Religion and Hostility

Nothing causes Americans to clutch their pearls and get their panties in a twist like arguments about religion. Let Starbucks omit snowflakes from their seasonal cups, and the fundamentalists are up in arms–they just know that those plain red cups are an attack on Jesus!

Is a failure to specifically endorse a religion (a la the offense of plain red cups and “Happy Holidays”) really equivalent to an attack? (And not so incidentally, don’t you people screaming about these assaults have lives to live and other things to do?)

Americans don’t agree on the definition of religion, let alone what constitutes an insult. What is the difference between a religion and a cult? Between religion and ideology? Are some religious beliefs better for society than others, and if so, which ones and why? We may not be able to answer these questions, but most of us seem firmly convinced that whatever it is, religion is good for us.

Maybe it’s more complicated than that.

As Phil Zuckerman recently wrote in the LA Times,

In the aftermath of the shooting at Umpqua Community College, for example, Fox host Bill O’Reilly cited weakening religion as the culprit. “As the world becomes more secular,” he declared, “civilized restraints to bad behavior drop.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered similar sentiments after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., blaming such wanton violence on the fact that “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

The theory is simple: If people become less religious, then society will decay. Crime will skyrocket, violence will rise, and once-civilized life will degenerate into immorality and depravity. It’s an old, widespread notion. And it’s demonstrably false.

If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.

Zukerman notes–quite properly–that correlation is not the same thing as causation. But the correlations are certainly striking:

According to the latest study from the Pew Research Center, the 10 states that report the highest levels of belief in God are Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma (tied with Utah). The 10 states with the lowest levels of belief in God are Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Alaska, Oregon and California. And as is the case in the rest of the world, when it comes to nearly all standard measures of societal health, including homicide rates, the least theistic states generally fare much better than the most theistic. Consider child-abuse fatality rates: Highly religious Mississippi’s is twice that of highly secular New Hampshire’s, and highly religious Kentucky’s is four times higher than highly secular Oregon’s.

Given self-proclaimed “Christians” proclivity to wax hysterical over the loss of snowflakes on a Starbucks cup,  I think we might infer some measure of causation…


  1. Things just don’t change. Back in the 1950’s those plain red cups would have been seen as an adherence to that red menace, Communism. And by the same crowd. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  2. When did snowflakes and stars become Christian symbols? I can understand stars, although it s a stretch. But snowflakes!?!

  3. “Is a failure to specifically endorse a religion (a la the offense of plain red cups and “Happy Holidays”) really equivalent to an attack? (And not so incidentally, don’t you people screaming about these assaults have lives to live and other things to do?)”

    Only because they learned the tactic from the left.

    The homosexuals view the absence of a “This Business Serves Everyone” sticker as proof that a business is anti-homosexual. Chicago has their own version “We Serve Everyone.” Businesses that don’t boast such stickers are intimidated.

  4. “The theory is simple: If people become less religious, then society will decay. Crime will skyrocket, violence will rise, and once-civilized life will degenerate into immorality and depravity. It’s an old, widespread notion. And it’s demonstrably false.”

    As Christianity (those versions believed by some current government officials as basis for laws against others) is being crammed down the throats of all – including Christians who view Christianity as acceptance of others – we have seen hate crimes against other religions increase. We have seen hate crimes increase around the world in the name of religion. Is that actually being more religious or losing sight of the meaning of religion. Religion is a belief system; which in reality is a very personal issue…or was until the government became the ruling factor regarding one-size-fits-all according to their belief.

    About that Starbucks snowflake on their cup last year, I read a Facebook comment yesterday stating that the snowflake wasn’t in keeping with “the teachings of Jesus”. How the color red is against Jesus or Christianity hasn’t yet been explained…probably because there is NO explanation for this stupidity. Theresa is right in her statement regarding the red cups being considered as supporting Communism. Starbucks is in the business of selling coffee, not preaching the teachings of Jesus or any other religious personage.

