If I said to you that research suggests Greens voters recycle more than the average Australian, would you be surprised? What if I said that urban hipsters were more likely to catch public transport than other Australians? I doubt you’d bat an eyelid at either statement because they make sense. Generally speaking, people are likely to practice what they preach.
This was the underlying logic in an article I wrote for The Conversation last week. In response, I got a barrage of comments, some insightful but many along the lines of:
This article is one of the worst concatenations of obscurantism and logical drivel I’ve ever read on TC…
The author will not defend this facile article…
My crime? I had committed the sin of summarising research on the positive contribution religion makes to society. It was an effort on my part to inform readers of the research that I presumed most would have instinctively grasped—that religion can be good (as well as bad) for society and therefore we should listen and carefully consider calls for religious freedom to be protected.
Some of the evidence in favour of the benefits religion conveys includes a systematic survey of literature spanning decades of research that show an inverse correlation between religion and crime. In a review of three thousand studies religion is shown to be good for your health and mental wellbeing. Earlier this month a group of scholars launched a research report that found religious Australians attending services gave 1.5 times more to charities and 1.7 times more volunteering time.
The underlying logic in all of the research is that religious people, just like Greens voters and urban hipsters, to varying degrees practice what they preach.
Despite having provided links to credible authors whose works were published by the top presses the zeitgeist of this age is that religion is bad.
The over 400 responses in the comments section were mainly visceral reactions. People weren’t happy to have their prejudices challenged. It would have created an unhappy cognitive dissonance in their atheist minds.
Among the deluge there was one comment that stood out:
I demand that the author nominate what he holds are unreasonable religious beliefs. Would they, by any chance, be those held by those who were sent to their deaths by Ante Pavelić during WWII? This article is an utter disgrace.
Here lies the problem. Were we to play a word association game for religion with the cultural elites of Australia you can just hear them scream paedophilia, war and wealth. There certainly are plenty of wrongs to choose from. If religion were a piñata it would be hard to miss. But the author of the above comment suggested that because of my support for religion together with my surname I agree with the ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Orthodox Serbs during the Second World War by the Croatian Ustashe.
This should be a red flag for the coming years when identity politics meet this age’s zeitgeist, which is why it’s important to protect religious freedom.
If we continue to allow the so-called elites to trash religion, ignore research and make spurious associations then it’s inevitable that religious communities will turn inwards. One family at a time, they will choose to provide their charitable giving to poor people of their faith, they will volunteer among groups who embrace their God and their schools will be more restrictive in who they accept.
Good, I hear some of the fundamentalist atheists say.
But consider this. It’s not the religious communities who will suffer. The evidence I have listed above is clearly in their favour and the benefits stay with them. Instead, we will all be worse off because despite varying levels of beliefs, or no belief, as a society we all benefit from religion. Whether its lower crime, more blood donations or increased social capital, the way religion is practised in Australia makes it a social good that needs to be protected for the benefit of all of us.
Denis Dragovic is an honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne and a specialist on religion and war. His latest book is ‘No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis’ (Odyssey Books, 2018).
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