Are they related?

In case you have not heard, the number of people who declare themselves to be non-religious has risen over the last few years.  This has the Gnu atheists all excited, especially given the fact that atheism appears to be on the sharpest rise among young people. 

Whether they have good cause to be excited is a topic for another day.  Right now I would like to ask why are young Americans so receptive to atheism?  Is it because they have superior reasoning abilities?  A superior ability to detect and process evidence?

Actually, that is probably how the young atheists would explain it.  For there is another trend that has risen among the youth for the last few decades – narcissism.


According to a recent BBC report:

About nine million young people have filled out the American Freshman Survey, since it began in 1966.

It asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.

Yet note this:

while the Freshman Survey shows that students are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.

And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.

Apparently, according to one scientist who has been studying this, there has been a “30% tilt towards narcissistic attitudes in US students since 1979.”

Why is this?

In The Narcissism Epidemic, co-written with Keith Campbell, Twenge blames the growth of narcissistic attitudes on a range of trends – including parenting styles, celebrity culture, social media and access to easy credit, which allows people to appear more successful than they are.

“What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success.

“Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.”

Hmmmm.  Should we explore the possible relationship between the rise of narcissism among the youth with the rise of atheism among the youth?  Is there any connection?

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8 Responses to Are they related?

  1. Bilbo says:

    Rhetorical question?

  2. Tim lambert says:

    Mike, have you ever read GK Chesterton’s book, “Orthodoxy”? If not, do so. If not the whole thing, than at least read the chapter “The Maniac”. Touches heavily on the whole, “he believes in himself” theme.

  3. Tim lambert says:

    “That man will get on; he believes in himself.” And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written “Hanwell.” I said to him, “Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. “Yes, there are,” I retorted, “and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can’t act believe in themselves; and debtors who won’t pay. It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the man who has it has `Hanwell’ written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus.”

  4. Correlation does not equal causation. Confidence is not a sin and it is not the ruination of a person. Over confidence is a sign of poor judgement of others in relation to self. The problem is not as simple as you are implying. Where you imply that overconfidence and atheism are linked, what you are not saying is that during this time that this has happened the church/religion has failed utterly to stop it or prevent it or correct it. Sitting back and pointing fingers like this is, to those that can think clearly, nothing but an admission that your god and religion were powerless to stop it from happening. All your prayers and worship did nothing. Claiming now that your god and religion will cure this ill is nothing less than self loathing because deep down you know that your god and religion failed to prevent it.

  5. Crude says:

    Claiming now that your god and religion will cure this ill

    Man, every single time you comment, it comes with a heaping help of ‘didn’t even read the OP, is responding to things that weren’t even said’.

  6. Debilis says:

    I couldn’t speak to a direct connection, but I’d say that there is an indirect one.

    That is, young atheists often complain that Christianity is too negative about human nature (citing belief in the universality of sin) when, in fact, it is one of the most positive teachings on humanity to ever take hold in human history.

    Europe was transformed by the idea that the one God could identify (even become) a commoner. Now, two-millenia after the fact, people are saying that this is a horrible attack on the inherent greatness of the average person. This seems odd, to say the least.

    So I would say this “believe in yourself” attitude does encourage people to think that they don’t need God. It is also why people who have really suffered don’t buy into it, and are much less likely to be atheists.

  7. Tim lambert says:

    Myatheistlife said,
    “Where you imply that overconfidence and atheism are linked, what you are not saying is that during this time that this has happened the church/religion has failed utterly to stop it or prevent it or correct it.”

    That makes no sense at all. You might not know this, MAL, but humans have freedom of will. Religion provides the standard by which to live. Chose to follow that standard or chose to go your own way.
    It’s amusing how you feel it’s the failure of the Church and the religion that some people have decided to forge their own way and in doing so place a hallmark on values that are inherently selfish.

    But I feel silly having to say this; because either you’re one hell of a fool who sincerely couldn’t make this pretty mundane connection; or you’re exercising the atheists freedom to sneer. Either way….

    But as usual, there is this disconnect between what was said in the actual post and your reply to it.

  8. Tim lambert says:

    One more thing….
    Do you hold strong to “correlation doesn’t mean causation”, MAL?
    It doesnt appear so. In one breath you’re saying that the correlation between atheism and narcissism doesn’t mean one caused the other.
    But then you simply declare that, if this has happened, the church/religion has utterly failed. But that would also be a matter of correlation, not enough to allow you to claim that the church/religion has actually caused it to happen.

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