    I sent a text to my daughter-in-law this morning about this issue and the years-long battle over Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays. In my teens I baby sat with two children of a Jewish family; Jay was 7 years old and an old soul, Cathy was 5 and a sweet, loving child. They had a huge Christmas tree in their living room. Jay and I talked about that; when I asked why his Jewish family had a Christmas tree he said it was for their Christian friends when they visited during the holidays. Out of the mouth of babes!

  5. First they came for my “Merry Christmas,” then they came for my “snowflakes,”… Next it’ll be my guns and my children … You’ll see!!!!

  6. BobG I’ve been asking the same question. A few years ago the “religious ” were up in arms because these very same symbols were all that they saw on Christmas items. I think they just are actively looking for something to complain about.

  7. It is interesting that you asked “what is the difference between religion and a cult?”.

    Personally, I believe that some of the fundamentalists have created cults and use their power to control the minions of their religious cults. As Indiana continues to dumb down our education system, the fundamentalists will continue to find it easier and easier to control the crowds of people that are unable to think for themselves.

    I am surprised that our state didn’t already fit in with the statistics of the south. Our Republican leaders are working diligently to make us join them.

  8. I think the whole cultural conservative circus–God, guns and gays–is a huge distraction from issues like income inequality, the lack of an economic recovery at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, voter suppression, and political corruption. The people complaining about Starbucks cups probably think that our government is still democratic.

  9. Such are the travails in a society which associates the two words “freedom” and “religion”.
    This gives semantic juxtaposition dictates that every single person has the right to interpret their relationship in his/her own way. And that way the disputes never end, and like most other disputes they usually elevate through four stages: silly, disgusting, idiotic, and deadly.
    I’m convinced the British have it right — an established church, in which cultural agreement has cut the stages to a measly two.
    First: nobody really believes all of its dogmas nor obeys its rules. Second: Everybody laughs at it —
    as in, “The coffee cup’s snowflakes got melted because what’s inside is in heat,” said the Bishop.

  10. Religion may be taking a bad rap in the statistics quoted in your piece. The prevalence of crime and other anti-social conduct in the south could just as well be the result of poverty, ignorance, lack of education, plantation politics, an unreconstructed racist society (except for athletes who are not white) etc.

    This is not to excuse religion from scrutiny as one to blame for the statistics, but rather to point out that conclusions drawn from such research may reflect bias on part of the researchers and commentators who follow the leader. There is research and there are conclusions drawn from research – two different animals. Religion, like any other mass human movement, has seen its share of charlatans, from pope-led armies to today’s shameless TV preachers, but it has also seen its share of Mother Teresas and donators of kidneys. It did not start in the Garden or in any other venue in Jewish mythology; it (like our other social sciences seeking stability) was manufactured in man’s puny attempts to explain his presence and the why of it – a daunting task having nothing to do with Darwin and his findings of the how.

    Thus we today look with horror and disgust on the centuries-old brawl between Shia and Sunni while conveniently overlooking the Thirty Years War of 1618 – 1648 in which Catholics and Protestants killed millions in present day Central Europe finally concluded by the Treaty of Westphalia. Both religions each have a common God and/or prophet/savior but couldn’t agree on the details, which was apparently a capital offense.

    So there’s good and bad in religion just as there is in politics, economics, sociology, and the rest of our manufactured regimes. I, for one, am therefore more likely to trust the cited findings in today’s piece than the conclusions drawn from them, especially here, where there are many competing conclusions that could have been drawn from the research, one of which is that (in varying degrees), it could have been that all such factors explain the numbers found. Perhaps the researchers on religion should do some research on (correlation if not causation) relationships by isolating lack of education, racism etc. as the target rather than religion and see if there are conclusions that can be drawn from such findings which explain criminal conduct and the like. I await the results of such undertakings, which may or may not exonerate religion as causative. To reiterate: Research and conclusions drawn therefrom are two different animals. Researchers, take note.

