Canajun, eh? Pity!

Much is being made of a recent survey conducted by a certain Reginald W. Bibby out of the University of Lethbridge. The survey is entitled Good Without God, Better With God? and is posted on Bibby's website. This is not a peer-reviewed publication, but instead is "Project Canada Press Release #10" advertizing a talk given on October 8. Read it for yourself, it is mercifully, if suspiciously, brief.

Sociological studies, particularly self-report studies are prone to a variety of biases, including sampling errors, anticipation of researcher-expectations and adjustment of self-report, bias attributable to the wording of questions, and so on. Bibby's report provides no methodological information about sampling techniques or study procedures, so the results could be biased in either direction. That is, the groups supposedly assessed could be more similar than results indicate or theists could be even more loving and atheists even less loving than indicated.

According to the report, religionists self-reported placing higher value on a number of positive, emotion-based parameters than did atheists. Bibby should have had no difficulty finding theists for his study because, although only about 70% of Canadians are believers, Lethbridge is within Canada's Bible Belt. This geographical theistic bias is reflected in the 82% of study subjects who classified themselves as theists. Let's take Bibby at his word, even though he may be biased toward religion, having received a B.D. from Southern Seminary in Louisville.

The numbers are a little suspicious, though. Bibby reported that atheists claim to value honesty less highly than do theists. Belief in supernatural deities despite admitted lack of positive evidence for the existence of these supposed entities seems to me to indicate less insistence on truth and honesty. Atheists are likely to be recovering theists who have moved away from dogma that they can no longer accept as being true–hardly an attitude to be found in those who undervalue honesty.

Atheists were most discrepant in patience and generosity, as compared to other parameters such as valuing honesty. This makes me very suspicious about sampling and wording of the questionnaire: for instance, "how long would you wait outside a church?", "how much would you donate to a religious charity?"

However, the salient point is that even if atheists do not report valuing forgiveness and courtesy, or family and friendship, as highly as do theists, this does not in any way reflect upon the truth value of theistic versus atheistic beliefs. Nor does it demonstrate that theists actually live better lives than atheists, though it could signify this. It is far more likely that the theists responded as they did because they repeatedly hear family values and forgiveness and the other positives emphasized in Sunday sermons. The results are also consonant with the observation that theists are more likely to hold theistic beliefs out of a desire for emotional comfort and community. Thus, Bibby's study may merely point to why theists choose to join religious communities, and this is not really news at all.

Bibby is likely to prove very popular with theists who wish to 'prove' their contention that 'religion makes people good, while atheism makes people bad'. Bibby's appeal particularly likely in view of the fact that it runs counter to other, peer-reviewed, sociological research:

"But in fact when you test religious and non-religious in carefully designed psychological tests, the differences evaporate. Something similar happens with church attendance: Christians in the US, for example, report going to church about twice as often as they actually do. So what's going on here? As Vassilis Saroglou, associate professor of psychology of religion at the Université catholique de Louvain, puts it: "The contrast between the ideals and self-perceptions of religious people and the results of studies using other research strategies is so striking that researchers may be tempted to suspect moral hypocrisy in religious people."" ¬ BHA Science Group.

Personally, I am an atheist because I value truth. I also value my family and friends (love), and, in no particular order, compassion, tolerance, honesty, life, humanity, beauty, intellectual stimulation, learning, cooperation, nature, self-reliance and independence, and emotional growth.

Although I prefer to be loved in return by those whom I love, I mostly value loving selected others. To be loved by those whom I do not love could actually be somewhat burdensome–it's nice to be popular, but hell to be the rage.

I suspect that my sociogram might look different than that of a religious person. A sociogram depicts the emotional distance between ourselves and others. I am very close to my family and my closest friends. Next come my friends and then my acquaintances. Beyond those towards whom I have positive feelings through acquaintance, my next level of sense of community extends way beyond tribal in-group to include humanity at large. Thus, I am more moved by the death of innocent Iraqis than by the loss of soldiers who chose to fight. For me, the out-group comprises those whose values and actions I consider inhumane, no matter what their nationality.

Even though I value tolerance very highly, I consider urgings to forgive others over-rated–it is definitely convenient and comfortable to the forgiven, but not necessarily good for the forgiver. When reached naturally as a final resolution stage, forgiveness is the relinquishing of a burden and is healthy for the forgiver. However, admonitions by the religious that the wronged must forgive impose an emotionally unhealthy demand on those not yet ready to let go. In this area, as in other areas of religious counseling, simplistic prescriptions may be decidedly bad for emotional health.

Blogs Elsewhere : The Bibby Survey: Internal and External Validity . Are the religious more caring - or do they just think they are? . The Bibby Survey: Kindness .


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