We are often told that the world would be a vastly better place if only we could get rid of religion, as religion is supposed to be responsible for all kinds of miseries and harm (as AC Grayling insisted). I think this is wishful thinking propped up by confirmation bias, largely because the New Atheist cyber-world is clearly no better than any cyber-community of religious people.
Sometimes, people try to compare whole nations to answer this question, but there are so many different and uncontrolled variables when making such comparisons that I think such analyses are essentially meaningless. Instead, I think it would be more meaningful to compare different cities from the same nation with similar demographics, but differing degrees of religiosity.
Lucky for us, Gallop did a survey that looks at the religiosity of many different metro areas across the country. It turns out the most religious area in the USA is Provo-Orem, UT, where 77.2% of inhabitants were highly religious and 12.7% were non-religious. The least religious area was Burlington, VT, where 17.2% were highly religious and 63.8% were non-religious.
What’s nice is that both areas have very similar demographics according to Wikipedia, even to the point of the median family income being essentially identical.
Burlington: As of the census of 2010, there were 42,417 people residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 88.9% White, 3.9% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.6% Asian, and 2.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.There were 16,851 households and the average number of persons per household was 2.13.
As of the census of 2000, the median income for a household in the city was $33,070, and the median income for a family was $46,012.
Orem: As of the census of 2010, there were 526,810 people, 143,695 households, and 116,844 families residing within the MSA. The racial makeup of the MSA was 89.5% White, 0.5% African American, 0.6% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.7% Pacific Islander, 4.6% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.7% of the population.
As of the census of 2000, median income for a household in the MSA was $41,986, and the median income for a family was $46,426.
So let’s compare. If New Atheist claims about the bad influence of religion are correct, we would expect Orem, UT to have much higher crime rates that Burlington, VT. To test this “religion-is-bad” hypothesis, I went to city-data.com to get the crime index for both areas (where the higher number means more crime).
The plotted results are below the fold (with crime index values on Y-axis).