Monday, March 19, 2012

Myth Busted: Religious People are Not Happier

Are religious people happier than atheists? It turns out that this statistic, while strictly true in America, is quite misleading. The deeper truth is far more interesting ... and it's a perfect case study in meme theory.

Tom Rees over at Epiphenom posted a fascinating new bit of data that just calls out for an explanation:
"Much is made of the apparent fact that religious people are happier and better adjusted than the non-religious. However, as regular readers of this blog will know, this is to a large extent an illusion. ... [If you dig deeper] you'll find that religion is only linked to happiness in countries where a lot of people are religious.

... Although non-religious people feel uncomfortable in religious countries, religious people have no problems living in non-religious countries.
In other words, religious societies reject and shun atheists, so naturally non-religious people are unhappy in these societies. But Dr. Rees makes an even deeper point: secular societies make religious people feel welcome, so there is no converse effect. In secular societies, everyone is equally happy.

The conclusion is inescapable: atheists and agnostics are unhappy in religious countries because of the religious people, whereas religious people do well in secular countries because they're made welcome. You can be an evangelical Christian in Sweden or Denmark, but it's hard to be an atheist in Turkey, Iran or even America.

It's very satisfying to deflate this myth. Religious bloggers and ministers love to crow about the fact that atheists and agnostics are unhappier than "the faithful." Now we can turn and point to them as the cause.

But while this solves one mystery, it presents us with a challenge: why is religion so hostile to atheism? A cultural factor like this that spans so many countries and cultures begs for a deeper analysis.

It's easy to find some superficial reasons for the hostility that atheists and agnostics feel. Maybe Christians aren't "hostile" but rather are doing atheists a favor by saving their souls from eternal damnation. Or maybe atheists are unhappy because humans naturally yearn for God's love, and the atheists won't accept that love. Or maybe atheists actually know God exists, and their unhappiness comes from the stress of having to deny the truth (I've been accused of this by readers).

I think we can dismiss these reasons out of hand. They're false and insulting.

The real reason for religion's anti-atheist hostility is because it's good for religion. Religions that foster hatred and hostility toward atheists are, simply put, better than religions that don't. And we use "better" here in the Darwinian sense.

One of the most fascinating facts about biology is that 99.99% of all species that ever existed are extinct today. If we merely look at the successes (for example, homo sapiens) without considering the failures (such as neanderthals), we're not being very good scientists. It's competition and death that drive evolution forward. In order for the more fit species to survive, the less fit species has to die. And in order to understand the survivors, we have to study the failures.

The same thing applies to the evolution of religions. We have to look at the ones that died along with the ones we know today. In the cultural-evolution or "memetic" way of thinking (the study of how ideas evolve and spread across society and down through history), religion isn't a set of distinct faiths, but rather is a great mass of competing ideas fighting for "survival of the fittest." At any point in history, there have been many thousands of religions around the world. Within each religion there are often hundreds of differing opinions and interpretations of the main ideas.

In order to survive, a particular idea has to spread across society and down through history. But that's no trivial task: there are plenty of others competing. At each generation, only the "fittest" ideas survive to be passed along. This is the primary driving force that shapes any one religion's beliefs as time passes. And it's also true between religions: eventually, the "fitter" religions steal away all the believers from the "weaker" religions, which die out and pass into the history books.

What makes one religion more "fit" than another? There are many factors indeed (that's why I wrote The Religion Virus), but it brings us back to today's topic.

Children are born atheists and must be indoctrinated early and thoroughly in order for their faith to stick. Atheism is a huge threat to that process. If a culture allows atheists in their midst, the children will be exposed to powerful and persuasive ideas (logic, science, rational thinking). These atheistic ideas challenge the faith-based dogma that the children have to learn. Children are much more likely to have weak faith or no faith if they are exposed to atheism. (See Teach the Children for more on this topic.)

Thus, hostility to atheism is a "good" trait for religions to have. A religion that persecutes atheists will be more successful than one that doesn't. As generations and centuries go by, it's almost inevitable that religion will become more and more hostile to atheism.

Atheists aren't really such a sorry, unhappy lot. It's religion's fault, and now we know why: it's good for religion to be hostile to atheism. Religions with a live-and-let-live attitude died out a long time ago. They're extinct, and we're left with the survivors, the "fittest" religions ... the ones that don't like atheists.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where's Craig?

Dear Loyal Readers,

UPDATE (November 2013): As even the casual reader can see, I've actually decided to stop blogging for a year or two while I pursue other projects.  Thanks to all my faithful readers.  I've closed out comments, too; 95% of comments are spam now.  It's time to move on.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tim Tebow, not God, Throws the Ball

What does it take to be a quarterback for an NFL team? It starts with a kid who is willing to put in thousands of hours in high school and all through college then into the big leagues. It takes inborn athleticism combined with a fast-thinking intelligence and relentless determination.

That's just to be on the team. To be a first-string quarterback, you have to be the best of the best.

Tim Tebow is such a man. He worked extraordinarily hard to get where he is ... which is why Tim Tebow's religion is a real shame. Christianity has stolen Tebow's pride. Instead of taking pride in his accomplishments, he gives the credit away to God. The simple fact is that it's Tebow throwing the ball, not God.

In less than a second or two, Tebow's mind absorbs the receiver's position, speed and direction, and on

Monday, January 9, 2012

God Burns Widow's House, But Saves His Own Stuff

The headline says it all: Firefighters say Bible pulled from burned house is 'a miracle'.
"A family is counting their blessings tonight after an early morning fire in Dearing, GA destroyed most of their home. But one pretty special item was left unscathed ... Bernice Hunt's Bible was pulled from the ashes without a charred edge or a burnt page. The only damage at all was a little moisture from the fire hoses."
So let me see if I get this. God decided to burn this woman's house to the ground. He let all of her possessions go up in smoke. She already lost her husband, has cancer, and had open-heart surgery ... presumably God was responsible for all of that too.

So what 'miracle' does God perform for this poor, sick widow? He saves his own Holy Bible from the flames!

I mean, after all, it is His own word, isn't it? I guess if I were

Sunday, January 1, 2012

So Sorry Your Dad Died – Too Bad He's Burning in Hell

Death is always sad, but it can bring out kind and comforting words from family and friends. These good wishes really do help us feel better. Whether it's a simple expression of sorrow, some shared tears, or an enlightening story, our friends' kind words help us accept death, cherish the memories, and get life going again.

Now it happens that most of my relatives and close friends aren't Christian. We're a broad assortment of Deists, pantheists, paganists, agnostics and atheists. There's hardly a Christian among us.

So what do Christians write in their condolences? "The peace of the Lord is on your father." Or, "Your mother is resting in Jesus' arms now."

I know they mean well. But if these Christians were true to their faith, they'd say, "So sorry that your loved one is now being tortured with