This article examines the strong correlation that currently exists between high levels of secularity in a given society positive societal well-being. By looking at the most and least theistic nations on earth, as well as the most and least theistic states in the United States, and by taking into consideration a wide array of indicators of societal well-being, the correlation is clear: the most secular societies on earth with the highest rates of non-belief fare much better, on average, than the most religious, strongly-believing societies. While understanding that correlation does not equal causation, this article still maintains that theism is clearly not the societal panacea many claim it to be, nor is atheism a source of societal degradation.
The last few years have seen a great deal of research on the association between religion, spirituality, and medical outcomes. This research has not been without controversy however, in terms of methodological and analytical issues. One particular under-researched area concerns the increasingly visible sub-population of individuals who identify themselves as ‘nonreligious’, a group that includes atheists, agnostics and individuals who believe in god(s) but do not identify with one particular religion. As a result, relatively little is known about the health and quality of life within this particular group, not only in comparison to religious individuals, but also within nonreligious populations as well. This essay covers three major issues: (1) a brief summary of the controversies concerning religion-health research; (2) what the current research does indicate about the nonreligious, particularly about affirmative atheists (as opposed to simply ‘nonreligious’); and (3) reasons for the neglect of nonreligious individuals to date and reasons for increasing attention to them.
This essay suggests that atheists endorse a range of naturalistic beliefs, such as belief in progress and in science. Social-psychological evidence for this belief replacement hypothesis, where naturalistic beliefs take the place of supernatural ones, is reviewed. Atheists seem to implicitly use their naturalistic beliefs to alleviate feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and stress, a psychological function which, until recently, had only been reported for religious beliefs. The second part of the essay focuses on motivational implications of being an atheist. Here, it is argued that atheists are particularly driven by a desire for self-mastery and, secondarily, by a sensation seeking need to engage in intense and pleasurable activities. A number of sociological, social-psychological, narrative, and sexual-behavioural studies are reviewed to support this idea. The essay concludes by highlighting the human need to believe and the importance of studying the process, rather than the content, of beliefs.