NPR had a badly-titled but well-reasoned piece which came across all my social media feeds earlier this week, originally entitled “Should We Distrust Atheists?”.
A: Nope. (Oh, and get a better headline.) http://t.co/QpRndzOmrk
— Secular Coalition–OR (@SecularOregon) August 10, 2015
Asked and answered. It got me to thinking, though. Why don’t we ever ask whether theists can be trusted with political power? After all, these are people who generally claim as a paragon of faith someone who was willing to kill his own son because of the voice he was hearing in his head. If theistic morals are flexible on something as serious as murder, it is hard to imagine what they wouldn’t be willing to do.
Since the polling in the NPR piece was about theistically-biased voting habits, it got me to thinking about the relationship between a devout electorate and the existence of political corruption. If it is true, as generally supposed, that more emphasis on theism leads to less political immorality, in democratic nations, then we should expect to see that relationship reflected in the national-level data.
Then again, maybe not. It appears that there is a moderately strong relationship between irreligiosity and corruption, but not in the direction that would suggest theism as a cultural prophylaxis against political corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries “on a scale from 100 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt)” whereas the Gallup Poll on irreligion measures whether one’s religion (if any) is important in daily life.
Interestingly, the only OECD nation in the top half on the corruption index with under 50% irreligion is the United States, which I’ve colored in red. (Hurrah for American exceptionalism, I suppose.)
As to the implied question of causality, I suspect that the causal arrow runs from lack of corruption through economic prosperity and stability, to eventually undermining the sort of existential uncertainty which promotes faith-based thinking.