Our Humanity, Naturally

A club for humanists

Misinformation and facts about secularism and religion

No wonder atheists are so disliked! Even smart people are spreading falsehoods like these about them! Read More

Nice Response.

Nice reply to the original article.

Last week I was driving down a long dirt road on my way to the beach. (about 3 miles) As I was driving I noticed an older (late 60's) gentleman walking with jeans, long sleeve jeans shirt and a hat. It was obvious he was very hot and uncomfortable. I pulled up beside him as offered a ride and he accepted happily. Got to our destinations and we talked for awhile. He told me he was going to walk out the back side to the town there. Me, knowing that is not an easy hike with unfinished roads that are steep I offered to take him over even though my friends were here at the beach.

He looked at me and said "Thank you, that is very Christian of you" I replied and said "no, it was only human of me"

Both you and the writer of

Both you and the writer of the first piece would do well to include real citations. I realize this is not academic writing, but one or both of you might sound a bit more believable.

I agree, on van just google

I agree, on van just google and you will find a study to support any view. From personal experience, non-religious people are only nice as long as it fits them, they have nothing higher to answer to.

He said he was summarizing. No?

Elizabeth, he said in this article that he was summarizing the information contained in http://goo.gl/CQPrz , which appears to be fully cited. No?

Secular more anti-social?

I am a Loving Athiest. The only time I feel a little anti-social (to religious folks) is when they try to fly airplanes into buildings while praising "God."

This has to be the most

This has to be the most sarcastic and funny comment ever. I am going to repeat it to all of my friends. Thanks.

Personally, I considered it

Personally, I considered it very sarcastic and unnecessary.

Separation seems to be on both agendas

Whatever separates/divides us as a human family, becomes cancerous. You both /appear/ to have agendas to divide us into "religious/secular" groups. Beliefs are wisps of air, nothing more. How about a natural and healthy /non-attachment/ to beliefs? We are all one, /regardless/ of what sense or nonsense rolls around in our heads.

"Separation seems to be on both agendas"

You seem to be mistaking atheism and secularism as belief systems. The separation talked about here is just keeping the religious from running everybody's lives.

Which way does the explanation go?

So - to summarize the points made by the two blog authors: In any given population, religious people seem to be less violent etc. However, in cross-population studies, less religious societies tend to be less religious.

Here I am just taking what I have read at face value - I haven't had the chance to assess the evidence.

However, it seems to me that this can be better explored if we see the level of religiosity as a result of societal factors - rather than the cause of them. Turn the arrow of explanation around!

In stable, safe, well-functioning societies, fewer people are religious. Maybe because the present world appears ordered, safe and unmysterious.

In violent, chaotic and unpredictable societies, everyday experience do not give the same sense of order and meaning. Religion seems to provide this.

It seems to me that this might hint towards how non-violent people in violent societies are likely to be religious. This would cut across the arguments made by both sides.

-

However, I think the point made about actual face-to-face social groups that talk about ethical concerns, and strive to act in accordance with their convictions, is true. Such groups are a good thing. Regardless of religiosity.

A study investigating connections between religion and xenophobia and chauvinism conducted in Norway showed some interesting results. The two groups likely to be least xenophobic were atheists and the religious active. The group that self-labelled as religious, but were not active, were the most chauvinistic groups of all.

I don't buy your theory that

I don't buy your theory that societal factors influence the level of religiosity. Religion is spread by tradition, by parents and schools indoctrinating children. Children do not have the life experience or reasoning ability to "choose" religion based on the level of chaos or unpredictability in their societies.

We know that most violent crimes are committed by young males, and that they are overwhelmingly religious young men, as shown by the fact that only 0.2% of incarcerated felons are atheists.

In any given population, religious people are *more* violent. Atheists, humanists and other secularists tend to me more educated, more inclined to contribute to society and more inclined to employ words to convey anger and outrage.

