Is Atheism Unnatural?

“This persistence is what any scientific attack on religion must explain — and this one doesn’t. Dawkins mentions lots of modern atheist scientists who have tried to explain the puzzle: Robert Hinde, Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, DS Wilson, Daniel Dennett, all of them worth reading. But he cannot accept the obvious conclusion to draw from their works, which is that thoroughgoing atheism is unnatural and will never be popular.”

—Andrew Brown, “Dawkins the dogmatist” (emphasis added)

In a recent review of The God Delusion, Andrew Brown posed the question cited above. The snide and condescending tone is unnecessary (and puzzling, considering Brown states in the review that he agrees with most of Dawkins’ conclusions). But it does raise a valid question for any atheist to answer, which is this: Why are there so few of us? If our arguments against religion are so potent and our superstition-free worldview so appealing, why are people not rushing to join us in droves? Even if the widely quoted 15% figure is correct (and bear in mind that many of those people probably consider themselves deists or “spiritual”, not atheists), that still leaves 85% of American society for the ranks of the religiously orthodox, a very large majority indeed. Is this numeric disadvantage something we can ever hope to overcome? Or are people, in some sense, designed to be religious?

Many religious apologists answer that question in the affirmative, asserting that God created human beings with an inherent desire to worship and believe in him. But even a non-religious person could plausibly answer yes: even if there is no god, our evolutionary history has undoubtedly given humans a propensity to believe in supernatural beings (as explored by Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell), and perhaps this innate tendency is too strong, too deeply bred into us, to be overcome by mere education and reason. Or perhaps human beings are not intrinsically religious, but the religious memes woven into our society have grown so strong and so well-entrenched that no competing idea could ever realistically hope to dislodge them. Or perhaps the comforting ideas promised by religion, such as a life after death and godly help to miraculously solve life’s difficulties, are too appealing for the comparatively comfortless claims of atheism to lure people away. In all of these cases, atheism might persist but would forever remain a fringe idea, unable to capture the assent of more than a small minority.

However, I think such gloomy predictions are overblown. Atheists are a minority now, there can be no doubt of that, but it is premature in the extreme to declare that we will always be so. I do not deny the mere possibility. It may be the case, when all is said and done, that atheism will never appeal to the majority. But so far we do not possess anywhere near the amount of knowledge that would enable anyone to make such a claim with any confidence.

After all, one might argue that atheism has only just gotten started. I do not mean that atheism is a new idea; on the contrary, in every culture that has a written history, we find that there have been atheists for at least as long as there have been believers. Rather, the innovation is atheism’s ability to compete freely with religion in the marketplace of ideas. That is something new, and something that did not exist in human society until very recently indeed.

It was only a historical instant ago that blasphemy was outlawed and atheists were barred from holding public office. Until recently in human history, merely speaking out as an atheist was a crime that could get a person harshly punished or even executed, and that is still the case in many countries around the world. Even the separation of church and state itself is a relative newcomer to the playing field, and it is easy for people who have grown up with it to overlook how remarkable it is. For the vast majority of people throughout the vast majority of human history, the accepted and unquestioned default was that the church and the state were fused into one and that the religious beliefs of a leader determined the religious beliefs of his people. In such a hostile atmosphere, it was all but impossible for atheist ideas to take root. They did spring up many times, occurring repeatedly to independent minds – a few sparks here, a brief bright flicker there – but the brutal oppression and persecution waged by society prevented them from joining together to kindle a lasting light.

Though enlightened societies have annulled these unjust laws, their shadow still lingers, continuing de facto what is no longer permitted de jure. To a large extent even today, a person who publicly identifies as an atheist faces an inevitable torrent of hatred, ridicule and malice, often including exclusion and ostracism by family and former friends and even harassment and violence. This stealth campaign of discrimination, I have no doubt, discourages a significant number of people from becoming atheists, or at least discourages many people who do become atheists from speaking out about it and instead frightens them into remaining silent, in the closet, and uncounted.

But in spite of this, the tide is turning. More and more people are identifying as atheists – helped, no doubt, by the Internet, which as I have said before is a wonderful invention for helping people of like mind find each other – and are uniting to speak out. As a result, nonbelievers have already made substantial social progress, largely beneath the radar of religious society, and there is much more to come.

