In today’s Huff Post, Psychologist Nigel Barber writes about his research on the link between material comfort and atheism. According to his data, it seems like the belief in God is stronger in poor countries where you are more likely to die young than in wealthy countries with modern health care and social welfare. The reason for this is, in Barber’s own words,
It seems that with better science, with government safety nets, better health, and longer life expectancy, there is less fear and uncertainty in people’s daily lives. As a result there is less of a need for religion to help people cope with the otherwise uncomfortable feeling that they have little control over their lives.
This seems like a plausible theory to me, although I feel Barber fails to notice what this says about atheism – that this attitude is highly situational, and for that reason also highly irrational. If we assume that the idea that atheism is rational then the rational person would stick to it regardless of the situation. But according to Barber’s data, countries without material safety have hardly any atheists at all. This suggests that most atheists rely on external factors rather than rational thought in arriving at their atheism. In other words, they are irrational.
Another possible conclusion that can be drawn from this theory is that most atheist revert to religion when facing imminent death. There is of course no reliable data on this, but if the theory is correct, then it makes perfect sense that those who are atheist because they have a sense of safety and security will revert when these prerequisites are gone.