Atheism Doesn’t Suck: How Science Does Not Prove Atheists Are Less Happy, Healthy, and Sane

Cooked or misquoted studies are often cited that “show” that religious believers are happier and healthier and less insane than atheists.

“So what?”

“So atheism is bad for you, is what.”

Or so the argument attempts to go.

(Every study anyone has seen like that, please cite it in the comments [I already know about the study salad at Conservapedia, and any sharp bloggers out there who are psych majors could do us a solid by writing a good critique of that]. Likewise, if any blogs or websites have also tackled this myth [even if doing so after I posted this], please cite those articles in comments as well. Plus articles in magazines that discuss it, if you know any. I’d like to gather up a collection.)

Yes, one can reply that the truth is still the truth, and if you care about the truth, you should just deal with it if it sucks, rather than try desperately to live a lie just to be happy. There’s a whole line of debate one can follow down that route, but it generally ends with: bad epistemologies are always a net bad for you (and society), but you can only believe comfortable lies if you commit to a bad epistemology, the side effects of which will never be good for you or society overall–because bad epistemologies cannot protect you from harmful false beliefs (and even entail an increasing resort to harmful false beliefs in order to protect the harmless ones from being exposed).

So just suck it up and get over it. In practice, it’s all not as bad as you think (and it’s certainly better than all this eternal hell business, much less a god who by his total inaction manifestly doesn’t give a shit about anything). And all else being equal, you’ll find plenty to love about life anyway.

But in fact we needn’t take that grim tack anyway. Because the facts don’t support the premise in the first place. Atheism doesn’t make you less happy, healthy, or sane.

One common flaw that invalidates almost all of these studies (if not in fact literally all of them) is that they tend to compare the religiously devout with nonbelievers as a whole, who are statistically mostly people who don’t identify with any nonbelieving community or care much about atheism or humanism or any secularist cause or philosophy, but who just don’t have a specific belief in anything. But that’s a false comparison. The only meaningful comparison would be between the devoutly religious and devoted humanists, including organized atheists, or anyone intellectually committed to godless philosophies.

But no studies do that (so far as I know: please cite any that do in comments). They therefore don’t show the relative benefit of religious belief vs. atheist philosophy.

Let’s take a look. [Read more…]

Hindus Rising: Meera Nanda and “The God Market”

We need to be ready to confront Hinduism. And here’s why: India is on track to become a significant world power within thirty years, and Hindu nationalism is on the rise there, not in decline. There are even well-funded efforts now to spread Hinduism into other countries. Hindu nationalism, Hindu supremacism, Hindu fundamentalism, Hindu terrorism, and Hindu evangelism are terms once thought to be oxymoronic but now are a reality. It’s not an urgent threat in America, to be sure (Hinduism’s numbers and influence are microscopic compared to the more pressing problems created by conservative and mainstream Christianity; and, among external threats, Islam), but the power and influence of India, economically and politically, is of growing significance, and its policies are increasingly influenced by Hinduism. We’d do well to keep our eye on it.

There is another reason to pay attention. The secularization thesis is in trouble lately. It turns out, the idea that modernization inevitably increases secularization (and a corresponding decline of religion) is false. It has been based on the rather exceptional examples of Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia (and now, only very recently, the U.S., which for the first time is showing the start of similar demographic trends). The rest of the world is going the other direction, with increasing (albeit changing) religiosity, hand-in-hand with increased modernization and industrialization. This is the danger of focusing only on the first world as if it were normative. When we look at India, for example, we see many very important parallels with the path of religion in the U.S. (up until now), but also many important differences. Any theory of secularization (how inevitable it is, or how to advance it) must be based on the evidence available from other religious and cultural contexts. India is an ideal example of that.

I would not have said or thought any of the above had I not been lucky enough to be asked to read and blurb the American edition of Meera Nanda’s book The God Market: How Globalization Is Making India More Hindu (2011, revised edition with a new introduction; originally published in India in 2009). Meera Nanda is a noted philosopher of science in India who (ironically, given that she’s an atheist) was a recipient of a John Templeton Foundation Fellowship to research and write on secularization in India (or more precisely, on the reception of scientific thinking in India, what Indians call “scientific temper,” set forth as a national goal in India’s constitution). Her main project (which will be published as Tryst with Destiny: Scientific Temper and Secularization in India) is near completion. But she realized she could not develop that without first publishing her preliminary findings on the state of secularism in India, as her findings were overturning the apple cart of traditional secularization theories, and as a patriotic Indian and champion of science and reason she is greatly concerned about this.

I provided the publisher with this official reaction to her book, which you will now find gracing its back cover: [Read more…]