Chris Mooney makes the case that the Affordable Care Act could eventually result in more people becoming atheists. Why?
He looks at the well-studied phenomenon that levels of religious belief tend to be lowest in countries that have the most extensive safety nets. He quotes researcher on the psychology of religion Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia, who finds that atheists tend to differ from believers in three ways.
The first is that atheists do less of something he calls ‘mentalizing’ which is “the idea that we have a basic social cognitive capacity to infer and read the minds of other people”. Mentalizing helps you connect with and relate to others (which is of course a good thing) but it apparently also predisposes one to being religious.
The second feature is that atheists tend to have an analytical thinking style that favors in-depth, purposeful thought as opposed to the intuitive style of the more religious.
The third is the significance of a sense of existential security. Societies that “have access to health care and a strong social safety net, that there is a strong rule of law, but also that they are not facing deadly diseases or natural disasters—tend toward less religion and also more tolerance of atheism.”
It is this last feature that Mooney depends upon heavily to make his case. I find it amusing but a bit of a stretch. There is more to security than health care and in many measures US policies are leading to greater insecurity (less job security, cutting of welfare benefits and unemployment insurance, reduced support for important and even essential public services) that might well swamp any benefits from improved health care.
So Mooney’s main thesis should be taken with a large grain of salt but his description of Norenzayan’s work, that existential security, an analytical style of thinking, and reduced need for connection with others are the conditions conducive to atheism, is interesting. At the very least, it describes me.