  11. Conspiracy theories are alive and well, I see, even for a cup of coffee from Starbucks! Do people have nothing better to do with their time than rant and rave about the color and design of a red cup which was likely designed by Starbucks media designers who were in the mood for a change? This is so laughable it is pathetic! Conspiracy theories are related to level of education—the less education a person is likely to have, the more open they are to believing in conspiracies (per an article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest issue dealing with the ten most common conspiracy theories, and they are doozies!) Moving right along……….

  12. Roxane – I would agree with you about the distractions -keep your eye off the ball. Years ago Procter and Gamble’s old Logo had a rumor circulating about it that it was satanic. The logo P&G used when it launched in 1851 pictured a man in the moon with 13 stars, representing the original American colonies — à la the original U.S. flag. But critics later claimed the stars connected to form “666” and that the curls were in the shape of devilish sixes as well or horns.

    We have some people who believe the most fantastic stories: Space Aliens built the pyramids, and the Nazca Lines in South America, ghost hunters and that old reliable Big Foot.

  13. See above. Gopper seems to believe that the Red Cups mean everyone is going to be forced to get a blow job at Starbucks.

    But then again, everything with him lately seems to come back to homosexuality. Makes one go, “hmmmmm.”

  14. I like this article, but I can’t stomach the conclusion. I don’t have any stats in front of me, but the least theistic states are also more economically well-off than the most religious. People seek religion for reasons that are not purely ideological or even Christian, for that matter. Churches provide welfare and community support in areas where social services are not as readily available. So, perhaps people seek religion because they have no other alternative in some instances, which could mean that Christianity has nothing to do with hostility at all, much like Islamic theology shares little with terrorist motivations. Just a thought.

  15. I have always been concerned about “attacks” on religion. I believe that Faith is an important comfort in many lives and that most people of Faith are better off with it than without it. It’s a tool for living productively.

    It can however, like most tools, be improperly used with negative consequences.

    I’m positive that most people of Faith don’t give even the smallest hoot about the decor of Starbuck’s cups.

    But that and they can be used, can be manipulated, can be stampeded and often are.

    Social media didn’t create, but does empower, those who manipulate others for a living.

    Who manipulates others for a living? Sales people, politicians, preachers, lawyers and entertainers to name a few.

    Are they all the culprits then? No, many of them are huge contributors to well being and progress.

    So the cult problem we are experiencing now is an undercurrent, a subset of other beliefs and capabilities, a minority community of perpetrators and victims with an oversized presence in the news. The cause of the avalanche not the consequences.

    Victims don’t choose their role ever but are unable to avoid their fate. So let’s teach them self defense.

    How? Education IMO. Utilize our army of amateurs (parents) and professionals (educators) to teach the next generation what the current generation is apparently short of. Critical thinking. Real skepticism. Fact based belief. Evidence.

    I personally see that underway using the tool that enabled the problem, media. I wish that progress was more rapid.

  16. During the McCarthy era, we had to give up May Day, with sneaking to doors and hanging handmade baskets filled with wildflowers, ring the bell, and run.
    We had to use blue grading pencils instead of red, because, you know Communists. And this was promoted by our aging school teacher. I guess there was a general hysteria. We seem in the middle of another one now.

  17. It’s interesting that our resident Neanderthal is also the biggest victim of cultism. Apparently the offenses that he’s relying on leave one defenseless against faith based manipulation.

  18. It’s wise to avoid the single-cause explanation, and while it’s hard to prove an hypothesis right, it’s easy to prove it wrong because human relationships are more complicated than we can imagine, and not so clean as our ideology (or theory) would dictate. If you want to stick your foot in it, just say that the reason for x is y, and while you may get a lot of followers, you will all go down the wrong road.

    Groper’s perverse and authoritarian dualism is really strange to most people for many reasons. Among them is the frequent stunning conclusion that because you have a label he has assigned you, you have certain characteristics. The label is often meaningless and the characteristics are usually negative. If you were having a sincere, good faith conversation with an individual, you both could climb out of it and make sense of it, but the good faith element isn’t there, usually, and he (or she) is the troll, not just because his (or her) claims are awry, but because they lack good faith.