In light of these facts, I have a rejoinder to people who claim that atheism will always be unpopular: just wait and see. Religion has had literally thousands of years to acquire its monopoly on the minds of humanity, while organized atheism has been around for less than a few hundred. Considering the vast head start that theism has had, I would say that even our current numbers are fairly impressive, but I believe there is more to come. We nonbelievers are just getting started – wait around a few hundred years more, and who knows how much more we may have accomplished by then?

After all, in the last few hundred years, humanity has undergone several other major revolutions of opinion. Racism was a very popular position until recently, but in just a few decades, there seems to have been a massive societal paradigm shift. While racist sentiments have by no means been obliterated, they have lost the vast majority of their power and are nowhere near as widely held or as widely accepted as they once were. Similarly, until almost as recently, the idea that only members of the male gender were qualified to vote or hold office was the conventional wisdom, widely believed and unquestioned. An apologist for sexism alive in the late 1800s or early 1900s might have claimed that people were designed to believe that men were the superior sex, and that this belief would always persist. But this belief, too, as widespread as it was, has now been overthrown and cast down, and ideas of female equality, once a shockingly radical position, have blossomed throughout the world.

Social revolutions like this show the paradoxical nature of the human mind: although human beings can be fiercely irrational and dogmatic, we are also capable as a species of changing old opinions with amazing suddenness and thoroughness when the social forces impelling such a change grow sufficiently strong. In our time, ideas that were once near-universally held and seemed graven in stone have crumbled in the space of a single lifetime. Evidence such as this should give the brash apologists and the gloomy nonbelievers who proclaim theism’s eternal superiority reason to pause before making their judgment. The verdict of history may yet surprise them.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://thescienceethicist.blogspot.com/ Aerik Knapp-Loomis

    Dawkins mentions lots of modern atheist scientists who have tried to explain the puzzle: Robert Hinde, Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, DS Wilson, Daniel Dennett, all of them worth reading. But he cannot accept the obvious conclusion to draw from their works, which is that thoroughgoing atheism is unnatural and will never be popular.”

    So basically he said that nobody of authority has proven it is natural, so it must be unnatural. It’s a combination of the logical fallacies of appeal to authority and argument from ignorance. It’s an appeal to famous ignorance.

  • http://www.gibsonian.blogspot.com Ian B Gibson

    But don’t forget that the United States is something of an anomaly amongst present-day western nations in terms of the number of religious people there are here.

    The very fact that there is such variation in the numbers of religious believers in various cultures should immediately raise suspicions about the ‘innateness’ of religious belief.

  • Alex Weaver

    Why does playing the “Five” theme from Baldur’s Gate II: TOB while reading these sorts of posts always seem so appropriate? ^.^

    (In other words, inspirational and good work :)

  • Daryl

    I’m in the middle of Dawkins book “The God Delusion”, and it’s right there in front of our faces, even Dawkins tries to answer this. My explanation…Evolution takes time, just give it time, it’s the only rational observation. Why do us humans always so impatient, there most likely is more Atheists in the world now than there was back in the day, it’s only going to compound exponentially.
    By the way, hurry and write your book so I can buy it, read it, and then give it to the library so other may read it.

  • Douglas Struthers

    Non-believers have been mistaken in their approach to religion. In trying to substitute an alternative system of belief, they have fallen into the ‘idealist’ trap of seeing belief as something over and above reality. The result is that the battle is fought on the ground chosen by ‘believers’.

    The answer, that is so obvious that it took a stroke of genuis to see it, is to change the context of the debate and adopt the term ‘Bright’ to describe one’s position. After that the debate can begin from the grass roots up and we can begin with renewed vigour the journey that began with the Enlightenment.( esp. David Hume!!!)

  • Kphilp

    Might I point out the irony of calling athiesm unnatural and the worship of a deity as something that is natural? Just look at any miracle story: Whatever that is, it isn’t following natural laws.

    I dislike it when something a human does is called unnatural. When did we become supernatural beings removed from the natural laws of the universe? It just reeks of an arrogant viewpoint to begin with.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    Kphilip – I dislike the word ‘unnatural’ altogether. Mostly because it’s the word most commonly used by homophobes to justify their positions, which puts one in a difficult position as to whether to go down the ‘No, it is natural’ or the ‘Lightbulbs aren’t natural, I don’t see you protesting that’. Both fair arguments, it’s just hard to do both at once :P

    There is absolutely no reason why, whatever you define as ‘natural’, should be automatically better than something unnatural.

