Religion, Freedom, and Democracy
What religion a country's population believes in has a huge influence on freedom and democracy in that country. Of the 48 countries that received the highest rating for freedom and democracy by Freedom House in 2011 all 48 were traditionally Christian. Income is another major factor, and when high income and Christianity are combined most countries receive the highest possible rating for freedom and democracy from Freedom house year after year. This is true of even radically Christian nations like Malta, Ireland, Poland, and the United States. Nevertheless it is commonly asserted that all religions are the same, or that Christianity is some how the enemy of democracy and freedom, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
High Income NationsIn 2011 the World Bank's threshold for high income, or developed nation was 12,475 US dollars per person as calculated by the World Bank's Atlas Method. This is about one quarter of the per person income of the United States. I have estimated that America reached this level in 1941, just before entering World War 2. Russia, Poland, and Chile are examples of countries that recently reached developed status.
All of the traditionally Christian high income nations with more than a million population were rated free by Freedom House in 2011, and 28, all but 4, received the highest possible rating, which is a 1. Three received a 1.5, the second highest rating. One, the oil rich country, Trinidad and Tobago, got a 2. To be counted as free a nation must get a 2.5. More recently a fifth traditionally Christian nation, Hungary has dropped from 1 to 1.5, but it was also dropped by the World Bank from high income, to upper middle income in 2012. Russia however was elevated to high income in 2012 and it is rated as not free, 5.5, by Freedom House. So now there is one traditionally Christian nation that is high income and is not rated as free, or even partially free. Of course Russia is an oil rich nation, and oil rich nations are frequently not free. In fact the two high income Christian nations with the lowest rankings are oil rich. I am using the term traditionally Christian, instead of simply Christian, because large portions of some of these nations are secular, agnostic, or atheist.
None of the five high income Muslim nations with more than a million population were rated free, one Kuwait was rated partially free and four were rated not free. Four of the five high income Muslim nations with more than a million population are oil rich. The exception is Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf. I did not realize that Bahrain was not exactly oil rich because a very large portion of Bahrain's exports are oil. But most of the oil they export is imported and refined or processed in Bahrain. Bahrain does have oil wells, but most of its export wealth is not simply from pumping oil out of the ground. Bahrain is not free, and may never have been free, but perhaps it was partially free. So four of the five high income Muslim nations are oil rich and high income oil rich nations are often less free than other high income nations. So it would be unfair to blame the lack of freedom completely on Islam.
All but one of the high income countries with more than a million population that were neither traditionally Christian or Muslim were free in 2011. Though none achieved the highest ranking, a 1, most were rated 1.5, the second highest rating. Singapore was the one exception, it was rated 4.5, which is partially free. A larger portion of Singapore's population is Muslim than any other high income non-Muslim population.
Up until this point I have been looking at just the high income countries, now I will broaden my examination to other income groups.
HinduismNone of the three dominantly Hindu nations with more than a million population are high income countries, and none receive the highest ranking, but two Mauritius and India are free, and Nepal is partially free. An impressive record for countries that are so poor. The record of Hinduism of maintaining freedom and democracy at low levels of income is arguably better than the Christian record.
IslamOnly two of the predominately Muslim countries with more than a million population were rated free by Freedom House in 2011. Indonesia and the West African nation of Mali both were rated 2.5, the lowest rating for a free nation by Freedom House. The rest of the dominantly Muslim nations with populations greater than a million are split between partially free and not free.
Of particular interest are the Muslim nations that are upper middle income, but not oil rich: Turkey, Lebanon, Malaysia, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Macedonia. These nations are perhaps the closest Muslim equivalent to the high income developed nations. None are free, but all are partially free.
This is a good sign for peace. Partially free nations have historically maintained peaceful relations with free nations. Those who believe strongly in freedom may find partial freedom unsatisfying, but it could be argued that world of free and partially free nations would be a world at peace. This is very important in a world with nuclear weapons. As the developing nations are generally growing it is likely that some of these Muslim nations will soon be developed, high income nations. Before this century is over it is likely that all or almost all nations will be developed. So partially free Muslim nations and a peaceful world can coexist.
While Islam clearly does not foster the highest levels of freedom and democracy, it should be pointed out that the worst abuses against freedom happen in nations that are not Muslim. The Muslims at their worst do not even approach North Korea, China under Mao, the Soviet Union under Stalin, Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Germany under Hitler.
Islam protected the Muslims from many of the most deadly and stupid ideas of the 20th century. Dominantly Muslim nations mostly avoided Communism. It was a traditionally Christian nation, Germany, that decided that they should eliminate everyone whose blood was not German enough from the gene pool. Communism and the eugenics of the Nazis were both modern western movements.
More recently the Muslims have avoided AIDS to a remarkable degree. The difference between Muslim and non-Muslim countries neighboring one another can be as great as a hundred to one. It is likely that the Muslim countries also have far lower levels of other venereal diseases. One study done in Saudi Arabia confirmed this. Through Islam the Muslims have avoided many of the poisonous fruits of the sexual revolution.
It could be reasonably argued that Islam and Hinduism are in some ways stronger religions and have because of this avoided the mistakes of Western culture, while Buddhism and Christianity are weaker, perhaps more tolerant religions which have failed to prevent these mistakes. I realize that there are many aspects to all these religions. In some ways one is stronger, in other ways the other is. My point is that some of what we in the West have chosen to tolerate has blown up in our faces, and we can forget that the Muslims and Hindus have avoided those nasty explosions.
SecularismMuch of the population of Western Europe is secularist, atheist, agnostic, indifferent to religion, and in some cases hostile. This does not prevent these countries from getting the highest possible rating from Freedom House. The Japanese are also very secular but they like South Korea, and Taiwan received the second highest rating, a 1.5. The secularists appear to have little influence on freedom in high income democracies.
Many people feel that "political correctness" is compromising freedom, but so far "political correctness" has not become severe enough for Freedom House to give nations less than the highest rating. Of course it could be argued that this is simply the unreasonable bias of Freedom House.
As mentioned above many communist dictatorships, which were atheist, took intolerance to absolutely incredible levels. The Taliban at their worst are libertarians compared to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge has a policy of killing anyone who wore glasses or played a musical instrument. These things happened in atheist dictatorships, which by definition do not foster freedom and democracy, not because they are atheists, but because they are dictatorships. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Muslim dictatorships never descend to this level of intolerance.
ConclusionThe relationship between freedom and democracy on the one hand and religion on the other are frequently discussed in an abstract or impressionistic way. I have actually looked at some numbers.
Sure a more careful job could be done. The Economist magazine also puts out numbers on democracy and/or freedom. One could look at those too. But this provides at least an initial look at the relationship between religions and democracy, and it is obviously a powerful one.
Freedom House was founded in 1941 more than 70 years ago, and has been rating countries for democracy and freedom since 1972, more than 40 years ago. Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendel Willkie served as its first honorary chair persons. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on Freedom House.
I have posted a short version of this essay for discussion on Reddit. It is based on recent figures, while this essay has figures from almost a decade ago. If there are comments you can read those as well as the updated version.
If you wish to do your own research on freedom and religion here is a link to the 2011 combined average ratings put out by Freedom House.. You may note that the date is not given anywhere on the table. You would think they could put a date on their table, is that too hard? The end of the URL says 2011, so I have assumed it is for 2011.
Freedom House has many other tables. You might want to use those in your research, and link to them, particularly is you are participating in Internet debates, for example on Reddit. Naturally, I would love to have you link to this page if it was useful.
I have many other pages on religious statistics, you can find these through the index page.
If you are intested in religion and politics from a Catholic point of view here is the index page.
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