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By David W. Virtue

George Gallup, founding chairman of The George H. Gallup International Institute, has written a letter to The London Times in response to a recent article by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent which says that "Societies are worse off 'when they have God on their side' ".

In a letter to VirtueOnline, Gallup said that Gregory S. Paul, author of an article based on an 18-nation survey, and published in the US based Journal of Religion and Society, makes an outrageous assertion concluding that because the US has a high level of religiosity and, at the same time, a high level of murders, abortions, sexual promiscuity and suicide, that religious belief can contribute to such problems, and even cause them.

"It is important to challenge Paul's assertion forthrightly, because the casual, non-research minded reader, might easily accept his conclusion as entirely plausible on the face of it," writes Gallup.

"Gregory Paul's conclusion is based on a flawed analysis according to my research associate, D Michael Lindsay, an expert in the department of sociology at Princeton University. After carefully examining Paul's international study, Mr. Lindsay maintains that it does not pass scholarly muster."

He makes two points, says Gallup:

First. Paul claims that regressions and multivariate analyses were not used because 'causal factors for rates of societal function are complex', and because he finds enough uniformity across the cases of 18 of the world's most powerful societies to consider them basically consistent and not in need of control variables. Can he identify a single other study published in a major social scientific journal that compared results across countries that did not employ multivariate analysis to control for differences among nations? No, because multivariate analysis is required for cross-national comparisons of this sort.

Secondly. In order for the author's bold claims against religious commitment contributing to society to hold true, he would have to refute the hundreds of volumes that have proven otherwise. From discussions on parenting and fatherhood, to mental and physical health, the weight of empirical evidence is against Paul's assertions: religious commitment has notably positive effects on the individual and collective levels of human society.

Gallup says that to draw conclusions about the effect of religion on a society, it is vital to look beneath the surface manifestations of religion, (such as, broad belief in God and attachment to religious traditions) and examine religious and spiritual belief and practice in depth. Deep spiritual commitment (as measured by a battery of carefully-tested and penetrating questions) contributes to a far healthier nation that would likely otherwise be the case.

"A mountain of survey data (from Gallup and other survey organizations) supports this statement. Controlling for education and other variables, persons who fit the category of "highly spiritually committed" are far less likely to engage in antisocial and irresponsible behavior than those less committed, and there are lower rates of crime, drinking and using drugs among this group. They are more hopeful about the future and experience greater joy in life. They contribute more time in helping people who are burdened with physical and emotional needs. They are less likely to be prejudiced against people of other races, and are more giving and forgiving. They have bucked the trend of many in society toward narcissism and hedonism."

"Teens with deep spiritual commitment are far more likely than their counterparts to be happy, goal-oriented, hopeful about the future, to see a reason for their existence, to do better in school work, to be less likely to get into trouble, and more likely to serve others," wrote Gallup.

"The percentage of persons who are deeply spiritually committed is small according to certain measurements...perhaps only a sixth of the population, or less...but their impact on life around them is profound. Clearly, then, the challenge to churches and other faith communities is to encourage deeper spiritual and religious commitment among the US populace."


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