Don’t panic if your doctor is godless

The researcher behind this study is “surprised and disappointed,” but I’m neither.

Although most religious traditions call on the faithful to serve the poor, a large cross-sectional survey of U.S. physicians found that physicians who are more religious are slightly less likely to practice medicine among the underserved than physicians with no religious affiliation.

In the July/August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers from the University of Chicago and Yale New Haven Hospital report that 31 percent of physicians who were more religious–as measured by “intrinsic religiosity” as well as frequency of attendance at religious services–practiced among the underserved, compared to 35 percent of physicians who described their religion as atheist, agnostic or none.

Charity, service, self-sacrifice, generosity, and kindness are human properties, not religious virtues. I wouldn’t expect a group of people from a common culture to show much substantial variation in empathy and public service along religious lines.

Despite the fact that he is disappointed in the result, I do have to commend the author for making a positive policy recommendation:

Policy makers and medical educators hoping to increase the physician supply for underserved populations should take these results into account cautiously, said the authors. “No one knows how to select medical students in a way that would actually increase the number of physicians eager to serve the underserved,” Curlin said, “but our findings suggest that admissions officials should ignore both the general religiousness of candidates and their professed sense of calling to medicine.”

Bang your own drum, but please do bang it

Richard Dawkins defends the Out Campaign. I really have to stress to everyone who complains that they don’t like the design, that it’s too bold, that it’s too timid, that they don’t believe in joining anything, etc., that this is not about conformity — you don’t have to wear the big red “A” t-shirt, and no one is going to draft you into the Atheist Army. This is a plea for everyone to get loud and make your beliefs known. Atheists generally are not joiners or conformists or big fans public displays of unity, but we have to start forming some kind of loose interessengemeinschaft — a fellowship of interests — if we want to stop being marginalized. This is nothing but a start.

It’s not as if you’re being asked to join the Atheist Alliance or American Atheists, although those are good organizations — the only thing you have to do to join this particular movement is to be vigorous in asserting your godlessness, in whatever way you choose. Here in the US, we must make it clear that there is a significant slice of the electorate that wants our government kept entirely secular.

And if you don’t like the scarlet letter, Dawkins points to the CafePress site where you can pick from 9,430 atheist designs. Pick one or design your own. It’s not dogmatic adherence the campaign is looking for, it’s independence and some slight measure of dedication to increasing secularism.

The bookstores have noticed us

Minnesota Atheists notes a new policy at Borders Books — they’ve put up a small display section dedicated to books about atheism.

If you’ve ever been frustrated in a search for books on nonbelief in your local bookstore or annoyed by their inclusion in the comparative religion section, Borders Books has remedied the situation. “Atheism and Agnosticism” has been added as a new section for the works of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and many others. We hope other bookstores will follow this example, and encourage our members to suggest they do.

A reader actually sent me a photo of this miracle.


Of course, compare the size of that to the “New Age” or “Religion” section of your typical bookstore, and you can see we’ve got a ways to go yet. I’m going to have to insist that everyone go out and buy these books. After you’ve finished reading them, I expect you to write a book of your own, so we can fill up a wide rack of our own.

If you have doubts that you can write a book … have you read any of the books in the New Age or Self-Help or Pop Psych or Religion sections? Lobotomized monkeys could do better.