I recently learned that, by at least one measure, New Hampshire, where I grew up, is the least religious state in the country (actually, it’s tied with Massachusetts, its neighbor to the south), and also has the lowest murder rate. A coincidence? A glance at the following table I created after reading a post on my favorite blog for heathens suggests not.
All six states in which at least 7 out of 10 people say that religion is very important in their lives are among the top 13 states in per capita murders.
Among the dozen least religious states, the only one that cracks the top 30 in murder rate is Alaska, which is 12th. Alaska and Utah are outliers here, but in opposite ways, with Utah ranking 12th in religiosity and 41st in murder rate. Perhaps Mormons and Baptists have different ways of settling interpersonal scores.
I realize that it would be facile to claim that religiosity, in particular conservative Protestantism, breeds violence. But it’s clearly far more complicated than that. For one thing, we can’t say that the people doing the killing are the ones also doing most of the praying. One could just as easily hypothesize that in places where people are more likely to be killed by other people, they turn to faith out of fear. I don’t believe this either, but it’s not a ferociously out-to-lunch idea compared to some of the garbage floating around cyberspace.
About the only genuinely sound conclusion anyone can draw from these data is that religiosity, while probably not a cause of serious social ills, is certainly no salve for them. We’ve seen this in various other areas already — for example, states with a high proportion of believers consistently rank way up there in the rate of teen pregnancies, suggesting that the anti-contraception, sex-is-evil proselytizing popular in such states is, well, impotent.
|16||North Carolina||5.1||South Dakota||59||16|
|18||New Mexico||4.8||New Mexico||57||18|