Recently, the subject of religion has been of importance to me for many reasons. In talking with an individual about what is required of oneself in order to be "saved" has raised concerned for the lost, none of which will be discussed but is simply brought up as reasoning to this inquiry.
Today's society is brought together by technology and scientific enlightenment; it is therefore imperative to recognize how religion and its practices may have on the welfare of society. There is undoubtly a large number of religions, both (ill)-legitimate across the world, let alone the United States. Take for example in my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, on the street where my dad's church is located [Brawner Parkway], there are at least 7 different denominations in a 1-mile stretch and there is literally a church right next to his, kind of like a "buffet of religions." In a time where political ideologies and differing doctrines inter-mingle as a result of the increased mobility it is important to recognize or at least bring to light the issue that plays an important role in the world population.
Historically, society was governed and controlled through empires and religion used as a mechanism to manage its territories. Religion taught individuals to be law-biding citizens and follow their kings, as well as up to recently, keeping American slaves under tight reigns by teaching them to obey their masters. Black slaves were taught strict principles of Moses and the slaves of Egypt and were hopeful that one day their liberations will come too. Laws were in conjunction with religious teachings dating back to the Roman rule and the Spanish Inquisition.
Through economic indicators, one can see that the world's two largest religions, Christianity and Muslims, have counter-productive forces that influence their well-being. Countries of Christian majority enjoy a higher level of development and income as oppose to Muslim countries that are usually in a state of poverty and turmoil. Obviously, conditions vary across the world in terms of geographic and natural resources, which contribute to these circumstances. However, one can question if these countries have reached their full potential in economic terms, ignoring their preset circumstances.
Externally, forces such as agricultural trade plays the biggest role as does other trade agreements with neighboring countries. Internally, and my focal point, is whether these countries allow certain practices to exist thus stymieing growth; such as women being allowed to work, scientific research to continue, or more relevant, the cost or war as a result of differing viewpoints [i.e. Iraq]. For example, history teaches that governments of Christian doctrine prohibited astrologers to look to the sky and make such revelations that the earth wasn't flat and that there are things greater than the world they knew. They were essentially accused of blasphemy and some sentenced to death by the church. Today the issues of stem cell research echoes…are we better off? Muslim countries prohibit women to work, losing out on the labor force…would they be better off?
It is estimated that there are 4 billion people who live in low-income countries, of that 850 million live in areas that are governed by religion, and of that 10% of which prohibit women from working. That is essentially 85 billion man-years that women could have contributed to their country's GDP allowing for specialization in certain areas of an industry. In addition, it is estimated that the United States loses out on approximately $200 billion as a result of individuals who decide to observe religious holidays. If one can assess that the world's defense budget at 2% of its GDP, which 25% of that goes to defense against religious disputes (e.g. 9/11), then it would be estimated at $160 billion which falls on high income countries. The cost of this is often passed on to developing countries, which in turn affect industrialized countries and consumers. Yet moreover, this is also foregoing the opportunity costs of scientific research that is often slowed down as a result conservatives and policymakers influenced by their own religious upbringings. These are viewpoints that should otherwise be used to improve human conditions.
Source: International Monetary Fund