I think you have some valid

I think you have some valid arguments here, education does play a part. However access to education is usually better in more stable communities, for example a young man growing up in the suburbs versus a young man growing up in the ghetto face vastly different problems. The former focuses on recreational exploits, grades and romance. The latter wants to explore those but has to get to school alive first and feed their family. Living in and coming from a poor background adds the "chaos" that the previous poster alluded to.

Keep in mind that most children are taught a religion but the safety that such religion provides becomes less and less important as a community is more stable.

"Which way does the explanation go?"

I totally agree with you that the causation can be explained in many ways, however religiosity doesn't come out well in any of them.

Even if the data was explained entirely by societal stability and safety (i.e. less safe countries turn to religion as a source of order when there is none), what this shows is that people in undeveloped countries tend to choose religion out of desperation because it's the only thing that seems to provide order and structure in the world. Then, as that society becomes safe and stable, and people start to have more education and options, they tend to leave religion and turn to better explanations for the way things are.

That hardly "cuts across the argument" for secularism, in fact I think if anything it supports it.

Half a truth is worse than a lie

That people become less religious as they become safer is true, but you put it as a generalization which is untrue. For some people it does not matter how safe they get, they will always be religious.

The Bane of Humanity

All one need do is read the historical account of the ruling years of Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Mary. Because of the reformation brought about by her Father, England was free of the Roman Catholic religious rule. Granted, Henry's motivation was personal and political, however it did cause the another break of the iron fisted hold the Roman Catholic religious organization had on Europe following that of Martin Luther.
Religious persecution was given full reign further perpetrated by those sick minds attracted to such a "legalized" form of human torture. Both sides protested their belief in the same God, the same Son of God with each claiming exclusive rights to being the “true” religion. Catholics still claim that they are the exclusive pathway to God.
This type of persecution continues today in mild forms of competiveness between Protestants and Catholics and different sects of Islam, Hinduism, etc., to the outrageous forms of past Crusades and the present Jihad in Islam.
Religion itself has done nothing for the human species but cause division, contention, war, greed, torture, destruction of countries and cultures. Most of all it perpetrates and supports the denigration of women whether the religion is Jewish, Hindu, Christian or Islam. I for one no longer believe in Man’s concept of “God” and disdain organized religion as the Bane of Humanity.

The Last Bastion of the Intellegent Theist

One of the smartest people I know told me I could not possibly be moral because I didn't believe in god. I was shocked when he told me this since we had been co-workers and went to college together for years. We both attended a Master Degree program for engineering and we both 4 pointed.

After all this time I never realized how religious he was and how bigoted he was against me. He had never seen me so much as steal a pencil. How could he make this claim?

I think that truly intellectual people realize that god makes no sense. What they hang onto is the idea that beliefs itself has virtue. They believe in belief. Dan Dennett speaks of this idea often. They are convinced that religious belief is necessary to make the world work. This is some odd kind of mental dissonance. They must know that many non-theists behave well. They just block this out. It is simultaneously amazing and appalling.

If we prove that non-theists are just as well behaved as theists... well... they have nothing left to justify their religious fantasy life. They deny this tiny pile of data to make sense of their worldview.

Actually, states with the

Actually, states with the highest violent crime rates are all down south and that has nothing to do with religion. The author of this article should have taken the time to do a little research before making this statement. Violent crime rates are always higher in parts of the country where the weather is warmer for longer portions of the year. Even in northern states you will see that the rate of violent crimes spikes every summer. This all has extremely little or nothing at all to do with the prominent religion of those in the state.

Ever been to Detroit?

Haha - Have you never been to the great crime cities of the North like Detroit. It's cold as the dickens here. I would love to see the study linking overall crime rates with average temperature.

In any case, moving outside the US there is clearly no correlation between crime and temperature. Russia anyone?

Here is the summary of an interesting study.

http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2009/06/atheist-nations-are-more-pea...

Or...Immigration

I would posit that it's likely got more to do with the tension between immigrants from the southern border, and less to do with the warmth. Hawaii, for example, enjoys very warm average temperatures, but you'll see that they are 36th in the nation for violent crime. http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank21.html

Stereotypes usually have a grain of truth, however often small and distorted

Based upon my personal experience, study of history and current events, and decades of travel around the world, I agree fully with Mr. Niose. Knowingly or not, Mr. Plante perpetuates a great falsehood.
However, I think Plante can get away with such obnoxious nonsense because in considerable chunks of society, especially American rural and small town society, his "religion equals greater good" proposition would have a distinct ring of truth.

