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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

What do you believe? Atheism and Religion

Kristen Weir
Monitor on Psychology
Vol. 51, No. 5, p. 52

Here is an excerpt:

Good health isn’t the only positive outcome attributed to religion. Research also suggests that religious belief is linked to prosocial behaviors such as volunteering and donating to charity.

But as with health benefits, Galen’s work suggests such prosocial benefits have more to do with general group membership than with religious belief or belonging to a specific religious group (Social Indicators Research, Vol. 122, No. 2, 2015). In fact, he says, while religious people are more likely to volunteer or give to charitable causes related to their beliefs, atheists appear to be more generous to a wider range of causes and dissimilar groups.

Nevertheless, atheists and other nonbelievers still face considerable stigma, and are often perceived as less moral than their religious counterparts. In a study across 13 countries, Gervais and colleagues found that people in most countries intuitively believed that extreme moral violations (such as murder and mutilation) were more likely to be committed by atheists than by religious believers. This anti-atheist prejudice also held true among people who identified as atheists, suggesting that religious culture exerts a powerful influence on moral judgments, even among non­believers (Nature Human Behaviour, Vol. 1, Article 0151, 2017).

Yet nonreligious people are similar to religious people in a number of ways. In the Understanding Unbelief project, Farias and colleagues found that across all six countries they studied, both believers and nonbelievers cited family and freedom as the most important values in their own lives and in the world more broadly. The team also found evidence to counter a common assumption that atheists believe life has no purpose. They found the belief that the universe is “ultimately meaningless” was a minority view among non­believers in each country.

“People assume that [non­believers] have very different sets of values and ideas about the world, but it looks like they probably don’t,” Farias says.

For the nonreligious, however, meaning may be more likely to come from within than from above. Again drawing on data from the General Social Survey, Speed and colleagues found that in the United States, atheists and the religiously unaffiliated were no more likely to believe that life is meaningless than were people who were religious or raised with a religious affiliation.