The world and society are increasingly performance based. People are judged and rated in the jobs, relationships and in just about everything else they do. Companies, governments, militaries, media and the like often are too. What field that has escaped this trend is religion.
The Abrahamic religions say they are the guiding light for humanity, perfect, divine, indisputable truth, and the world would be a much better place if everyone followed them. If this is so, the evidence should be overwhelming. There should be no denying the good they do for humanity.
However, studies have shown the opposite. For example, rates of homicide are actually lower in societies in that are less religious. Societies such as those in Western Europe and Japan, where surveys show the lowest rates of religious belief, have some of the best scores when it comes to crime rates and other signs of societal health. On the other hand, the most religious ones show some of the highest rates of dysfunction.
For those who attribute this to differences between nations, the same trends show up within nations. The best example of this is the US. The red states, the most religious and conservative, have higher rates of such problems as crime and teenage pregnancy than the more secular blue ones.
One look at how religion effects society can be seen here.
The inverse relationship between more religiosity and better societies can be seen historically too. Very devout followers of Christianity and Islam had no problem with slavery, mass murder and all kinds of horrible crimes against each other and conquered peoples. It is only with the advancement of science and humanism that has made institutions like slavery wrong, and Europe a place where human rights are much more respected.
In modern times, the Islamic world is a glaring example of how religion appears to make worse societies rather than better ones. It is the arguably the most religiously motivated place in the world. However, far from being a center of world progress, it has become synonymous with backwardness and violence. Furthermore, the significant Muslim majority nations that seem to be the best off, Malaysia and Turkey, are the more secular and not the most religious of the Islamic world.
Not following properly
When faced with these facts, religious people will often try to blame the problems of their societies on people not following their religions properly. However, there are major flaws in this argument.
If following their religions truly created better societies, most people would naturally gravitate toward following those religions as closely as possible. Since these religions have been around for many centuries, that should have been more than enough time for people to start to follow them properly. Besides, if both the people and the religion were created by the same god, then the religion and the people should fit together like two peas in a pod. Properly following that religion should not be a problem.
Furthermore, even if they were not following the religion perfectly, they still should be much closer to the divine guidance of a being with the power to create the universe. At least trying to follow a perfect ideology should make those doing so a lot closer to perfection than those who are not.
Addressing social problems with more religion only seems to make them worse and is like an alcoholic turning to more booze to solve his problems.
Of course, this does not mean that secular societies are always good as Stalin’s Soviet Union and places like North Korea prove (the blind obedience and devotion to the leader of such societies closely imitates the Abrahamic religions though). What it does say is that turning to religion is not the answer to solve social ills. Science, technology and modern human values have done far more to create more humane societies than religion ever has. For all the respect and praise religion gets, it is not giving very good results.
There is an extensive study on this topic at Ejournal.