Using existing data, Paul combined 25 indicators of societal and economic stability — things like crime, suicide, drug use, incarceration, unemployment, income, abortion and public corruption — to score each country using what he calls the "successful societies scale." He also scored countries on their degree of religiosity, as determined by such measures as church attendance, belief in a creator deity and acceptance of Bible literalism.The author notes that the study doesn't demonstrate causeality, just a correlation. However, he points out what may be the cause:
Comparing the two scores, he found, with little exception, that the least religious countries enjoyed the most prosperity. Of particular note, the U.S. holds the distinction of most religious and least prosperous among the 17 countries included in the study, ranking last in 14 of the 25 socioeconomic measures.
"Popular religion," Paul proposes, "is a coping mechanism for the anxieties of a dysfunctional social and economic environment." ...While possibly true, religion also serves to blunt the very progress that would lead to more societal well being. Look at the Christian Right's opposition to universal health care and government reform of the financial sector: both areas of reform that are likely to help/protect the less fortunate in our society. These are areas of reform you'd think the church would support. Why don't they?
In his paper, Paul writes of an "antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith" derived from fear that greater prosperity will loosen the grip of religion. ... These groups have a lot to lose in these kinds of debates. When you adopt progressive policy reforms," Paul says, "in the long run, religion is bound to be road kill."