Friday, April 27, 2007

Ordem e Progresso

I have been of the belief for some time that a major problem with the US is the role Christianity plays in our government. Even when I was a Christian (and I was quite devout, by my own and other’s views) I questioned the government’s right to force Christian morals on citizens via legislation. When I made up my mind on abortion, I was nearly still dripping from the baptismal waters. I was of the opinion that abortion should be legal, but that I would only counsel an individual to seek abortion in rare cases. Today, that opinion has changed in the sense that I'd only advise Christians to seek abortions in rare cases (or others whose beliefs don't accept abortion)... others can get abortions whenever they like… see if I care. The shift only reflects my personal change in acceptance of Christianity. No, I'm not advocating abortion as a means of birth control; birth control is an effective means of birth control, as is pulling out, or excessive masturbation. When those and the plan b/morning after pill fail, abortion is better than the bare minimum alternative of unplanned pregnancy. Anyway, enough about dead babies…

The US is supposedly secular, yet Christianity appears to play a large part in our government. I always felt Christianity was hindering progress by pushing for legislation based on morals not everybody held. Until recently, I failed to ask, “Is secularism necessary for progress?” The answer is no. If you define progress in terms of pro-choice success, it’s pretty necessary, but what about more basic human needs (I just realized abortion is quite a luxury), what about life expectancy, standard of living, and education?

The Human Development Index (HDI) is used by the UN to rate countries in one quasi-holistic datum. The US ranks 8th worldwide, not too shabby. I can’t slam on Christianity too much because 7 of the top ten have an overwhelming majority of citizens who declare themselves as Christians. The other three are: Australia- majority Christian, but not as tilted as others; Japan – mixed religions, non- Christian; The Netherlands, one of the most secular nations in the world. It’s also worth mentioning Ireland ranks above the US in HDI and boasts one of the most prevalent rates of Christianity. This data causes a complete reversal of my question.

Is Christianity the best catalyst for progress? Recent history says no, the Human Development Report from 2006 (for which the HDI is derived) also has a handy little graph charting HDIs by global region in the last 30 years. With the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, we all seem to be progressing at about the same rate. The graph is interesting (click it and keep it open), East Asia actually looks like it may be the best place for me to retire, and appears that Eastern Europe has just recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m open for criticism here, because I know I’m really talking in generalities, but here’s what I see when I look at the graph:
-OECD – Christian, Democratic
-E&CIS – Christian, Democratic (limited in the east)
-LA&C – Christian. Democratic
-EAsia – Many secular with many Buddhists, healthy mixture of governments
-Arab – Islam, Mostly one party control
-South Asia – Hindu, Democratic or under militaristic control
-Sahara- Sand, lots of sand
I see more government variability in the lines than religious variability. I think I can make a strong case that if religion did have an effect, it should show up in the graph. I now believe that progress is being had at a similar rate worldwide; and Christianity isn't holding us back more than anything else.
For mathies only: The lines aren’t exactly parallel, but they become more so if you consider exactly how the HDI is formulated, it’s a combination of logarithmic and linear functions, so it shouldn’t and equal rate of change won’t be linear. You should also expect the highest nations to be plateau a bit. Therefore, I fail to reject the null hypothesis (sorry about that for you non-math nerds).
For non-mathies: clicky...Hat-tip Drew

I still don’t feel anything outside the tangible and quantifiable should be used in legislation for people of disagreeing beliefs. To me this seems like the only fair thing to do. Our government really is organized for secularism... but it seems pretty obvious politicians need to play the "we're on God's side" card to get votes. So why can’t we progress faster? Is it the people? Wouldn’t be the first time.

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