Sunday, November 30, 2008

Does religion encourage nihilism? Reader Jason argued in the last post that churches teach that life has no meaning and there is no right and wrong if there is no God. As Dostoevsky wrote, if there is no God, everything is permitted. On the other hand, people raised without religion learn other reasons for being good.

So, if a person is raised in a religion but then loses his faith, does he becomes more nihlistic? Is he more likely to break the law?

The General Social Survey asked people about their current religion and the religion of their youth. Here are mean nihilism scores:

Mean nihilism score

Raised in a religion, still has one .32
Raised in a religion, none now .76
No religion as a kid, has one now .47
No religion as a kid, none now .56

Losing one's faith is associated with more nihilism. People raised with no religion do better, but, as we saw in the previous post, belonging to a church currently is best.

And what about bad behavior? I'd like to look at crime, but the question was not asked in the year that childhood religion was. Let's look at attitudes toward cheating on taxes:

Mean wrongness of cheating on taxes score

Raised in a religion, still has one 3.14
Raised in a religion, none now 2.90
No religion as a kid, has one now 3.10
No religion as a kid, none now 2.88

Those who have abandoned religion have basically the same mean score as those who were raised without it. People who have always belonged to a church disapprove of cheating on taxes the most. No evidence here anyway that people who turn away from religion become antisocial.


  1. I independently came up with something like Fred Phelps' ultra-calvinist theology. Later on when I read about H. P. Lovecraft's "Azathoth" I recognized it as basically the deity I worshipped. I explicitly bit the Euthyphro bullet and said there is no meaning of "good" outside the will of God, good is what He proclaims it to be and it makes no sense to claim that God could violate the rules of any sort of inherent goodness of the universe. Currently I'm a Stirnerite emotivist/non-cognitivist. I don't like the term "nihilist" though. Nihilists like the Russian revolutionaries really believed in something.

  2. Oh please. Religion is good for you. It also tends to be decreased by education and wealth and to be anti-science. Not all good things are correlated. In many cases, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

  3. Anonymous10:02 AM

    And SFG....look at the behavior of strongly religious countries, and the less religious countries
    (i.e. compare the lifestyles of the Japanese, Germans, Swedes, then look wonderful things going on in Latin America and the Middle East)

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