Religion and social dysfunction

Gregory Paul’s paper “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions” is available online. Among its conclusions:

all hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state that is highly resistant to conversion to nontheism are unverified. Instead popular religion is in the main a superficial psychological response that seeks the daily aid and protection of supernatural entities to alleviate the stress and anxiety created by a sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environment. Other potential causes of large-scale religiosity, including fear of death and genetics, are at best secondary factors that only operate effectively when the socioeconomic situation is defective to the required degree. Popular nontheism also is a predominantly superficial psychological response to the socioeconomic environment, in its case to a sufficiently secure one.

I’m not sure how much to trust Paul’s conclusions—politically, they fit just a bit too well with my prejudices. His favored explanations also seem to be overly ahistorical.

He also focuses on conservative, organized monotheism as the default form of religiosity, disregarding more diffuse forms of supernaturalism that are common in secularized societies and support the contention that belief in supernatural agents is a “normal, deeply set human mental state that is highly resistant to conversion to” naturalistic views.

Still, if anyone wants to wade into the argument about whether organized religion is socially beneficial on balance, Paul’s work represents a strong statement of a case that religiosity is strongly associated with social dysfunction.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University