Gospel & Culture blog
By Kenneth Nehrbass
Some popular authors (Dawkins, Hitchens) have argued that religious fervor is responsible for intolerance and fighting: if people would stop being so religious, societies would be more tolerant and peaceful. These advocates believe that the key to getting along is for religion to just go away. They imagine that highly religious societies cannot have religious freedom; freedom of thought must be correlated with the absence of religion.
But is there really a correlation between religious enthusiasm and religious pluralism? True, some countries like Indonesia notoriously have very high religious fervor (99% of adults in Indonesia- the world's largest Islamic country- said religion was extremely important) and Indonesia has very little religious freedom - Pew rated the government involvement in religion (GRI) index for Indonesia at 8.4 out of 10. On the other hand, Estonia is one of the world's most secular nations: only 17% said religion was important; yet the country rates only 1.2 out of 10 on governmental involvement in religion. Cases like these suggest that the more religious a country is, the less religious freedom there will be; the key to religious freedom must be to be secular like Estonia.
The problem with this thinking is that there are many counter-examples. Russia is fairly secular (35% said religion was important) but the government squelches religious freedom (7.4 out of 10); and this is about the same with Israel. And on the other end of the spectrum, Brazil and Malawi are some of the most highly religious nations, yet enjoy some the highest rates of religious freedom.
I correlated the GRI with levels of religious enthusiasm for 101 countries to test the null hypothesis that "there is no relationship between religious interest and religious freedom." The correlation coefficient r=0.10, which is a very weak correlation: There is only a very weak correlation between religious enthusiasm and degree of religious pluralism. The chart below shows the results:
It seems plenty of countries can be highly religious yet enjoy a high degree of religious freedom- like those in the lower right quadrant of the figure above, including the USA. It is possible for a country to be highly religious and yet highly tolerant.
Of course, the TYPE of religion significantly affects the openness. Are Christian countries much more likely to enjoy religious freedom, whereas highly Islamic countries do not? If that's the case, then the pathway to religious pluralism isn't for religion to take the back burner, but for us to take a serious look at which religions are good for society. I compared religious freedom in ten nations where the Christianity is the majority religion (Italy, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Portugal, Ireland, Kenya, Philippines, Argentina, Zimbabwe) against the religious freedom of ten of the world's most populous Islamic nations (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan): The average religious freedom in Christian countries is 2.49 (SD=.97) and in Islamic countries is 6.55 (SD=1.44). The t-value is -7.74. The p-value is < .00001, which is considered highly significant. That means that the chances are one in a million that the higher levels of religious freedom enjoyed by Christians, compared to Muslims, are purely coincidental. It's not a coincidence: Christianity seems to encourage religious freedom, whereas Islam doesn't.
What about secular nations? Are they more likely to encourage religious freedom than Christian ones? I compared the same 10 Christian nations above against the ten countries that self-reported as least religious (Estonia, Sweden, Hong Kong, Japan, UK, France, Viet Nam, Belarus, Russia and Albania). Remember the average religious freedom in the Christian nations is 2.49. in secular nations it is 3.69 on the scale of 1 to 10 (SD=2.25). The t-value is 1.62. The p-value is .06. Secular nations do have slightly higher rates of intolerance than majority Christian nations, but at .06 (a one in 20 likelihood that the differences between governmental influence in these countries were left up to chance), this is considered insignificant: there is no reason to think that secular societies are more likely to promote religious freedom than Christian ones.
If you needed to know how I calculated the t-value in the above stats.
T-value Calculation for Christian and Islamic nations
s2p = ((df1/(df1 + df2)) * s21) + ((df2/(df2 + df2)) * s22) = ((10/20) * 0.94) + ((10/20) * 2.08) = 1.51
s2M1 = s2p/N1 = 1.51/11 = 0.14
s2M2 = s2p/N2 = 1.51/11 = 0.14
t = (M1 - M2)/√(s2M1 + s2M2) = -4.06/√0.28 = -7.74
T-value Calculation for Christian and Secular nations
s2p = ((df1/(df1 + df2)) * s21) + ((df2/(df2 + df2)) * s22) = ((10/19) * 0.94) + ((9/19) * 5.05) = 2.89
s2M1 = s2p/N1 = 2.89/11 = 0.26
s2M2 = s2p/N2 = 2.89/10 = 0.29
t = (M1 - M2)/√(s2M1 + s2M2) = -1.2/√0.55 = -1.62
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor