Is sin real – Are we really just a few heartbeats away from depravity and wickedness? – Part II

forbidden-treeI was writing yesterday about the religious claim that the default status of humans is that we are all fundamentally flawed, and suggested that if this was really true then the world should not be getting better, yet as a stark contrast to that the measurable worldwide trend is one in which violence of all types has been decreasing, not increasing.

I’d like to briefly look at this from another viewpoint – if indeed humans are by default flawed, and religious belief is the solution, then the lives of those who are religious should be far better and far nobler than the lives of those who are not religious.

Raising non-religious kids – the measurable results

In 2010 study by Duke university entitled,Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism, that was published in Personality and Social Psychology Review examined the link between religiosity and racism in the United States since the Civil Rights Act. What they found is that the religious were far more prone to being racist than the non-religious.

This is no isolated study, time after time studies into different social aspects reveals that it is not the religious, but rather it is the non-religious that tend to have far better moral standards, tolerance and emotional maturity …

For nearly 40 years, Bengston has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generational cohorts in the United States. When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation. 

“Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious’ parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture — confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.

For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule.

The Rise of The nones

We live in an age in which there is a rising tide of non-belief. Go back to the middle of the last century, say about 1950, and only a tiny percentage would identify as non-religious, but that has all changed, today as many as 22.8% have no religious religious affiliation.

This is an ideal scenario in which we can scrutinise the religious claim that humans are fatally flawed and that only religious belief saves us from that. If the claim was in any way true, then the rising tide of non-belief and open rejection of religion should have resulted in a rising tide of crime and lawlessness, but we do not see any such correlation, and in fact it has been the complete reverse (as I illustrated yesterday), so what we observe is that as religion declines the world is getting far better, not worse.

What does that tell us about religion and the associated claim regarding humans being fundamentally flawed?

Jail Time

If indeed atheists are the vile godless amoral creatures that religion paints us to be then a prediction that naturally falls out of that is that we should expect our prisons to be full of atheists, especially in the context of a general population of almost 23% being non-religious.

OK, so exactly how many prisoners are non-religious, any guesses?

Would you go with 23% and so on par with the population of 23% overall being non-religious? Nope, and it is not higher, but rather is lower, a lot lower.

There is an oft quoted statistic of 0.2% that is often quoted, but being a good skeptic, I’ve tended to back away from that because it has been based off some very old unreliable data. However, we do have an answer, somebody wrote to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2013 and got an answer, it turns out to be 0.07% (that comes with a lot of caveats).

Evidence matters

A common response to the religious assertion that there is a god is to request evidence for the claim, and so far the quantity of independently verifiable evidence is exactly zero. In a similar manner the associated religious claim that humans are fundamentally flawed and that the default for the human heart is evil is also revealed by the available evidence to be rather blatantly false.

These are all testable claims. It may of course be tempting for the religious to mumble about a spiritual dimension, but we should never forget that the essence of the claim is that there exists a god that intervenes in our reality, and that is testable. In a similar manner, the claim that sin is real (to use the religious word) is something that can also be measured, yet when we do so, what we discover is that it is the religious, the supposedly redeemed, and not the non-religious, the supposedly lost, that generally trend towards manifesting racism, misogyney, homophobia, intolerance, violence, ignorance and crime.

The essence of being human is not tragedy, but rather is empathy, compassion, and curiosity. This however goes terribly wrong when bad ideas are embraced as truth for what are best described as cultural and emotional reasons.

To illustrate that, there is a prevailing belief that being gay is a choice and is morally wrong. Many strands of religious belief adhere to this mode of thinking, yet there is overwhelming evidence that it is not true and that people are born that way, and so the point I wish to draw out is that these religious people are not evil wicked people who have decided to spend each day being homophobic bigots, they are instead like the rest of us in that they strive to do what is right and are seeking what is best, the problem is that they have been ensnared by a religious belief that tricks them into truly believing that being an obnoxious intolerant bigot is the high moral ground.


To be frank, when it comes to judgement, then it needs to start with those that live in the house of god, because those outside are clearly far better off and are doing a fine job, it is those inside that need a wakeup call. I’m not suggesting a judgement of those individuals who are religious, because they clearly deserve our compassion and empathy, but instead a judgement and condemnation of the bad ideas that have ensnared and ruined a countless number of lives by blinding them to the things that are really true.

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