Why Obamacare Could Produce More Atheists

11

Americans don't like atheists much. It's something we get reminded of every December, as Fox News commentators decry a secularist "war on Christmas." But the distrust spans the seasons: Barely half of Americans say they would vote for an atheist for president; 48 percent, meanwhile, would disapprove of their child marrying one. Still, atheist America is growing: One-fifth of the public has now joined the rank of the so-called "nones," the religiously unaffiliated.

So how do you build an atheist? Or a whole country of them like the Czech Republic, where 78 percent of people describe themselves as either not religious or an outright "convinced" unbeliever?

In the last decade, a growing body of psychology research has begun to home in on an answer to that question. Not surprisingly, the psychology of religion and the psychology of atheism are closely intertwined; on the whole, these studies tend to show that for most people, religion comes pretty naturally. "It seems like religiosity, or religious beliefs, are encouraged by a number of basic intuitions that we have about the world that seem to be built into our brains," explains Ara Norenzayan, a pioneering researcher on the psychology of religion at the University of British Columbia, on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream at link below).

But there are large exceptions to that statement: Some half billion people worldwide, according to one estimate, reject God. Who are they? Here are three major factors, based on Norenzayan's research, that tend to produce a secular mindset:

Less "mentalizing." One of the most surprising scientific findings of the research on the causes of religiosity (or the lack thereof) involves a trait called "mentalizing." "This is the idea that we have a basic social cognitive capacity to infer and read the minds of other people," explains Norenzayan.

Written By: Chris Mooney
continue to source article at motherjones.com

11 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Jos Gibbons:

      Jerry Coyne got here ages ago: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/how-to-get-rid-of-religion/ (Which is ironic, since Coyne has critiqued a lot of Mooney’s other analyses of atheist issues.)

      JC’s conclusion is still entirely apposite-

      in the end religion will be with us until we create more just, more egalitarian, and more caring societies.

      To which I would only add “and less of that pernicious, fickle and manipulative con, charity, substituting for a properly constituted, caring society.”

      The USA is a fascinating throwback. It seems, in part, made religious out of despair and desperation and in part, electing to be religious and charitable as a public cover for unparalleled levels of selfishness. Oppressors and oppressed, the latter failing to recognise those causing their misery, dressed as they are in a common garb. Religion still working its main trick after two thousand years.

  1. In the USA, the comment is made that while 20% or so are “not religious”, only 2 point something % are actually atheist. The problem is the negative reaction if you were to come out as an atheist. In most other western societies, I suspect coming out as an atheist would be a ho-hum moment. In the US, the reaction would be much more negative. People would tend to stay in the closet….and then say they were ‘spiritual’. I think comparing nones 2 nones gives a better measure of the religiosity between countries.

    • In reply to #3 by rod-the-farmer:

      In the USA, the comment is made that while 20% or so are “not religious”, only 2 point something % are actually atheist. The problem is the negative reaction if you were to come out as an atheist. In most other western societies, I suspect coming out as an atheist would be a ho-hum moment. In the…

      Exactly, we can’t claim that the “nones” are atheists. They just don’t identify with a particular religion. Sure, it’s a good sign, but most of these “nones” claim they believe in God or New Age rubbish or say that they’re spiritual, whatever that means. Granted, maybe an agnostic is just an atheist without balls, but let’s not pop the champagne just yet.

  2. @OP link – Existential threat, in the form of an earthquake, produces more religiosity; existential stability—in the form of an established rule of law, universal health care systems, and strong welfare states—leads to the opposite. And that, says Norenzayan, helps explain low levels of religiosity in Europe, even as it may also explain why the US is an outlier among developed countries when it comes to religion. “Compared to other advanced democracies, there is much more existential insecurity in the United States,” Norenzayan says.

    That would make sense.

    In countries which have a national system of mutual caring, and a national safety net, – they don’t need imaginary ones, magic fairy protection, or little bands ganging together looking for support within a larger dog-eat-dog culture.

  3. This is an excellent article and a really enjoyable podcast. Of particular interest to me was the gender divide in religious adherence. My ‘intuition’ was telling me that a society with a stronger safety net would result in fewer believers and, as you look around the world this is readily apparent.

    So….. a better, fairer society is what we should be aiming for. Who could disagree with that?

  4. There are people who think they know other people’s minds only because they can’t imagine a mind different to theirs.

    I find it hard to believe Atheism’s rapid growth in the USA is a result of the good life. The largest growth in atheism has come in a time of great economic hardship. I would say the recent depression we’ve all had to deal with was a US generated depression, mostly.

    The age group that has seen the greatest growth in atheism is also the hardest hit by the economy, with very poor job prospects and a negative view of the future. Many of them have grown up under the constant threat of terrorism and largely lead by a Chicken Little government.

    Atheist numbers are growing because atheists aren’t just talking, they’re talking back. It’s the FU revolution and it’s a war of words. Life ain’t going to get any better in the USA.

    I’m going to call a bit of bullshit and a bit of common sense on this one.

  5. “The implications for atheists? They are notorious for loving to debate and argue, but perhaps they should focus less on trying to convince people that God doesn’t exist, and more on bettering people’s lives all around them.”

    Apart from the fact that people’s lives become better without God (for many reasons), all of the atheists I know do not try to convince anyone that God doesn’t exist and are fairly competent at improving the lives of many people around them in many secular ways.

  6. It can often be difficult to put an accurate figure on the total number of atheists in any country simply because so many people are reluctant to admit to being one. I would agree that in a settled society free from the threat of war that religiosity would decline, which is why god botherers so enjoy inciting them.

  7. One of the most surprising scientific findings of the research on the causes of religiosity (or the lack thereof) involves a trait called “mentalizing.” “This is the idea that we have a basic social cognitive capacity to infer and read the minds of other people,” explains Norenzayan.

    I did note on the link to Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God – http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0036880, that “GOD” was consistently presented with a capital “G” and no reference was made to the religions on which this was based.

    We again measured and controlled for age, educational attainment, frequency of religious attendance, and added a 3-item measure of interest in math, science, and engineering (IMSE, α = .69, on a 1–7 scale). IMSE was included to assess the possibility that the relationship between autism and belief in God, or gender and belief in God, are byproducts of greater levels of scientific interest among those high on the autism spectrum.

    So the study appears to be purely on a relationship between the autistic, and the lack of religious interaction with a personal god (delusion). – apparently a monotheistic god-delusion.

Leave a Reply