Friday, November 7, 2008

Are atheists unhappy?

I ran across an interesting article by Yale professor of psychology, Paul Bloom, today in Slate. The title is "Does Religion Make You Nice?" Given the current political climate, I was immediately drawn to it.

Bloom begins the article by providing us with the link to a 2007 Gallup Poll, which shows a majority (53%) of Americans would not vote for an otherwise qualified Atheist presidential candidate.

95% of Americans would vote for a Catholic person
94% would vote for a Black person
92% for a Jewish person
88% for a woman
87% for a Hispanic person.
72% for a Mormon
67% married for the third time
57% 72 years of age
55% for a homosexual
45% for an atheist

Good to know where we all stand.

To me, the Presidential candidates our country would vote for are a litmus test of tolerance towards anything other than white, male, and Protestant. If people will automatically discount an otherwise qualified candidate solely on one of the above bases, that is the textbook defintion of intolerance and prejudice.

You can go read the poll for yourself, but it's no surprise that conservatives are far less tolerant of most "non-traditional" groups than liberals and even most moderates.

[On a side note, this is a big, fat told-you-so to those who insist that about half of our country's people are not homophobic despite voting against gay rights consistently]

But I digress. In a nutshell, Bloom tells us of a review published by Science last month, in which "psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff discuss several experiments that lean pro-[Laura] Schlessinger." In other words, if you believe a God or other deity is watching over you, you are less likely to cheat, and more likely to donate money.

More surprisingly even, people are less likely to cheat or misbehave in a room where the posters have eyes on them. Maybe then, if religious people are indeed nicer, it's because they believe someone is watching them at all times.

However, before we start having to defend our atheist and agnostic selves against the religious people in America, Bloom writes about the Danes and the Swedes, who are "probably the most godless people on earth."

He goes on:

"They don't go to church or pray in the privacy of their own homes; they don't believe in God or heaven or hell. But, by any reasonable standard, they're nice to one another. They have a famously expansive welfare and health care service. They have a strong commitment to social equality. And—even without belief in a God looming over them—they murder and rape one another significantly less frequently than Americans do.

Denmark and Sweden aren't exceptions. A 2005 study by Gregory Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy. "

Bad news for the religious Right in the U.S. When they treat sex, drugs, and rock&roll like Eve's forbidden fruit, they of all people should know the consequences.

Bloom goes on to say that perhaps the reason religious people do so well in the U.S., is not so much their "religion" but the sense of community they get from it. Here, atheists are ostracized from many communities.

Bloom states, "Humans are social beings, and we are happier, and better, when connected to others."

Since America is so obviously still a Christian nation in many respects, perhaps it is true that atheists are not as happy. But this is not really the fault of atheism, or not having a god.

"[S]cattered individuals who are excluded from communities do not receive the benefits of community, nor do they feel willing to contribute to the communities that exclude them."

I don't mean to say, of course, that all atheists are unhappy and do not have a sense of community. Nor that they are bad people. I have been atheist or agnostic since I voluntarily stopped going to church in 5th grade, around the same time I told my parents that I had known for years that Santa Claus wasn't real.

Sure I was happier not going to church. I no longer had to pretend to believe in something that to me was entirely not real. It's not fun to live a lie.

However, it hurt to be ostracized and judged by my many neighbors who were avid church-goers and believers. What Bloom's article gets at then, is not that atheists' unhappiness in America is due to atheism; but that our country, no matter what our Constitution claims, is still too religious to tolerate anything that is not Judeo-Christian.

Or as Bloom says, "The sorry state of American atheists, then, may have nothing to do with their lack of religious belief. It may instead be the result of their outsider status within a highly religious country where many of their fellow citizens, including very vocal ones like Schlessinger, find them immoral and unpatriotic. Religion may not poison everything, but it deserves part of the blame for this one."


C. L. Hanson said...

Yep. We're right up there with homosexuals. It's not merely okay to consider us immoral scum, it's assumed.

Did you see the smear campaign mounted in North Carolina that a candidate received merely for meeting with atheists?

Jane Know said...

Thanks for stopping by! Good to see you again. :-)

Wow, that is incredible, but I should not be surprised. The smear campaign looks like the American Family Association's annual smear campaigns against companies whose holidays advertisements don't invoke enough "God" and Christianity themes. (like Lowe's)

Like the issue of "The Gay Agenda," the religious right sure knows how to incite its sheeple using "evil atheist" themes.

Anonymous said...

so...if you are a female, hispanic, homosexual athiest, what are the odds?

i am guessing, not a shot in hell.

makes me wonder, when 'they' say, "you can be whatever you want when you grow up," or "everyone can live out the american dream if you work hard," who exactly are 'they' talking to?

apparently, you can "pull yourself up from your bootstraps," unless you are wearing doc martins (or tims, in my case)

Jane Know said...

Antigone32, while I do like you in your tims, I agree with what you are saying. ;-)

It is simply not true that some people can grow up to "be whatever they want," even if otherwise qualified.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but you have to bear in mind that not only are the suicide rates in Denmark and Sweden remarkably high compared to most of Europe, they inherit a Judeo-Christian ethic. Atheism is a relatively modern concept. The world had been in conflict for nearly 2 millenia between the Judeo-Christian morals and those of pagans. Eventually, the Judeo-Christian influence spread so that even today, atheists may agree on moral questions though with Christians for example though without any basis for doing so. I wonder where the world would be if the Vandals, Goths, or even the pagan Romans had maintained their hold on the world.