For example, in areas where education and culture are relatively minimal, it's still true that the predominant worldview choices are either religious dogmas or a sort of floundering nihilism. Lots of people, being profoundly ignorant of the real wonders of the greater world and the intrinsic rewards of personal and social virtue, really do think that but for the promise of heaven and the threat of hell, there is no real reason to live an ethical and purposeful life (at least beyond the "stick" of law enforcement).

Take a drive through middle America - and not just in the South - although that's a great place to start. What, in a great many places, are the ONLY places for adults to gather and to share some significant social interaction? Churches and taverns, no?
It's no accident that among non-devout people in such areas, alcohol and drug abuse is rampant.

Bottom line: It's untrue that there is anything about religion, per se, that creates a person or a society that is happier or more ethical or more productive than a reasonably well-informed and well-rounded atheist individual or secular society. In fact, almost every day's news has some horrific illustration of the exact opposite!

However, in lots of places, and the more backward, the more so, healthy ways to live a secular life are still not obvious or readily available, especially if one doesn't care to feel VERY alone.

Religious institutions and worldviews have been honing their appeals, including their false claims of originating and having a corner on virtue and good living, largely unimpeded for a couple of thousand years. Nonbelievers have only begun to significantly increase in numbers (for the obvious very good reasons) in the last hundred years or so.

Unsurprisingly, the "good news" of how to live a great life without superstition hasn't - yet - reached every burg and hamlet, especially in religious places like the U.S. But progress - like that cited by Zuckerman - is rapid and increasing, even if it doesn't always seem that way. And this media we're sharing right now - the internet - is helping a lot!

You raise some interesting contentions, but...

We know from psychological studies that much of what we call morality is innate. People that live in rural areas such as those you describe do not need to resort to "floundering nihilism" if they don't happen to buy into religious dogma. They have the third choice of living a moral life without religion. My wife grew up in rural Indiana, decided religion was nonsense at the age of nine, and had no problem deciding how to live a productive and ethical life.

As leaders of a secular humanist group that have met people from all over the US, we know that the largest such groups are located in the South and Mountain West where religion has a greater impact on daily life than it does in the Northeast or the West Coast. In addition, I frequently meet atheists online who live in small rural areas of the country.

You raise some interesting contentions, but...

We know from psychological studies that much of what we call morality is innate. People that live in rural areas such as those you describe do not need to resort to "floundering nihilism" if they don't happen to buy into religious dogma. They have the third choice of living a moral life without religion. My wife grew up in rural Indiana, decided religion was nonsense at the age of nine, and had no problem deciding how to live a productive and ethical life.

As leaders of a secular humanist group that have met people from all over the US, we know that the largest such groups are located in the South and Mountain West where religion has a greater impact on daily life than it does in the Northeast or the West Coast. In addition, I frequently meet atheists online who live in small rural areas of the country.

You raise some interesting contentions, but...

We know from psychological studies that much of what we call morality is innate. People that live in rural areas such as those you describe do not need to resort to "floundering nihilism" if they don't happen to buy into religious dogma. They have the third choice of living a moral life without religion. My wife grew up in rural Indiana, decided religion was nonsense at the age of nine, and had no problem deciding how to live a productive and ethical life.

As leaders of a secular humanist group that have met people from all over the US, we know that the largest such groups are located in the South and Mountain West where religion has a greater impact on daily life than it does in the Northeast or the West Coast. In addition, I frequently meet atheists online who live in small rural areas of the country.

I know that a recent study

I know that a recent study found that atheists in more secular nations enjoyed a greater level of happiness than religious people, while atheists in religious countries like the U.S. tended to be less happy. The study concluded from that and other data that it is the state of being a minority in some form or another that affects one's happiness more than the particular belief system one subscribes to.

