Using standard assessments of national corruption, Hamid Yeganeh & Daniel Sauers of Winona State University, USA, have found that countries with the most religious people also have the highest levels of corruption.
Now, in itself this is not a new observation (I pointed out as much back in 2008), given that some of the most religious countries are also the most corrupt. But what is new is that the relationship holds even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic development. And they showed that religious denomination doesn’t matter – all religions are the same.
Religion, of course, is supposed to promote good behaviour. So what gives? Well, the authors give several potential explanations.
It might be that religion provides a solace to those on the receiving end. But they point out that religious societies are hierarchical, where the elites end up with a lot of power that goes unchallenged. That’s linked to the tight alignment of religious organizations to political and governmental ones in less developed countries.
It also might be the case that religion increases by discriminating between the faithful and unfaithful, thereby encouraging cronyism and nepotism.
“Considering the variety of corruption measures, the reliability of data, and the large number of included countries, we have to conclude that religiosity not only does not
impede corruption but tends to promote it… Based on the above-mentioned arguments, we may conclude that while religiosity provides guidance on morality, some of its characteristics practically promote corrupt business behavior.”
Hamid Yeganeh, & Daniel Sauers (2013). A Cross-National Investigation into the Effects of Religiosity on the Pervasiveness of Corruption Journal of East-West Business, 19 (3), 155-180 DOI: 10.1080/10669868.2012.760027