Corruption and Non-secularism

Transparency International (The Global Coalition Against Corruption) recently released the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).  This year’s  CPI scores 180 countries on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to ten (highly clean).

Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand share the 1st place with a CPI of 9.3 while at the bottom are Iraq (1.3), Myanmar (1.3) and Somalia (1.0). The Philippines has a CPI of 2.3 ranking at #141, in the league of Iran, Yemen and Cameroon.

I tried to find what’s the common denominator between the most clean countries and the most corrupt ones but it is not that easy. One can always find “exception to the rule” which can falsify any claim.

Anyway, my gut feeling was it had something to do with the level of secularism in the country. My working hypothesis was that the population of secular or non-religious countries are the “thinking” type, who have more critical minds and are therefore less likely to be fooled/duped by corrupt leaders. They are therefore more aware and not easily coyed by sweet talks. They are also the ones who will not tolerate corrupt practices since doing so will be an insult to their common sense and intelligence. On the other hand, highly religious societies tend to NOT have many critical individuals since the populace in general has been brought up to accept the status quo and not challenge whatever the powers-that-be tell them. In short, they are easily brainwashed.

The percentage of atheists/agnostics/non-believers in god in most of Europe is high. In the Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, it ranges from 40-80% of the population. These countries almost always rank up high in many surveys pertaining to living standards, which include general life quality, security, etc. On the other extreme are countries and its leaders, claiming holier-than-thou stances, whose populace in fact suffer the most injustices you can ever imagine. Take the example of The Philippines which announces with pride to be the only catholic country in Asia, who is supposed to follow the teaching of Jaysus, and yet in the league of the most corrupt! Talk about irony here.

Something is definitely amiss about religious teachings and how it is actually practiced by its followers. Morality is often confused with having religion or not. Alas, the most moral countries are the more secular ones.

Let me end this piece with a quote from Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Physics laureate,

Religion is an insult
to human dignity.

With or without it
you would have
good people doing
good things and
evil people doing
evil things.

for good people
to do evil things,
that takes religion.

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9 Responses to Corruption and Non-secularism

  1. Smek this! says:

    Can’t argue with that. One issue that I have thought about is the living conditions. The warmer the climate and fruitful the land, the less to do with your hands to survive, the more reasons to defend the land and the more time to fight in general. In colder lands people are busy working to get a living. You see, Greenland is clean, no time for corrupting others 🙂

    • MOGLI says:

      True, climate has long been recognized as an important factor not only in the development of societies but also in the well-being of its people. A research conducted on 55 countries found that compared to temperate regions, those with colder and hotter climates has more demanding requirement for physiological needs such as thermal and nutritional comfort and healthiness, and affluence may help in meeting those demands. Thus the study concluded that “in colder and hotter climates richer societies are happier whereas poorer societies are unhappier.” See Van de Vliert et. al. Journal of Environmental Psychology
      Volume 24, Issue 1, March 2004, Pages 17-30.

  2. The thinker type says:

    I like your theory… But I don’t agree with the quote. I think the quote is kind of semi-religious and pretty damn stupid (no offense), to be honest. I don’t believe that people are either “good people” or “bad people”. People are just people with different personalities who react differently on the world and other people depending on their experiences and what they’ve been taught etc. Dividing the world and people into good and bad is something that is commonly done in religion. If you do something that is declared a “sin” you’re bad and you go to hell and if you don’t commit any sins you’re good and you go to heaven. I think the world and people is a bit more complicated and nuanced than that. I don’t believe Adolf Hitler, for example, was a bad man. He probably had a lot of bad experiences in his life. I’ve heard that his parents hit him and didn’t treat him well when he was a kid (I don’t know how true this is but for the sake of the point I’m trying to prove, let’s assume it is true) and he probably suffered from some sort of mental illness, phenomenon, weirdness or whatever. Had he been brought up a different way and had more good experiences and had the environment around him been different abd hadn’t he got a mental illness (again, I’m not sure if that was the case but remember, this is just an example) he would probably not have done all of that horrible stuff. Just to clarify, I’m not in any way trying to glorify murderous, malicious dictators here but I mean think about it, do people get born as “bad people” or “good people”? If you ask me I don’t think so. Let me rephrase what I said about Adolf Hitler: I don’t think Adolf Hitler was a bad man but I think his actions were very bad. What do you think?

    • MOGLI says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I concede. The quote is rather misplaced in this entry. In the original essay of Weinberg where the quote originated, he was pointing to the fact that during the slave trades of the late 18th century in north america, religion was actually used by “upright” people to justify slavery. The white masters took entries from scriptures justifying slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Don’t forget as well the role christianity played in the colonial conquests of the 16th century spain/portugal. Noblemen and commoners alike heeded the callings of the church/state to conquer far away lands, in the name of the cross. The conquistadores in latin america butchered the babies of indian people claiming that they were actually delivering them straight to the gates of heavens. Same with the Knights templars and the crusaders. The modern versions of these are of course the talebans and muslim extremists who will do evil deeds in the name of their religion. That is the essence of that quote. It does not try to strictly categorize people into either “good” or “bad”.

      Now regarding Hitler, I beg to disagree with your opinion but the man is evil to the bones. What makes a man are his actions. Evil actions make evil man. That his childhood experiences were the root cause of his actions in later life reminds me of Freudian theories in psychoanalysis. This is a very controversial branch which has its proponents and critics. Read its wiki entry. Anyway, regardless of his childhood experiences, Hitler had been a real evil man. You cannot deny that fact. Would he commit the same atrocities had he had a normal childhood life? No one knows. But many terrible crimes had been committed by people without childhood problems.

