Here are a couple of excerpts:
Are religious societies better than secular ones?
Remarkably, no one, until now, has attempted systematically to answer the question with which this column began. But in the current edition of the Journal of Religion and Society, a researcher called Gregory Paul tests the hypothesis, propounded by evangelists in the Bush administration, that religion is associated with lower rates of "lethal violence, suicide, non-monogamous sexual activity and abortion". He compared data from 18 developed democracies, and discovered that the Christian fundamentalists couldn't have got it more wrong.
"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion ... None of the strongly secularised, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction." Within the US, "the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest" have "markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the north-east where ... secularisation, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms".
Three sets of findings stand out: the associations between religion - especially absolute belief - and juvenile mortality, venereal disease and adolescent abortion. Paul's graphs show far higher rates of death among the under-fives in Portugal, the US and Ireland and put the US - the most religious country in his survey - in a league of its own for gonorrhea and syphilis. Strangest of all, for those who believe that Christian societies are "pro-life", is the finding that "increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator ... Claims that secular cultures aggravate abortion rates (John Paul II) are therefore contradicted by the quantitative data".
These findings appear to match the studies of teenage pregnancy I've read. The rich countries in which sexual abstinence campaigns, generally inspired by religious belief, are strongest have the highest early pregnancy rates. The US is the only rich nation with teenage pregnancy levels comparable to those of developing nations: it has a worse record than India, the Philippines and Rwanda. Because they're poorly educated about sex and in denial about what they're doing (and so less likely to use contraceptives), boys who participate in abstinence programmes are more likely to get their partners pregnant than those who don't.
Is the Bush administration likely to be influenced by these finding? Not a chance. You know that and I know that too. But at least we can take heart in our conviction that a secular society with a firm separation between church and state is a good thing.