Thursday, November 15, 2012
I'm pressed for time, so this is just going to be a brief note with some ideas that I need to develop later. It's widely believed by theists, skeptics, and atheists alike that religious belief serves an indispensable emotional function by giving people a sense of hope, emotional security, and happiness. So despite all of the powerful arguments in favor of atheism, or at least undermining objections to theism, that doubters present, this response recurs: "Ok sure, the reasons for believing in the resurrection, God, or other gods are lousy, but what's wrong with someone who still believes, keeps it to themselves, and who derives some personal contentment and emotional security from it? Why do you have to pick on them?"
Here's the thing: First, it's not at all clear that the widely accepted link between believing and emotional benefits is true. Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College, has been arguing on the basis of secularism in northern Europe that nonbelievers are actually happier.
Here are a few sources:
Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns
Here's a video of Zuckerman:
Zuckerman: Atheists, Agnostics, and the Irreligious
Here's Zuckerman on bias and discrimination against atheists in the U.S.: Washington Post: Why Do Americans Still Dislike Atheists?
Do we need God to have a happy society?
Second, humans are notoriously bad at predicting or knowing what will make them happy. See Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness Ask people what the effects of a horrible accident or losing a loved one will be on them and they will estimate the effects as much more devastating than they actually are when those traumas occur. Our basic levels of happiness, contentment, and personal satisfaction reassert themselves in time, even after events in our lives that we estimate will have a long, irreversible negative effect on us.
So it seems to me that these two issues need to be connected and that we need to re-evaluate the alleged emotional and pragmatic justification for religious believing. If Zuckerman is right, then it appears that there isn't even a emotional justification for believing. Getting rid of religious belief might, contrary to what people think, make us happier, healthier, and more emotionally content.
Posted by Matt McCormick at 9:34 AM