  • TK

    In one sense, it seems a god-belief is and may always be the “natural” position, because when you strip away every shred of dogma, ritual, belief, moral rules and practice in every belief system, the psyche cannot let go of the essential kernel contained in all of them, the afterlife concept. We are the only animal capable of forecasting our own death; the end of love, of family, of art, of consciousness, seems too terrible to bear without that “out.” Late at night, one part of the brain concurs with Mr. Twain, “I was dead for millions of years before I was born, and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. But the heart still weeps.

  • andrea

    Calling atheism “unnatural” makes no sense. Plenty of people don’t believe and have done so since there was someone else who said “I’m right, obey me ‘cuz I gots a hotline to God”.
    The Harris Poll just released a new religion survey that was done via internet (http://www.wgal.com/family/10210202/detail.html). It showed an increase of atheists and a rather noticible figure in that 42% of Americans aren’t sure if God exists. It mentions that since this poll was done on the ‘net, more people are inclined to be more truthful when not speaking directly to a person.

  • valhar2000

    Actually, I do believe that atheism may be in a certain sense “unnatural”, although the correct word would have been “unlikely”. It seems to me that humans, much as C.S. Lewis said, have a god-shaped hole in them, but in the absense of a god, they fill it up however they can. The readers of this blog are a few standard deviations away from that average.

  • Christopher

    Response to Andrea:

    You may be right: anonymity affords one the ability to say and do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. When people are in public being interviewed, they tend to state the views that are popular in their circle of friends because they don’t know when some one they know will pass by and, possibly, overhear their statements.

    On the net, however, one can say and do what they like without ever being found out (that’s part of the reason I openly express my amoralist views here: I can’t do it elsewhere…). For that reason, I find the online poll to be more accurate…

  • Shawn Smith

    The problem with an online poll is that it, by definition, will only capture people who have access to computers (maybe some wireless phones), the Internet, and actually visit the page with the poll. That doesn’t sound very random to me. The computers part would tend to indicate to me that the people responding are more likely to be better educated (not necessarily smarter, of course) than the median or mean American. And, as Michael Shermer pointed out in Why People Believe Weird Things, educational level in the U.S. is negatively correlated with religious belief.

    For that reason, I wouldn’t give any online poll that didn’t have at least several million different IP addresses as their source data any relevance.

  • Shawn Smith

    Oooooops. I meant How We Believe, not Why People Believe Weird Things. My Bad.

  • SM

    I think that religions belief needs to be looked at in the context of other similar thinking, as Michael Shermer has done in his various books. It seems to me that widespread supernaturalism is a universal feature of human societies (somebody with a more systematic knowledge of anthropology may of course correct me on this). Where religious belief drops below a certain level in a society, other forms of magical thinking with their associated ills start to become more common. Racism/ethnocentrism, opression of women, and the other social evils which the West has beaten back in the last 50 years are all problems which many societies have lacked, so I do not think they are so innate. Thus I am not sure that the struggle against harmful religion and similar beliefs will ever be decisively won.

  • lpetrich

    Malachi151 of IIDB has put together Misunderstanding Religion in which he claims that many atheists and agnostics and other freethinkers have got it all wrong — that humanity started out relatively irreligious, even if rather superstitious:

    Most primitive cultures around the world still had little or no concept of “a God” as recently as the 1800s, and some of them had no religion at all. If you look at where true formal religions existed historically, they existed in the most civilized areas, in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, parts of Asia, and Central and South America.

    Most of the tribes of North America, Africa, and Northern Europe had little or no defined religions and few concrete notions of gods until relatively recently. They had superstitions and various “animal spirits” that they were concerned with, but that’s about it, and in fact prior to the late 19th century there were still several tribes of people in the world who had never even heard of the concept of gods or religion. These tribes have all been either completely wiped out or converted within the past 100 years.

    The African Pygmies, Zulus, and tribes of Cameroon, the Fuegians of Tierra del Fuego in South America, Australian tribes, and several North American tribes are all recorded to have either outright denied the existence of “gods” or spirits when asked about them, or they stated that they did not worship gods because they couldn’t affect anything.

    Malachi151 is also right in that the Abrahamic religions are relatively recent inventions; that can also be said of monotheism in general. All the older religions are polytheistic — and are pluralistic and often very syncretism-happy. If one worships several gods, what’s one more god? As the Roman Republic grew, Romans got interested in Greek culture, and they identified their gods with Greek ones. Likewise, many Greeks identified their gods with the gods of other places, like Egypt. And at the present day, many Japanese practice both Shinto and Buddhism; neither religion excludes the other. And New Agers sometimes make a principle out of choosing what one wants to believe and practice.