  19. The problem w religion is that most require that you relinquish reason and logic and accept the tenets at face value, lest you be excommunicated. It is too anchored in the pre-science past to be relevant today. Religion’s best option is to keep quiet and allow people to experience spirituality in their individual way…..unless their is some other motivation for their insistence on controlling EVERYONE’S life. Hmmm.

  20. It’s only an entre to let loose the passions and a Starbucks slap for previous sins. Then gather the least thoughtful quotes for use later against the Godless Pagans.

    A different item – tickles my conscience though. IMO- There’s a general consensus that gopper is not winning policy or popularity points – not that that’s important – but the ad hominem feels to me like less than best effort.

    I have nearly zero sympathy for most views from that quarter but I’m losing interest in feeding the personal disdain as simply unproductive.

    It’s common across social media and groups of all kinds. I’m not suggesting I have any right to claim innocence nor defending getting attention by assuming the scapegoat/shadow/martyr role.

    It’s just a distraction. I don’t doubt the secondary gain by being the turd in the punch bowl. I’ll take it on myself sometimes if I see any value to the confrontation.

    But I’m in a peculiar frame of mind today so perhaps it’s me.

  21. Al Bush: I agree that if we ignore and refuse to engage with the “turd in the punch bowl” (your description) he/she will eventually lose interest in trolling this blog.

    How about it folks?

  22. Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altriusm [from Current Biology]
    “While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and prosocial behavior, the relation between religiosity and morality is a contentious one. Here, we assessed altruism and third-party evaluation of scenarios depicting interpersonal harm in 1,170 children aged between 5 and 12 years in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, USA, and South Africa), the religiousness of their household, and parent-reported child empathy and sensitivity to justice. Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior.”

  23. EFK: Glad you brought that up again, not just because it tends to confirm biases, but b cause it needs to be seriously discussed among religious people and become part of a self-examination process.

  24. Funny you should mention Huckabee–while he points fingers at the godless, let’s just look at him and his and the link between his parenting and violence. He’s the kind of ‘man of god’ who raises a kid who tortures a stray dog to death at a boy scout camp. His dad then fired everybody who was assigned to investigate the incident while he was Governor of Arkansas. Although this is pretty common ‘training’ in Indiana, I was sickened by the kids who were raised to be deliberately cruel and to laugh at the pain they caused. It’s what creates lynch mobs and allows the Klan, Operation Rescue and Army of God to operate out in the open.

  25. Leave it to liberals to lump all Christians in with the looney fringe who get stirred up about nothing. And yet here you are getting stirred up about getting stirred up about nothing.

  26. Ken:

    It’s the hypocrisy of the believers who act cruelly against others while feigning persecution from everyone who voices an opinion against their point of view and practices that gets me stirred up.

  27. I don’t know how many here are Facebook users but those who are know that what everybody sees on Facebook is different; its suited to your friends and your tastes.

    I view it often and make an effort by “liking” certain articles to move some of what’s sent to me on to others, especially my conservative friends.


    So they’ll realize that to much of the world they are merely victims and to make sure that they get the message that we’re on to them. We know how, why, where and when they are cultivated. We see clearly the manipulation that they are both victimized by and blind to.

    Does that matter? Apparently not on the short term but certainly on the long term. And the long term counts more.

  28. For those of you wishing to prove that scientists can be bought here’s your proof.

    Dr Bjorn Lomborg is willing to say anything sounding scientific for the Koch’s.

    I’ve often wondered who the 3% of qualified scientists are who deny climate change and so I’m glad that one has been identified. I hope that he’ll be sent to a lab for analysis but I fear we already know the DNA. Plain old greed, the basis of the Koch empire.

  29. Religions have caused and are causing wars. Religions also cause many of us to be reflective in an honest attempt to live more altruistic lives.

