Video: Bad religion?
updated 10/6/2005 11:48:15 AM ET 2005-10-06T15:48:15

Is too much religion a dangerous thing?  Well in the current issue of the 'Journal of Religion in Society' evolutionary scientist Gregory Paul correlates the level of religion in society with such issues as homicide, teen pregnancy and abortion.  Paul found that the most religious democracies showed substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction.

Rosa Brooks, a law professor at the University of Virginia who recently wrote a column in the L.A. Times in which she basically agreed with Mr. Paul's findings, joined MSNBC's Tucker Carlson on Wednesday evening's 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' to discuss the theory.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

TUCKER CARLSON:  This, it seems to me to defy common sense.  Just let me just give you one obvious, the most obvious example.  The societies that I am aware of with the highest level of religiosity just pick two, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have in fact the lowest level of dysfunctions, like the ones Mr. Paul mentions abortion, homicide, teen pregnancy, STDs, they have virtually none.

ROSA BROOKS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA LAW SCHOOL:  Do we know that actually? They're a very closed society.  It's very hard to get any data from them.  I think one of the reasons that Mr. Paul obviously chose to look at democracies was that you're comparing relatively similar societies and not factoring in other things.

CARLSON:  Well, I think you make a fair point.  We don't have accurate figures from Saudi Arabia and we never will.  But I think we can all agree it's very likely there's less abortion and teen pregnancy and syphilis in Saudi Arabia than there is in the United States.

BROOKS:  Right.  Well, you know, let me start by making a huge disclaimer.  The study is about correlation. It's not about causation.  It doesn't tell us anything really about whether religion or lack of religion causes all of these problems.  All it tells us that just what you said that it seemed as though at least within the democracies that he looked at for the information for which he could get data there was a strong correlation between higher levels of religiosity and higher levels of social dysfunction.

CARLSON:  But you use his findings and I think you've qualified them ... fairly accurately and well but as a jumping off point for a larger point here's what you say.  You say arguably Paul's study invites us to conclude that the most serious threat humanity faces today is religious extremism.

And I was just thinking about the last 100 years.  All the people who were killed in the 20th Century the vast majority were killed by aggressively secular regimes, fascist and communist regimes.  It wasn't religious people.

BROOKS:  You know when I think that these have in common though, Tucker, and first of all give religion a chance.  Religion's got a lot more millennia behind it of slaughter and mayhem that you can lay at its door than secular ideologies.

That said, I completely agree with you that the major 20th Century crimes many of them had to do with absolutist secular ideologies.  I think what these things have in common though is that element of absolutism that once you're out there and you're saying "I'm right.  You're wrong.  I know because I know.  Shut up.  If you disagree, just get out of the way.  I'm going to steamroll right over you."  That's when you're getting problems.

CARLSON:  So, essentially they're all a kind of religion.

BROOKS:  Yes, I do think so.  I think that communism in some of its forms during the 20th  Century was a kind of religion.  I think that Nazism was a kind of religion to its more fanatical adherence, absolutely, sort of a total world view that couldn't be challenged by evidence (or) by logic.

CARLSON:  No, actually I think that's a smart point.  Here's where it falls down though on a personal level.  For all the talk one hears about the threats from the religious right, all the evangelicals I know are peaceful, kind of gentle people whose lives seem to have meaning.  Even if you can't swallow entirely everything they believe, they're not aggressive, violent people at all.

BROOKS:  Well, I don't think you can conclude anything whatsoever from a study like this about individuals.  I'm an agnostic and I am a very nice person.  I would not dream of driving in the high occupancy vehicle lane, Tucker, unless I had a whole lot of people in my car.

That said, you know, there are terrifically hypocritical religious people.  There are terrifically nice atheists.  There are terrifically mean-spirit atheists and there are terrifically wonderful religious people. 

This doesn't tell us anything on an individual level, no question about it.  I think that the problems all lie on a societal level when you have a whole society that's really making all kinds of policy decisions about what do you do about poverty?  What do you do about teen pregnancy rates?  What do you do about your foreign policy?

When you start making that kind of decision based on a sort of absolutist, irrational, non-evidence based set of beliefs, then you're in really big trouble and I do think that American society is heading right that way.

CARLSON:  Well, here's an interesting measure, suicide rates.  Now if you commit suicide that is, of course, the ultimate statement of hopelessness.  Now we got the figures for, the most recent figures we could get on suicide rates internationally.  It will not surprise you.  Maybe it will.

But the United States comes in 21st and the first 20 are all even more secular than we are.  Hungary is number one, then Japan, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, France, Czech Republic, New Zealand, Poland, Luxembourg, Denmark.  You get the point.  These are societies in which God does not have a prominent place and the people are offing themselves just like flies basically.

BROOKS:  They're bored.  Maybe social dysfunction is more interesting.

CARLSON:  You know I hadn't thought of that, Rosa, but you've not for the first time stopped me completely in my tracks.  Rosa Brooks of the University of Virginia thanks a lot for coming on.

BROOKS:  A pleasure, Tucker.

Watch 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

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