Thursday, March 12, 2009

Belief in God and mental health: In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton argued that atheism is associated with mental illness. Is it? There are two relevant questions from the General Social Survey: 1) How confident are you in the existence of God? 2) In the past month, how many days was your mental health not good?

Mean days of bad mental health in past month (N = 1,703)

Doesn't believe 1.88
No way to find out 3.44
Some higher power 4.86
Believes sometimes 2.95
Believes but doubts 3.01
Knows God exists 2.67

As I've shown in several other posts on wellness, it seems like it's healthiest to be confident, one way or the other. And Chesterton, as much as I like the guy, is wrong.


  1. Heh. As an atheist, I'd love to gloat, but I would only be kidding. It's just self-selection. In a society where some sort of religious belief is a default, it takes a fair amount of mental energy to go against the flow - or make bold claims of any kind. Which accounts for the symmetry.

  2. Interestingly, I reported something similar a few years ago:

    But when I followed-up these early studies, we found the effect was pretty weak in most population samples, and I found it hard to replicate convincingly.

  3. "And I insist on repeating it - I am astonished that with the modern ideas that I have, and being so ardent an admirer of Zola and de Goncourt and caring for things of art as I do, that I have attacks such as a superstitious man might have and that I get perverted and frightful ideas about religion such as never came into my head in the North." -- Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, 19 September 1889

  4. Mental illness is a broad idea. I imagine schizophrenia is more common among the fundamentalist and depression is more common among the atheist.

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