    History has many examples of evangelical hucksters, religious cults, and very evil people who lay claims on religion, even while claiming (accurately or not) that they are victims of persecution to arouse more emotional pull on their followers. As with other societal segments, bad actors get the publicity and likely drive others from religion. That’s too bad.

    I have huge issues with religions that excuse terrorism, bloodshed, oppression and enslavement, discrimination and exclusivity of many sorts, child abuse, exploitation of religion as God’s path to profits.

    I have huge respect for those who step into the breach to help victims of disasters; to weekly stock food pantries for the poor; to minister to and provide shelters for the abused, oppressed, and homeless; to provide positive after-school and week-end activities for our youth; to visit and cheer the sick and home-bound; to organize all range of activities to raise funds for missions projects at home and abroad (food, infrastructure to provide clean water, medical personnel and supplies, eyeglasses, mosquito nets to protect against malaria, and more); and to teach and inspire us to be better human beings.

    Hopefully we all know people of faith whose concern for others is sufficient for sainthood. They elevate us all. It’s unfortunate that the bad actors command more of our attention.

  30. daleb, you hit the nail on the head with your 1:20 comment on ” the hypocrisy of the believers who act cruelly against others while feigning persecution from everyone who voices an opinion against their point of view and practices….”. I lived with a family full of those people, not just a brother and sister, but step-father, and my sister’s offspring. ‘Shaking the dust from my sandals’ and moving on, was the choice of the preservation of my soul, my integrity, and my sanity. No one should have to put up with the kind of abuse that was thrown my way, and when I finally walked away, they were all so confused about why I would not want to associate with them. I am now free to practice the religion I choose, the politics I choose, and live a life filled with happiness and compassion for others. It is truly life-giving rather than life-sucking!

  31. Climate scientists are mostly funded by government directly or indirectly so they are bought and paid for to fulfill their role of agreeing with the government even if they must fudge data to “prove” their point. Job security in welfare is not accomplished by getting people “freed” from welfare, the job security comes by increasing the welfare roles

  32. Backwards Ken. The government agrees with science not vice versa. In fact almost everybody agrees with science. I suppose maybe there are some primitives left in the world who don’t.

    Unfortunately Republicans have to act like primitives because it’s the only way to get funded to run for President in order to sell books and other celebrity paraphernalia. The funding coming from those who invested in mineral rights now near worthless trying to salvage what they can at future taxpayer expense.

    Business is nothing if not predictable. Make more money regardless of the cost to others.

  33. The information I found showed that government funding for climate scientists is part of the funding of NASA. Ken; you must agree that climate studies are vital to NASA.

    Having said that I will add that I believe too much money is spent of the space program; what benefits has it brought about after all these years?

    To return to “Religion and Hostility”; I am so sick of the stupid religious battles and the government intrusion into peoples lives using religion as their reason, that I am beginning to get hostile. It is embarrassing to see presidential candidates attend a conference which supports “kill the gays” in the name of religion and the battle over Starbucks red cup which two presidential candidates want to boycott Starbucks that I am seriously concerned over the mental status of leaders in this country along with the followers of religious nut cases who actually believe they are NOT ALLOWED to say Merry Christmas and are fighting over the lack of Christianity about those disposable red coffee cups.

    YES; RELIGION LEADS TO HOSTILITY RATHER THAN LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE OF FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS. Just watch the Republican presidential candidates and their followers. They are not only embarrassing – they are frightening…and they have all the money.

  34. Great Republican circus tonight. America’s problems are simple. The poor are too rich and the rich are too poor. If you make the poor poorer they will turn into high performing highly skilled workers. If you make the rich richer they will get off of their butts and innovate, the only way that the economy grows. And if you empower make more money regardless of the cost to others by unregulating business they will, for the first time in history, drop make more money regardless of the cost to others and focus on being good citizens of the world.

    Are they all on drugs????

  35. Good on ya, Katie Parrish! Go forward, girl!

    Pete: Probably; however, some really think that way when they’re stone-cold sober. Even some on here.

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