An atheist organization (The American Humanist Association) has adapted the British Humanist Association’s UK campaign (“There’s probably No God – Now stop worrying and enjoy your life “) to the US starting in DC with a Christmas season ad campaign to try to convince more Americans not to believe in God and to be good anyway, (“Why Believe In God? Just Be Good For Goodness Sake”).
Unfortunately, their campaign flies in the face of strong data-based evidence in the US, from a high quality, large scale survey, of how religious citizens (controlling for lots of other individual factors) are better citizens: they give more to secular causes, volunteer more for secular causes, vote more, are more engaged in their communities, to name only a few benefits.
That said, the survey did not find that it is belief that produces this benefits, it was having friends in a faith community, probably because it was something about being surrounded by others who were infused with moral beliefs that held them accountable for their actions. The survey findings reveal that “belief in God” is not the crucial predictor; atheists in theory can be nice and happy if go to church and make friends there (although only 4% of those attending church monthly are “not quite sure” they believe in God), and conversely, believers who don’t go to “church” or don’t have any friends there are more likely to be mean and unhappy. The survey reveals that 21% of those who are “absolutely sure” about God attend church no more than once or twice a year.
This and other evidence of how religion and public life intersect will come out late next year in a book, tentatively entitled “American Grace” (Simon & Schuster) by my colleague Robert Putnam, and professor David Campbell at Notre Dame.