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?