In does belief in god harm us?, I looked at how religious belief affects the way people behave. Now a psychologist has looked at the question, seeking to explain:
- why atheists in the US are less happy, less healthy and less altruistic than believers, yet the church-tolerant non-believers in Scandinavia are happy and altruistic; and
- why religious belief seems to make people more honest.
I would have thought the answers were obvious - believers have a stronger reason to behave ethically and be altruistic and their greater sense of purpose makes them happier, while the differences between Scandinavians and Americans relates to other aspects of the two societies - but he has some interesting ideas.
He thinks the main source of all these positive behaviours and characteristics are good social networks - which the religious have in the US and the Scandinavians have, but which the atheists in the US don't have.
Bizarrely, he blames the christians for making the atheists outsiders and (more sensibly) for thinking them immoral and unpatriotic. Read about it in this article from Slate.