Friday, November 7, 2008

"Outsider status" leads to atheist pessimism

Paul Bloom of Slate magazine writes that, in general, atheists are mean and selfish, whereas believers are nice and generous.

The article makes some interesting points. One premise why believers in God tend to be more happy is that they believe they are never alone, or that God is watching them. But as Phil Zuckerman recently demonstrated in his book, Society Without God, countries that have a high rate of atheists, such as Denmark and Sweden commit far fewer violent crimes than the United States.

As Bloom writes:

So, this is a puzzle. If you look within the United States, religion seems to make you a better person. Yet atheist societies do very well—better, in many ways, than devout ones.

I agree with Bloom in that the answer lies in the community. Danes and Swedes have strong communities despite their lack of supernatural belief, and those communities have social benefits. American atheists, however, are often excluded from community life by their religious neighbors. As Bloom concludes:

The sorry state of American atheists, then, may have nothing to do with their lack of religious belief. It may instead be the result of their outsider status within a highly religious country where many of their fellow citizens . . . find them immoral and unpatriotic. Religion may not poison everything, but it deserves part of the blame for this one.

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