My last post was deliberately provocative, and a bit misleading.
The study shows that higher rates of Christian religiosity don't correlate with better societal health. This should probably put to rest the old assumption that if people were more religious, then society would be better off. The United States is the most Christian, most religious developed nation, and its levels of murder, suicide and STD's are much higher than in other developed nations. In other words, making America more Christian isn't necessarily going to make us better off. Not that I don't expect Christians to want more conversions, even if it does nothing to improve society.
These charts don't imply that all religion is the direct cause of social ills. Indeed, I think it's possible that some very liberal forms of Christianity may even have a net benefit.
So what are the primary causes of these problems? The first is that America has one of the highest poverty levels of any developed nation. This poverty (and there being more guns than people) probably contributes to the very high murder rate.
The U.S. also ranks something like 20th in public education. There's no national health system, and no proper support for the mentally ill.
So why is high religiosity (in this case, Christianity) correlated with these problems? My short answer is that poverty and low education standards breeds what I would call "pulp religion."
Before I describe pulp religion, let me describe "thoughtful religion." There are dedicated theologians who study at the world's great universities. Though they're not paid much, they care deeply about the truth. They trust logic and see the weaknesses of common religious arguments. They are rarely ever dogmatists of fundamentalists. Laypersons who subscribe to liberal faiths also think the same way. They know that it's absurd to believe that the Bible is literally true, but they have faith in a higher being anyway. They are essentially secular in behavior, and they use God to motivate their own good behavior.
In contrast, pulp religion is fundamentalist, dogmatic, authoritarian and commercial. Let's take these one by one.
Fundamentalist. The Bible cannot be literally true. Even if we agreed on what God wanted, the Bible still wouldn't be literally true. It is riddled inconsistencies and impossibilities, and it contradicts scientific fact.
Dogmatic. The pulp church teaches people to outsource their morality. It claims to have moral authority and to be able to set rules for behavior. Instead of sex education, they prefer useless moralizing. When the bad behavior inevitably occurs, they excuse the bad behavior by allowing its believers to assign blame to evil spirit(s).
Authoritarian. Pulp churches want to legislate their agenda. They are most distressed that they can only tell you what to do.
Commercial. Simple rule here. If your church is rich, it's a fake. It's a business like any other. Oh, except that it gets an unconstitutional tax break.
In short, America is big on pulp religion, and pulp religion is bad for society. Generally, the more educated and affluent people are, the harder it is for pulp religion to make a profit.
What America needs is national health care, a progressive tax system (where the wealthy are taxed more than the middle-class, today the wealthy pay a lower rate), and a solid investment in public education. It most certainly doesn't need public religion.