      You are however raising an important point about human nature. It is a classic question of “nature” and “nurture”. Latest scientific studies have shown that depression could be inherited. If human emotions are passed on from generation to generation, are criminals then born? Perhaps so, but that must be a very complex genetic trait which would require the exact environmental pre-conditions for it to be manifested. Hitler must have been a very unlucky man indeed!

  3. The thinker type says:

    Thanks for your (almost as ;)) equally thoughtful answer. let me just clarify that I agree about the role that religion has played in many conflicts, wars etc. and in that way the quote is good, but in the way of dividing people into bad and good it’s bad. I am a big opposer to religion and one of the reasons is the way it can be used by “evil” people to do bad things to other people. But let me add another example to your modern versions of religion playing an important role in conflicts: The Americans and other westerners that divide the world into good (themselves) and bad (the muslim countriess) according to their values and morals and uses that image of the world to start wars against muslim countries and thereby kills a LOT of innocent people. They’re just as bad as the muslim terrorists.About Hitler I have to disagree with you. Just because you’ve done “bad actions” doesn’t mean you’re a bad man and just because different traits are passed on from generations to generations doesn’t mean that the people of these generations are bad people just because they were born with these bad traits. it doesn’t matter if you’re born with bad traits or “acquire” them through your experiences in your life, you’re still not “bad” or “evil”. All people have “bad” traits and “good” traits, or at least traits are seen as “good” or “bad” by different people. Which traits are more prevalent or larger in number doesn’t matter. Nobody is either “good” or “bad”, not even Hitler. That’s what I’m trying to say. I don’t like Hitler, of course, but I wouldn’t call him evil.The idea of bad and good or evil and good is as insulting to human dignity as the idea of religion. It just doesn’t exist in reality. Without the idea of good and evil you would have people doing good and evil things but with the idea you get the real “evil” things like war and dictatorship. That was my quote from myself, maybe not as well formulated as the one you wrote but come on, I wrote it in five minutes…

  4. The Real Thinker says:

    To “the thinker type” (well, I’m not sure if you really are thinking!) You said, “Just because you’ve done “bad actions” doesn’t mean you’re a bad man.” Of course you are! If you don’t distinguish between good and bad men, then we should stop jailing people who have done crimes. They are not bad right? It is only their actions..duh?!! And if you really, really think that being responsible for the murder of six million people doesn’t make you an evil man, then you got to see a shrink! hahaha!

  5. The thinker type says:

    The real thinker, you’ve put a lot of thought into that comment, haven’t you… Go home an think a little bit more and maybe you will firstly, understand what I meant with my comment, as a whole and not just that little fragment that you chose to quote, and secondly, come up with a tiny little inky winky bit smarter answer than the one you wrote now. Well, here’s to hope, anyway…

  6. The thinker type says:

    To sum up what I wanted to get through in my comment: The idea of “good and evil” is just bullshit that people use to get power of and control people. Look at today’s world for example, A lot of the Muslims think all the Americans are evil and that themselves are good and a lot of the Americans think all the Muslims are evil and that themselves are good. So, who’s right? Who’s evil and who’s good? Nobody is the answer, to both, or if you will all three, of the questions. Nobody’s right because nobody is evil and nobody is good. People and administrations from BOTH areas have done some really bad stuff, so why would Americans be good and Muslims evil, or the other way around? The polarized and narrow minded way of seeing the world would be to see the other side of this conflict as good and the other as evil, but if you’re a bit smarter and give it a bit more thought I’ll think you’ll come to the conclusion that the world is hell of a lot more complex than that.

  7. Chosen by God says:

    “Real thinker”, I think that what the thinker type was saying was not that he liked Hitler or that he thinks he is indeed a “good” person. I don’t think he meant that Hitler’s the kind of guy he’d just love to hang out with. Neither do I think he was saying that nobody is responsible for his actions and that criminals shouldn’t be put in jail, if that’s the common punishment for the crime committed by the person in question, of course. I think what he was saying was that regardless of your actions or your opinions or whatever is on your mind nobody is simply good or bad. Nobody. Not even a man who is responsible for taking the lives of millions of innocent Jews and gypsies, homosexuals and other target groups, mind you. What he was trying to say was that he doesn’t believe in good and evil. He doesn’t think that any of them exists, and neither do I. Well, I mean they exist in Spiderman, or another fictional work called “The Bible”, but not in real life. Is a man who’s killed people a bad person? To answer that question we need to step into his mind,, since I don’t believe in any soul( another idea from the bible which is still a very popular one in American movies, as well). Hmm… What is it with the yanks and stupid fictional stories? Sorry, I digress. If we step into his mind what do we see? Well, I can only guess, of course, but let’s say we see a lot of bad memories, of his violence-filled upbringings, for example, and maybe a mental disease. Now, I’m not a psychologist, meaning I don’t have a degree in psychology and I don’t get paid ridiculously large sums of money for doing nothing, but could one not draw the conclusion that his killing (or HERS killing, hey I’m not gender discriminating, I’m all for women being murderers, as well) of people might have something to do with his bad experiences and his mental illness? Rather than him belonging to a certain group of people, who are “evil”? Is he evil? Well, you know my answer. But I’m gonna say it anyway, just for fun: NO. His personality, which determines his actions, is simply a result of the brain he was born with, his experiences and the opinions and the ideas the brain formed them into and, in this (entirely fictional) case, a mental illness. So, no he’s not evil. He’s simply a mentally ill guy with bad experiences. This doesn’t defend or justify his actions or his mind, well except for maybe the mental illness, but it explains them. In a rational way. Saying that he’s “evil”, however, is as rational as claiming that the Jews are God’s chosen people (chosen to do what, I wonder) or that you need “one more beer” when you already have had 20 and after drinking it attempting to drive home.

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