Paul Bloom has written a thought-provoking article over on Slate. In “Does Religion Make You Nice?“, he suggests that the American perception of atheism may be a contributing factor to the idea that atheists are immoral people.
Of particular interest to me was a study that was cited.
> In one of their own studies, they primed half the participants with a spirituality-themed word jumble (including the words divine and God) and gave the other half the same task with nonspiritual words. Then, they gave all the participants $10 each and told them that they could either keep it or share their cash reward with another (anonymous) subject. Ultimately, the spiritual-jumble group parted with more than twice as much money as the control.
While it is nice that the spiritual group participants parted with more of their money, I do not believe that the gesture is indicative of individual “niceness”. Also, it must be noted that the control group still parted with some amount of money, so perhaps there is a higher level of duty to give ingrained in those with religion.
However, giving does have its benefits.
> Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable. In a 2004 study, twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures.
So there is evidence to suggest that happiness could be tied to the level of charity practiced, but that does not further the stance that is taken of the immorality of atheists.
Bloom continues with counterpoints.
> In his new book, Society Without God, Phil Zuckerman looks at the Danes and the Swedes—probably the most godless people on Earth. 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.
Now this is some compelling data. Studies of different societies with varying levels of religious belief indicate that atheist societies tend to do better. I am not arguing that people should eschew their beliefs. That would be a ridiculous and pointless discussion. Rather, it is important to see that there is a high level of religious bias in the United States, a country that prides itself on freedom and multiculturalism.
I should note at this point that I am not an atheist, nor do I wish to discuss my beliefs in this post. I do, however, want to know what you think about this topic, because I think the discussion is a fascinating one. Bloom sums up his point at the end.
> 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.
Head on over and read the article and let me know what you think.