Are Atheists More Moral than the Religious?

An interesting Washington Post op-ed last week written by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman on atheism makes the point that while atheists, in many respects, are actually more ethical than people of faith, they still face distrust and criticism.

From one of the papers cited in the op-ed, a 2002 Religion and Public Life Survey found that 54 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of atheists and 28 percent have an unfavorable opinion of people who are ‘‘not religious.’’

The piece doesn’t devote much space referencing specific examples of ways those unfavorable opinions are manifested. Rather, it focuses on psychological and sociological differences between believers and non-believers. Its point is that while many religious people distrust those who don’t believe in God, atheists are, by and large, pretty decent folks.  Maybe even more ethical than the religious.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency— issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

But for various reasons, non-believers are treated as untrustworthy. Certainly, in the political realm this is true. While many supposedly devout elected officials routinely make outrageous and vile statements, only one openly atheist politician, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., holds national office. (Stark, by the way, issued a proclamation declaring today as National Day of Reason.)

The article points out atheists aren’t perfect. Suicide rates may be higher among non-believers, although the studies are based on a complex series of factors. It goes on to point out:

Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives.

This last point intrigues me. I’d like to hear from some of those apostates. Do you feel better since shedding your religion? Why so?

3 Comments

  • johnthimakis@gmail.com' John Thimakis says:

    What can be done to change the perception of Atheists by Christians?

  • bootsnboards@yahoo.com' Bootsnboards says:

    I’m not sure when this article was written, so maybe this is a response too late to be of any interest, but I’d say yes. I am much happier after having left religion. In fact, the time I stopped doing drugs and started to get my life together was when I finally had the guts to admit that religion was nonsense (my specifically religion especially, which was Mormonism).

    There is a lot more to it, obviously, but in a nutshell, the cognitive dissonance that continuously haunted me was gone, I felt I finally KNEW who I was and could act accordingly, and so on. For a simple example, I knew when I chose to do something right, I did it because of who I am, not because of some fear of punishment from God.

    My actions are more moral. As weird as it sounds to some ppl who don’t understand the concept, cognitive dissonance, feeling like one is lying to themselves about things that don’t jive in their religious belief system, etc. quite often drive people to do negative things that are in conflict with the things their dogma teaches them. That alone drives a HUGE amount of unhappiness. Being free of that has the effect of both halting those negative behaviors and actions, AND stopping the unhappiness due to guilt, etc. that came along with those actions.

  • alecia.harris@gmail.com' kaylayale says:

    I am one of those who was raised in a strict religion and am now non religious. I am much happier now than I was in religion, why? I was taught to be perfect all the time. It was an impossible goal. The more I tried, the more unhappy I was. The standard was impossible, I always felt inadequate, a failure, that I had to hide who I really was and wear a mask and pretend to be someone I was not. I was always being told I was sinful and that something was wrong with me, that I would never measure up, be good enough in god’s eyes or in the church’s eyes.

    Now that I have left religion, I can be my authentic self, accept myself, be human. I accept me for me and do not see human flaws or frailties as weaknesses or sin, but as part of life to be embraced and loved.

    As I read the Bible, it created cognitive dissonance as I was told I could not be angry or jealous, but god could. I was told I could not lie, yet god lied. I was told to not murder, yet god killed babies in the flood and war. God hated women and gays and people who disagreed with him. I realized I was more moral than god was.

    When I left religion, the cognitive dissonance I was living in left and happiness filled its space in my head.

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