    Intolerance and exclusivism are mostly Abrahamic inventions. There are some non-Abrahamic religions with such features, like Atenism and Zoroastrianism, but they are also monotheist — “Only God” religions, in Apuleius’s phrase.

    And some nominally-monotheist sects have plenty of backdoor polytheism in the form of the veneration of saints.

    Turning to the afterlife, there have been a variety of concepts of it. These range from becoming ghosts to a drab and dreary existence (Hades, Sheol, etc.), heavens and hells (Elysium and Tartarus, the New Jerusalem and the Lake of Fire, etc.), and reincarnation.

    And is belief in an afterlife necessarily a consolation? Not if it involves dreading what could happen in it; the Epicureans claimed that nonexistence after death means that one has nothing to fear about what happens after it.

    And look at all the people who mourn in funerals; they ought to be celebrating. And whoever makes their last words “See you in Heaven”?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Daniel Dennett extensively discusses this matter, lpetrich, in his book Breaking the Spell. I think the thesis you mentioned is partially correct and partially incorrect. It’s true that a lot of these ancient cultures don’t have religion in a formal sense, not the way we think of religion. Instead, they tend to have what Dennett calls “folk religion”, which is not a formalized and codified belief system like the Abrahamic faiths, but simply a set of supernatural beliefs about the world that are part of what “everybody knows”.

    I’m not familiar with tribes that outright disbelieved in the existence of gods, but it is true that many of them believed that the gods or spirits were not all-powerful. For example, Dennett speaks of certain ancestor-worship cults in which your deceased ancestors were believed to know only information that directly related to you. “Who stole my knife?”, for example, they would know, but they would not know what was going on in a different family’s household or a different tribe. This may be the source of that statement you quoted about the gods not being able to affect anything.

    I don’t know that I would agree with the statement that many of these cultures had no religion. That is only true for certain definitions of “religion”. It does seem to be true, however, that religious intolerance is a more recent development, tending to arise as religion becomes more structured and formalized and starts to be run by the state for the political advantage of its rulers.

  • Paul Porter

    Regarding is atheism unnatural: If you took a survey in 1000 AD and asked if the sun went around the earth or the earth the sun,probely 95% would of said the sun around the earth-this did not mean the sun went around the earth.We just have to get out of our current dark ages,and peoples minds will open up.This could be achived,I belive,by the developemnt of a “HAL” computer-it would show that our brains are not driven by a soul,but by computing power.(many scientist belive this could happen in the next 30-40 yrs)
    RE: dawkins new book: It is great but I think the weakest part is his too fast dismisal of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs. This is what we were tought in Cathoilc school, and if he wants to change Catholics, he is going to have to go into it deeper.
    Paul Porter
    Oak Park, Il paulporterus@yahoo.co

  • lpetrich

    One can continue in this vein about how so many of our present-day beliefs are “unnatural”.

    It’s unnatural to believe that the Earth is shaped like a ball, because the flatness of the Earth had been taken for granted until a few thousand years ago. The theologian Lactantius pointed out the absurdity of the idea of antipodes — wouldn’t everything fall upward and plants grow downward? Which only supports the unnnaturalness of round-earth belief.

    It is unnatural to believe that lightning is a giant electric spark, because that was only established two and a half centuries ago.

    It is unnatural to believe that lunar eclipses are caused by the Moon entering the Earth’s shadow, because it used to be universally believed that lunar eclipses are caused by some Moon monster eating the Moon, or else some sorcerer trying to make it go away. Richard Carrier did his master’s thesis on beliefs about lunar eclipses in the Roman Empire, noting that educated people tended to believe that lunar eclipses are caused by shadowing, while uneducated people tended to blame sorcerers.

    It is unnatural to reject the non-psychological efficacy of sorcery, since that had been so widely believed in many past societies and some present one.

    It is unnatural to believe in only a single god, because polytheism has been so widespread.

    Etc. etc. etc.

    And I will concede that Ebonmuse is correct in pointing out that many “primitive” people had “folk religions”; it is also important to point out the differences in theologies between them and Abrahamic religions, like belief in non-omnipotent gods.

  • http://del.icio.us/sporkyy Todd Sayre

    I always imagine the origin of atheism goes something like this:

    A caveman standing nearby is zapped and killed by a bolt of lightning

    Caveman 1: “Me no want piss off who just do that!”

