Maryland congressman’s remarks are baseless, FFRF asserts

Andy Harris

A Maryland member of Congress’ recent comments linking violence with lack of religion are specious, the Freedom From Religion Foundation points out

In remarks Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, delivered on March 18 at a town hall, he “suggested that ‘increased violence’ could be caused in part by video games” and also blamed the upsurge on “an overall decrease in ‘religiosity,’” according to media reports. “You literally double the risk of committing suicide if you don’t have religious belief,” Harris stated, adding, for good measure, that the United States was “founded on religious principles.”

Harris is wrong on several counts, FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel emphasizes.

“First, a decrease in religiosity does not cause violence,” Seidel writes to Harris. “In fact, less religious states and less religious countries tend to be less violent and generally better overall.”

Scholarship backs this up.

“Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread,” states a 2009 study. “Within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.”

In fact, when any given factor of societal health or well-being is measured it is invariably the less religious countries that score better, the study discovered. And those states that are the most religious also have a high occurrence of societal ills, such as poverty, obesity, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, murder and violent crime, it found.

Second, if Harris truly believes that media celebration of violence is problematic, he should first take a look at the bible. Professor Steven Pinker, Harvard neuroscientist and FFRF’s honorary president, summed it up nicely in his book, The Better Angels of our Nature: “The bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery.” Matthew White, a self-described atrocitologist who keeps a database with the estimated death tolls of history’s major wars, massacres and genocides, counts about 1.2 million deaths from mass killing that are specifically enumerated in the bible. The victims of Noah’s flood would add another 20 million or so to the total.

Finally, the United States was not “founded on religious principles,” contrary to Harris’ assertions. Our country and our Constitution are based on reason and secular, Enlightenment values, not on Judeo-Christian principles. The central claim of Christian nationalism (the one Harris repeated) — that the United States is founded on Judeo-Christian tenets — is fundamentally wrong. More often than not, such precepts conflict with America’s founding principles in irreconcilable ways. Seidel has written an entire book debunking the idea that our nation is based on religious principles, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, and would be happy to send Harris a copy when it comes out in May.

“It’s dismaying to see our elected representatives mouthing the same harmful untruths that have resulted in so much misinformation over time,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “Theocratic politicians such as Harris fail to grasp the essential truth: Our nation’s foundation is truly secular.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization with 31,000 members throughout the country, including hundreds in Maryland. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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