Atheists' Emotional Health Doesn't Suffer from Non-Belief

Does God give believers a mental health boost? Two psychologists argue that it's just not so — atheists are just as emotionally stable as those with religion.

Atheists' Emotional Health Doesn't Suffer from Non-Belief

I've often wondered if my atheistic ways were unhealthy. When I first realized my brain was unable to rationalize the existence of a supreme being, I would lie awake contemplating my own mortality — scary stuff. I missed the way I used to mentally dump out my issues on God during prayer and the small-talk coffee hour that followed church. But I eventually moved past this phase and found other outlets: A healthy regimen of mindfulness meditation and Sunday morning brunches with friends filled the void. However, Tom Jacobs from Pacific Standard writes that, like myself, psychologists have long debated whether or not secularists are as emotionally healthy as people with religion. Some researchers have concluded that believers have the benefit of knowing some bigger force is looking out for them along with a congregation, making them more emotionally balanced than non-believers. However, a recent study challenges this notion, saying “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.”

Jon T. Moore and Mark Leach published their study in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, where they wrote:

“The impaired mental health stigma against secular (individuals) is, at the very least, an exaggeration.”

The two used online forums to find their participants, which comprised of 4,667 believers and non-believers with a mean age of 27. Moore and Leach had them complete a series of surveys to gauge how much of an influence religion played in their lives and how satisfied they were with their lives. The latter part asked participants things like their “satisfaction with their social support system” (something psychologists argue religion offers more of) and their “ability to pursue their goals.”

The researchers found that “those who were absolutely certain of God’s existence or nonexistence had largely similar levels of mental health.” Moore and Leach found that true believers came out ahead of committed atheists in showing “higher levels of gratitude.” But when it came to mental health, the researchers found “declaring that there is a substantial mental health disparity between religious and secular groups were not supported.” Indeed, their results reveal that religion may play a role in adding a “protective factor of an individual’s mental health,” but that's all.

There are benefits to having that feeling of belonging to a group, which religion offers, but people can get that same feeling by joining a club or organization. It's not that religion has magic emotional benefits; non-believers just have to look elsewhere to find them.

Take mindfulness meditation, for example. In her interview with Big Think, Arianna Huffington talks about how important mindfulness is to her daily routine (and how hard it is to make it a habit). She emphasizes how important this time is, though, saying it's a time to take care of a deeper part of ourselves:

Archaeologists discover 3,200-year-old cheese in ancient Egyptian tomb

A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.

The broken jar in which the white mass of cheese was found. (Photo: University of Catania and Cairo University)
Culture & Religion

Keep reading Show less

Modern society is as unequal as 14th century Europe

As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.

"Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius"

Getty Open Content
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
  • The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
  • Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Keep reading Show less

You are suffering from “tab overload”

Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
Technology & Innovation
  • A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
  • The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
  • The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
Keep reading Show less
Personal Growth

Epicurus and the atheist's guide to happiness

Seek pleasure and avoid pain. Why make it more complicated?