    Caveman 2: “Let’s not be too hasty in our judgments my good fellow. After all, this could prove to be a perfectly natural phenomenon and not the result of some immensely powerful supernatural actor. Why just last week you were thoroughly convinced that I had magical powers simply because I figured out how to make fire by banging together…”

    Caveman 3: (interrupting) “I agree, me no want nobody be angry at me!”

    Cavemen 1 and 3 restrain and carry off Caveman 2 to be burned (with his own invented portable fire making device) at the tree (stakes haven’t been invented yet) because his heresy obviously angered the immensely powerful being who lives in the sky and zapped people.

    To me, and I’ll admit I’m fairly cynical, there are far more people like Cavemen 1 and 3 in the world than there are people like Caveman 2. How are we defining natural, by the way? If it’s just a synonym for “the way things are more often than not”, then I’d have to begrudgingly admit that a rational, sceptical world view is uncommon and thus unnatural. But I would probably phrase it not as “it is more natural to have superstitions” but as “people are naturally more inclined to have superstitions”.

    I think it goes back to the saying about how “people would rather be sure than be right”. Surety is fairly easy, it’s self contained. All you have to do is get an idea in your head and then make sure to bar it closed against any other ideas. Being right is far more difficult by comparison. To be right entails the possibility of being wrong. To see if you’re wrong you need to test your idea. You have to do some work to devise that test. Even after testing your idea, technically, the only positive result is “seemingly not wrong”. Practically, that is often interpreted as meaning “right”, but there could always be another test and it could disprove your idea. Just to stress the point, I’ll explicitly state that your idea can never be proven, only disproven. It is only though the limitations of human knowledge and various technical restraints that we have come to accept those ideas that have yet to be disproven as being right.

    I know this is not the most popular view to hold, but it boils down to the old debate of religion vs. science. Religion can make you sure, but only science can make you right.

  • lpetrich

    I think that if one was to use the beliefs of some “primitive” people, that exchange might go:

    Caveman 1: Let’s find out who cast a hex on him!

    Caveman 2: That’s absurd! Lightning strikes all over the place without any regard for what it’s striking. He was unlucky.

    Caveman 3: I’d rather believe that someone cast a hex on him than believe that his death had no real cause.

    So Cavemen 1 and 3 go and try to find the sorcerer they believe to be responsible.

    And given the sort of people who had believed things like that, it would not be surprising if that had been believed for most of our species’ history.

  • Joe Hardwick

    I think religion is both natural and necessary, whereas theism is not.As for the intollerance of monotheism, if intollerance were not built into the motive, the very existance of monotheism would be highly unlikely. For, eventually, people would have to draw a distinction between the concepts of God. Monotheism affords the convenience of a nice shell game, where a word can change meanings as needed while retaining the singularity necessary to usurp the right to grant or deny access to the deity.

  • Jeff T.

    Even if it is unnatural—it is still the most plausible reality. And even if Mark Twain understood this and wept, it is what it is—even if most reject it.

    We can all believe we are going to win the lottery, yet only an infinitismal minority do—and I bet the monetary totals going in outweigh the payoffs. Yet most still cling to this belief or (meme?).

  • SM

    Ipetrich and others, I don’t think that theism can be compared to ignorance of a fact (although theists are, of course, mostly ignorant of the fact that in all probability there are no gods). I also think that unnatural in the sense of rare is not the same as unnatural in the sense of opposed to some natural force. I think skepticism, “being a bright,” or whatever you wish to call it is likely unnatural in the later sense. The problem is a way of thinking more than ignorance of a fact, and there is excellent evidence that a tendency towards this way of thinking is built into human nature just like the tendency to be possessive of our mates or a hundred other things. Let me repeat, I know of no society which was not pervaded by supernaturalism. And again, deconverting most theists would do little good if they promptly start joining odd political movements and investing in perpetual motion machines to supply their emotional need for woo.

    I should add that even the struggle to get most people thinking skeptically cannot be won it certainly does not mean we should give up. Few battles worth fighting can ever be completely won.

  • http://www.anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Atheism seems unnatural simply because religion is so embedded in our culture. Take Catholics, for example, who number a large portion of the population here in the United States. The Church plays such a prominent role in the lives of Catholics. (BTW, I am a former Catholic.) It is more than believing that the Pope is God’s emissary on Earth and going to church every Sunday. The Church provides milestones in the lives of its believers, beginning with baptism, followed by communion, confirmation, and in many cases, marriage, and then ultimately the funeral mass. All of these events are important in the lives of families and are frequently serve as occasions in which family and friends join together in celebration. To ask them to give up their religion is like asking them to amputate a limb.

