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.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289906514152743087 rgondella

    You guys are so funny!

    "… 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."

    It's as if you think that if you couch stuff in real sophisticated terms, it'll be unassailable.

    Phrenology was once thought (by some) to be valid science, too.

    But, to the point, most theists I know do not seek "the daily aid and protection of supernatural entities to alleviate … stress and anxiety…"

    They may seek a xanax. They may seek a shot and a beer. They may seek the solitude and peace of prayer.

    I suggest that before you go all metaphorically phrenologist on society that you tease out the details. Be a little bit thoughtful. Don't fall prey to the notion that just because you cannot touch, see or measure something that it does not — could not — exist.

    None of us can see beyond the event horizon. Beyond that point in the space-time continuum, everything is conjecture — theory. As theory, it is by definition unproven. From the naturalist perspective, does that mean that our universe came into being at the precise moment of the earliest identifiable event — light source, fossil, blip of energy? Probably not.

    You choose what you believe in, just as a theist does. In fact, one might say that, as subject to change as it is, your version of science gives you "the daily aid and protection of supernatural entities to alleviate … stress and anxiety…"

    So. Nuff said.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14088685389758373359 ZDENNY

    I agree with Rgondella that all knowledge is based on faith.

    I think your insight into understanding the difference between monotheism and other worldviews is all pertinent!

    In Christianity, we believe that God is love. The love of God was expressed to us through Jesus Christ.

    How can the articulation and foundation of love be a dysfunction?

    It seems to me that the dysfunction is for atheist who deny the reality of love. They believe a good feeling is the same as love; however, the vast majority believe that love exists in and of itself which is something we participate in.

    It would seem to me that the godless who deny the reality of love would be the ones who experience a dysfunction.

    I have found this to be the case in every case thus far. Anger is always the path to atheism. Healing is the pathway back to Christianity because love heals and makes people whole.


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