Interesting thoughts, to be sure. I wish I could find a link to that study...

Mr Plante - with his mission

Mr Plante - with his mission to misinform - seems terribly dishonest; diminishing his claim that being religious makes you a better citizen.

Please note that Plante, by

Please note that Plante, by spreading this libel, is in fact behaving blatantly immorally.

Both miss a point

Doctor Plante certainly helped to perpetrate an apparently unfounded stereotype, and Niose addressed this point and set him straight (at least he showed some evidence).

However, Plante also makes another point, and that is that religion might be good for society because it is very organized compared to the secular community. He writes: "Religious organizations have a wide variety of comprehensive services, programming, groups, lectures, readings, models, and so forth that can regularly impart and support ethical principles and guidelines to their members. The secular community just doesn't seem to have the organizational structure to do so." If that is the problem, then we do not need more religion, we just need more organized secular organizations.

It is also important to note that while some of the principles and guidelines religions give their members certainly are ethical, some are just disguised as being ethical. For example, what harm does using a condom cause any couple of consenting adults when having sex? What harm does having consensual sex with a member of your own gender in the privacy of your bedroom cause anyone else? But the catholic church will tell people not to use condoms and to despise homosexuals by telling them that it is "unethical". What I find unethical is that gay people are being systematically discriminated because of this and that people are dying in Africa (and the whole world) because their pope says that condoms might worsen AIDS.

Mr. Niose terribly misrepresents and distorts my blog post and my views

Wow…it looks like Dave Niose did NOT like my recent blog post! Yet sadly, he totally misrepresents and distorts my point of view and uses my blog (and me) as a straw man in his argument. I can't respond to each of his allegations in this comment section. Anyone can cherry pick published articles or research studies to support their particular point of view on most any topic. That isn’t the way quality science is done of course. Rather, one has to look at the research in totality usually focusing on quality peer reviewed articles, review articles, studies using meta-analysis, and scholarly books that have been vetted by appropriate peer review sources. Additionally, we also should look at position statements by professional scientific organizations (e.g., American Psychological Association) and appropriate government panels (e.g., National Institute of Health) who have examined the weight of the evidence.

That being said, my point really is that overall, research supports the view that spiritual and religious practices (e.g., meditation, Church sponsored social justice ministries, religious service attendance) have certain physical, mental, and community health benefits. For my scholarly writing on this (not brief blog posts) you might check out my book, Faith and Health, (published by Guilford), Spirit, Science, and Health (published that Greenwood), Contemplative Practices in Action (also published by Greenwood). However, even better, check out Harold Koenig’s Handbook of Religion and Health as well as his Handbook of Religion and Mental Health for excellent scholarly reviews. Additionally, check out the scholarship of Carl Thoresen, Mike McCullough, Gail Ironson, Ev Worthington, Ken Pargament, Kevin Masters, John Martin to name just a few who all are top academics who publish their work on this topic in quality peer reviewed professional journals.

Of course there are many examples of religious beliefs and practices being terribly harmful to self and others and of course there are many examples of outstanding non religious and completely secular organizations and individuals who are outstanding models for ethical behavior, community engagement, and physical and mental health. But to say that the bulk of the research evidence doesn’t support many of the benefits of religious and spiritual engagement is just ignoring so much of the evidence.

Misrepresents?

I don't think I misrepresented anything, but we can let the two pieces stand and be judged on their merits on that point. Importantly, I think I did point out that I don't think most of the flaws (or what I saw as flaws) in your piece were intended as attacks on nonbelievers. I think many of the "flawed" statements were just made carelessly. Also, FWIW, I don't necessarily agree with some of the criticism of your piece contained above in this comments section. Finally, most importantly, I do think statements such as those contained in your piece do much to encourage prejudice against non-theists.

Your view of what constitutes research is rather jaundiced

"Church sponsored social justice ministries, religious service attendance) have certain physical, mental, and community health benefits"

Sure they do. About the same benefit as a placebo.

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David Niose is legal director and former president of the American Humanist Association.

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