    Even though I am an atheist, I still felt compelled for conformity’s sake to be married in the Catholic church (my Filipina wife being Catholic) and having our two children baptized in the church. For me, it was all for show to give the family what they expected. But I do draw the line at having my children go through communion and all that comes after that. My wife, thankfully, is rather lax in her Catholicism, and she knows that I am an atheist. I believe that I will be able to dodge the communion bullet for my kids.

  • Douglas Struthers

    SM – Thank you for articulating what I realise I was attempting to get at! The Enlightenment introduced the notion that in might be ok to be sceptical about received opinion etc. But as you say different forms of supernaturalism spontaneously arose – idealism, nationalism, fascism, fundamentalism etc.
    The answer as i see it is to ‘innoculate’ persons from these various mutations by the spread of a meme – being a Bright???? This would challenge people to clarify their positions and set standards for ‘rational’ debate???
    I have this strange fantasy/thought that the Enlightenment’s impact would have been quite different if we had had this word/concept???

  • http://seaoffaithhawkesbaygroup.blogspot.com/ Terry

    I wrote on our ‘Sea of Faith’ blog a few days ago

    ‘There have been small and big revolutions in(western) human thought right throughout history.In the fifteenth century Copernicus startled the world by removing the earth from the centre of the Universe, then Darwin showed that we humans were just another animal but of course not yet accepted by everyone.Not two hundred years ago we began to realise that slavery was not right,then a hundred years ago women’s rights started to become the norm read on>>

  • Gipper

    Atheism is natural, religion is not. How many creatures practiced any form of religion before we came along? How many people, if they were kept away from all religion, would claim themselves to believe in a god? You have to be taught to have religious beliefs.

  • anti-nonsense

    I suppose if you wanted to believe that humans have a genetic tendency to believe in a god then atheism could be “unnatural”. And I do think there are some elements of human psychology that can result in belief in absurd things that have nothing to do with the way reality really works, especially if they are raised in a culture that is steeped in that kind of stuff.

    but it’s certainly not against any natural laws and I don’t feel that as some religious people insist that I “know God exists but am just in denial”. Quite the opposite, I’ve always felt that trying to believe in that stuff would be denying what I know, or strongly believe to be true.

  • http://www.kezrek.deviantart.com/gallery Kezrek

    I’m very intrigued by these cavemen here. ^_^

    Very nice article and arguments, I loved reading this stuff. Go humans! *waves flag*

  • Maronan

    The massive secularization of countries like Sweden already disprove the claim that religious belief is “natural” and atheists will always be in the minority.

    I might agree with a slight variation of the original sentiment expressed by Andrew Brown— atheists will always be a minority when society is unstable or poor. I read somewhere (don’t remember where, making it unverifiable, but I’ll say it anyway) that atheism can become a majority position only when society is relatively well off, or at least, it is much more likely in those cases. In relatively well-off Europe, atheism is not necessarily a minority view, and at minimum, it’s not such a small minority as in the US. In the violence-ridden nations of the Middle East, religion is far more common. Although the US is probably closer to Europe than the Middle East in terms of societal well-being, we have a much larger gap between the rich and the poor, with far more people in poverty. We have no universal health care, putting people at risk— if you’re poor, you’ll be unable to afford health care, or you will be ruined by one sickness, or you will have to forego preventitive care, leading to ill health.

    So here’s a question: It’s been established that widespread religion in a society is correlated with greater violence. Is this because religion causes people to be violent, or because violence disrupts a stable society and leads people to turn to religion for the comfort that real life no longer provides?

  • Alex Weaver

    “Some of both” seems to be the answer. “Vicious cycle” might also be a handy description.

  • Eric

    The arguments above are wonderful and spell it out better than I could. O would offer up only one other reason this misperception of “atheism=unnatural in America” is this:

    Checkers always did outsell chess. No one in the states, with rare excpetion wants to think for themeselves or rock the boat. They do not want to to disturb the parade of gizmos, gadgets and widgets put forth to the consumer society. They don’t want to lose the 168+ channels of TV or the endless well of snacks and drinks.

    In essence, the FEAR of losing all this is part of the view that atheism is untaural, because it allows people to THINK for themselves, and by doing this it has the potential to disrupt the consumeristic/don’t think for yourself/pop-pulpit metality that pervades US culture.

    Eric