The Antithesis of an Antitheist Atheist

The term “atheist” has been poisoned, somewhat, by the large crop of “anti-theists” who are tremendously hostile to religion.  (Interestingly, they tend to be hostile to Christianity while being considerably less concerned about Islam.)

I have always been troubled by those quick to blame, say, all wars on religion.  (It’s often Christianity to blame in their views.) This ignores the secular death toll. It also ignores the effect of politics; people in positions of power tend to use their own mindsets as justification.  A religiously inclined leader (or one in such a culture) might use religion as a justification — when his real goal was territory, and religion’s supposed role is a red herring).

George W. Bush perhaps disappointed the left in this regard. He did not use religious justifications in Iraq, nor even territorial ones — so they had to make up a “God told me to strike them” quote that is still popular on the Left though long-debunked by the people (including Muslims) who were at that meeting.

And even a non-theist — mind closed or not — should be able to understand the benefits that religion brings to many people and to society in general, whether or not he chooses to be part of the congregation (note that the article is written from an atheist perspective):

Let’s say someone gives you $10. Not a king’s ransom, but enough for lunch. You’re then told that you can share your modest wealth with a stranger, if you like, or keep it. You’re assured that your identity will be protected, so there’s no need to worry about being thought miserly. How much would you give?

If you’re like most people who play the so-called dictator game, which has been used in numerous experiments, you will keep most of the money. In a recent study from a paper with the ominous title “God Is Watching You,” the average subject gave $1.84. Meanwhile, another group of subjects was presented with the same choice but was first asked to unscramble a sentence that contained words like “divine,” “spirit,” and “sacred.”

The second group of subjects gave an average of $4.22, with a solid majority (64 percent) giving more than five bucks. A heavenly reminder seemed to make subjects significantly more magnanimous. In another study, researchers found that prompting subjects with the same vocabulary made some more likely to volunteer for community projects. Intriguingly, not all of them: Only those who had a specific dopamine receptor variant volunteered more, raising the possibility that religion doesn’t work for everybody.

A similar experiment was conducted on two Israeli kibbutzes. The scenario was more complicated: Subjects were shown an envelope containing 100 shekels (currently about $25). They were told that they could choose to keep as much of the money as they wished, but that another member of the kibbutz was being given the identical option. If the total requested by the participants (who were kept separated) exceeded 100 shekels, they walked away with nothing. If the total was less than or equal to 100, they were given the money plus a bonus based on what was left over.

The kicker is that one of the kibbutzes was secular and one was religious. Turns out, the more-devout members of the religious kibbutz, as measured by synagogue attendance, requested significantly fewer shekels and expected others to do the same. The researchers, Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle, ventured that “collective ritual has a significant impact on cooperative decisions.”

See also a study that found that religious people were, in some instances, more likely to treat strangers fairly. Or the multiple studies suggesting that people who were prompted to think about an all-seeing supernatural agent were less likely to cheat. Or the study of 300 young adults in Belgium that found that those who were religious were considered more empathetic by their friends.

It is foolish for non-theists to wish such a system destroyed.  I am sort of the antithesis of the antitheist atheist, and find their hostility disappointing.

Ah, but like the “occupy” movement, they often seem to be motivated by hate. As you know, I always write “occupy” in lower case, because those folks so evidently hate capitalism.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • David Rosman

    The study to which you are most likely referring is one completed in 2008 – “Are Religious People More Prosocial? A Quasi-Experimental Study with Madrasah Pupils in a Rural Community in India.” (gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/18837/1/gupea_2077_18837_1.pdf) However, there are various other studies that have accomplished the same experiments, some with quite differing results. For this dissertation by Ali M. Ahmed, the title and abstract the nature of this study concerns those of devout religious beliefs who would also tend to be more humanistic in their daily lives.

    In all “Dictator” experiments (almost 700 versions as of mid-2012), the results remain virtually identical when religion is or is not a factor. About 25 percent of the participants are sharers and 25 percent are dictators. The remaining 50 percent fall in the middle of the bell curve.

    If you conclusion is a fear of eternal punishment causes altruism, you are misreading the experiment as other studies have proven.

    The study conducted in Israel which you cite (http://www.anth.uconn.edu/faculty/sosis/publications/kibbutzandreligion13.pdf), one of the findings makes it clear that there are no differences between religious and secular altruism. The paper states,

    “On average religious males removed 29.9 shekels (n = 108) from the envelope, religious females removed 33.7 shekels (n = 108), secular males removed 30.1 shekels (n = 170), and secular females removed 30.5 shekels (n = 172).”

    Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle conclude that, “The analyses presented here provide support for the thesis that collective ritual can promote cooperation.” There is no proof that a specific ritual, such as religion, makes any difference.

    They also postulate that “It may be argued that males who regularly participate in collective ritual take out less from the envelope because they are risk-averse, and not because they are more cooperative than their fellow kibbutz members.”

    Therefore, you conclusion is incorrect and altruism is not religion based but societal.