Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a monstrous falsehood…” (Surah 19:12-, 29-, 88)

    “Fight for the cause of God with the devotion due to Him…He has given you the name of Muslims…” (Surah 22:78-)

    “Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them)…These are the heirs of Paradise…” (Surah 23:1-5-)

    “Muhammad is God’s apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another.” (Surah 48:29)

    “Shall the reward of goodness be anything but good?…Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents…They shall recline on green cushions and fine carpets…Blessed be the name of your Lord…” (Surah 55:52-66-)

    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

    Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”

    And Christianity?

    The New Testament has only one major atrocity/act of violence, that of god committing filicide assuming you believe in this Christian mumbo jumbo. Said atrocity should be enough to vitiate all of Christianity.

  10. A literate person would know there is more than one meaning to the word “logic” and the context I used it in. I recommend for you a remedial reading course.

  11. Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.

    1.1 A particular system or codification of the principles of proof and inference.

    1.2 The systematic use of symbolic and mathematical techniques to determine the forms of valid deductive argument.

    1.3 The quality of being justifiable by reason.
    ‘there seemed to be a lack of logic in his remarks’

    1.4the logic of The course of action suggested by or following as a necessary consequence of.

    2A system or set of principles underlying the arrangements of elements in a computer or electronic device so as to perform a specified task.

    2.1 Logical operations collectively.

    Late Middle English: via Old French logique and late Latin logica from Greek logikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of reason’, from logos ‘word, reason’.

    And your preference is?

  12. Too simplistic. Violence is part of the human experience, and when the perpetrators are also the bean counters, the numbers will be skewed. Murder rates can be low in a country, yet state-sponsored ‘violence’ (e.g., economic, social, etc.) can be pervasive. China and Russia spring to mind.

    Many predominantly atheist and/or secular countries show a lower general rate of violence, but most of these countries are also better educated and don’t glorify direct/violent action the way we do in the U.S..

    Simply put, I don’t think there’s a causal relationship between violent behavior and religiosity. I’m an atheist, and I think it’s a poor metric – the wrong metric – for deciding what’s best for a society. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a low crime rate and high religiosity, but almost no one would argue that Saudi Arabia is an ideal society for a host of other reasons.

    Even so, the point is well taken since a certain segment of the religious population here in the U.S. insists that a lack of belief in the Christian god leads to violence and other bad outcomes.

  13. None. But no. 2 here:

    the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference.
    a particular method of reasoning or argumentation:
    We were unable to follow his logic.
    the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study.

  14. Some have complained that this is too simple, or that it might not be causal, but that’s not the point. The point is that *Pat Robertson* made the positive claim that religion prevents violence, so the burden of proof is not on Mark. Mark’s article here is appropriate because it is responding to someone else’s claim – and showing that Pat’s claim doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Thanks for the good post, Mark! Also, as others have pointed out, this same correlation holds across countries the world over as well. That’s probably not just a “giant coincidence”.

  15. In my experience, religion/no religion, male/female, young/old, western/non-western, etc…. human beings don’t seem to need much reason for executing violence. Certainly we see cultural factors that seem to inflame tendency to violence (hence why we collect so much data on various areas trying to understand the factors in radicalization and how to counter them through information and psychological operations). But in general man’s inhumanity to man doesn’t seem to really need much of an excuse.

    We turn a blind eye to those in need or leverage our aid to them to keep them in bondage to gain their political power, we abort the unborn as disposable not looking to close at the clinics so as not to think about the little babies about to die. But then neither do we give much thought to what would have moved a mother to have to consider such an action and how we could really make a difference. We just drive by this and so many other things focused on our own little world.

    We discard those different as having no value while we call out the importance of tolerance, but truth is few are really tolerant of those who are different. WE go to war over something as unimportant as a birthday cake and advocate for outright disrespect of something honorable as the ideal represented by the flag or the national anthem and those who serve it. WE call for freedom but what we really mean is freedom for me. We attack every value and belief that might impose any structure on our lives as some form of tyranny while ignoring the fact that no person is an island and we have to make our lives together. We stand or fall together. We are our own worst enemy. We kill one another, enslave one another, ignore one another, impose beliefs and values on one another, demand our own way, spend huge amounts of our productivity defending ourselves from one another. We see each other as enemy, as burden. We only claim as friend the person who subscribes to our own narrow view of the world. We really do not make room for one another beyond what is minimally required to our own personal survival. We revel in the certainty of our personal perspective and are confident in the supreme value of our personal intellect. Our failings are the fault of outside forces and other people who have it better, have more advantages than me, have been granted special rights and privileges (whether it be white privileged or affirmative action) that made the playing field unlevel. If I accomplish anything it is all about me and if I fail it is all about what is not me. We don’t love each other and we rarely like each other.

    We discount the views of others in total because some one thing they said or stood for runs counter to something we stand for. And so we reject the person in total as not worthy of our countenance.

    But then, somedays a bright light shines. We know a person who is really different. Who really does love others. Who really does understand no one is perfect and we are all trying to make a life. That we are in it together. I had one such friend who made that difference, helped me take responsibility for my life and develop my mind and skills and make something of my life serving my nation. (Not that I claim to do it better but because of my team – together I think we do do it well). My friend died from liver failure not a few months ago, from a disease aquired during an operation and an inadvertent needle stick. My friend was helping people.

    I wish we lived in a world where there was no need for uniforms, talk about gun control, the death penalty, border controls, abortion clinics, drug rehab, and so forth. Maybe we can’t fix it in the big picture. But what can we do in our little piece of the world with the skills we have to make a difference?

  16. This is why I’m thankful for the Constitution’s freedoms regarding religion (freedom for and from). That way each person can examine for himself/herself and the truth may win out.

  17. I don’t often agree with you. But this is one time when I do. Not everything, but a good portion of it.

  18. I agree. The problem comes when someone’s religious freedom, whatever that mean, comes at the expense of someone else’s religious freedom.

    Too often, “freedom of religion” means that freedom of religion is for me. You have the freedom to follow my religion. See? everyone is treated the same.

  19. How long have you suffered from this malady?

  20. Good stats, Mark Silk, on the U.S.

    An, umm…. just look to the Islamic world and ask “does lack of religion lead to violence?” Or, does religious belief lead to violence?

    But, then, the supposition that being religious would reduce violence was from by Pat Robertson. What do you expect?

  21. But the reason you are unable to follow his logic is not because his logic was “stupid”, It is because his logic (reasoning) is reasoned but you are unable (too stupid?) to follow it.

  22. I think you are using the term “inverse correlation” incorrectly. More religious states being more murderous and less religious states being less murderous would be a direct correlation.

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