Pharyngula

90% of teenage girls believe they are overweight, according to a recent survey. That’s something to worry about — there’s the reality, that a lot of us are overweight, but there’s also the perception problem, that many girls are convinced that they must lose weight when they really don’t. There’s an article that speculates on the cause of this problem, whether it is an obsession with celebrity, peer pressure, or pressure from the diet industry, but it comes up with a strange explanation:

It is, in truth, all of the above. But there is another profoundly important yet little noticed dynamic at work in the anxious, achievement-oriented lives of perfect girls: they have a sometimes deadly, often destructive, lack of faith.

I don’t quite get the point—so atheists are driven to be leaner? Religious people tend to be less concerned about their bodies? I have never noticed a correlation between body weight and theism/atheism, I’m afraid. I wish I could say that all atheists are beautiful, but it just isn’t so; we have the same range of body types and appearances as believers, and you can’t tell us apart by looking at us—the differences are all in our brains.

Maybe the author has some data, though. Perhaps there is some kind of valid statistical difference.

Overlay our dearth of spiritual exploration with our excess of training in ambition and you have a generation of godless girls.

We were raised largely without a fundamental sense of divinity.

In fact, our worth in the world has always been tied to our looks, grades, and gifts – not the amazing miracle of mere existence.

Thinness and achievement stand in for qualities of kindness and humility.

We think that our perfect bodies – not God’s grace or good works – will get us into heaven.

We have no deeply held sense of our own divinity, so we chase after some unattainable ideal.

Perfect girls, as a result, feel they are never enough. Never disciplined enough. Never accomplished enough. Never thin enough.

Hmmm … no evidence there at all, but what an impressive amount of handwaving. I don’t see any evidence that we can make this sweeping argument that American girls are particularly godless, or any association between atheism and body weight. I have never heard an atheist suggest that being thin is a substitute for kindness.

Does anyone believe that going to church is a useful treatment for anorexia?

That article is a perfect example of an apologist making what she thinks is a rational argument for religion — and when it’s examined, there isn’t a shred of evidence presented, and it’s nothing but a collection of excuses built on a foundation of unwarranted assumptions.

(via ERV)

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    April 30, 2007

    “Christian girls let their figures go” sounds like a perfect first line for a poem.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    April 30, 2007

    pleco:

    And the religious, believing in an afterlife, don’t care about this existence very much (though I always wondered why they use seat belts, take medicine, etc., if heaven is so much better than earth…)

    I always wonder why they didn’t baptize their babies, kill them, then accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and kill themselves. Sort of a do-it-yourself Rapture. OK, maybe you have to take a slow-acting poison and then accept Jesus, so that you don’t sin with your last act, but anyway, point is — shuffling off this mortal coil into Abraham’s bosom is easy.

  3. #3 MartÝn Pereyra
    April 30, 2007

    While the “I’m not thin enough” cannot be linked to godlessness, it can be fairly linked to Christianity:

    I’m not virtuous enough.
    I don’t pray enough.
    I don’t proselytize enough.
    I don’t go to the church enough.
    I don’t read the Bible enough.
    I don’t make enough sacrifice.
    I’m not charitable enough.
    I don’t have enough faith.
    I don’t love God / Christ / whatever enough.

    (I remember there was a joke in The Simpsons like that: Ned Flanders calling Reverend Lovejoy and saying: “I’m humble, but I think I could be humbler” or something like that.)

    At least, similar expressions of self-humiliation are common in the most fanatical brances of Catholicism.

  4. #4 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    April 30, 2007

    One could as easily claim that a religious outlook is required to sustain an obsession.

    And that atheism or more specifically skepticism at large at least means a leaner, hungrier and more active consciousness. :-)

    In America, IIRC, obesity is more common in the Midwest and South, and among the poor; so is religious belief. I’d expect that alone to produce a positiv correlation.

    I expect the same. We have also positive correlations education-atheism and education-fitness that supports this expectation within a specific population.

    Swedes are not particularly religious or very overweight

    The overweight trend is hitting Europe as well as other continents. There is a time lag between populations, different for different phenomena.

    Here AFAIK it seems to be about 20-30 years, or a generation, before particularly sedentary habits become popular. (The root causes may be unknown or unverified, but personally I think this hints that inactivity may be the root cause.)

    The good news is that there is still time to be proactive. IIRC, in UK they have successfully tested programs where they teach adolescents how to eat (basically, regular and prepared meals) and the difference between food and junk. (Since their parents doesn’t know, or doesn’t know how to teach them.)

    That seems to help, but I wouldn’t expect them to help fully if they don’t get to all of the root cause(s).

  5. #5 Aris
    April 30, 2007

    Suzanne: A lot of smart people fear atheism, not because they think it’s implausible, but because it makes them morally uncomfortable

    You’re quite eight. In fact, I think this is the biggest hurdle we face as secularists is convincing the average person that morality and religion are most definitely not synonyms. I get very annoyed with the insistence of the press and politicians to refer to “values” as the provenance — in fact, as the sole provenance — of the religious and spiritual.

    While the prominent attacks on religion as the bane of humankind by PZ, Dawkins et al. have been awesome and inspiring, it’s time for creating another front in this war of ideas: since ethical behavior is the product of rational thought, not a system based on future rewards and punishments, the argument ought not to be that secularists can also be good people, but that only secularists can be truly good, because their goodness is an end in itself, and not a means for procuring after-death booty.

    ___________________________

  6. #6 forsen
    April 30, 2007

    IMO, there has at no point is history existed anything which can be even remotely defined as a thoroughly atheist society. The attempts (communist dictatures, for example) have usually, to some extent, promoted persecution of religioous minorities and/or infringements of the freedom of speech in the same manner as theocracies. Besides that, they usually end up with some sort of state-imposed emperor worship instead of the rejected religion – look at the personality cults around Mao, Stalin & so on. So no, I don’t’ think neither Sweden nor Australia can be defined as atheist countries/cultures… although highly secularized ones.

    Concerning the beliefs in “something”, I think they usually are so weakly defined that their degree of rationality can’t even be judged. Concerning rationality btw, I think intellectuals often greatly exaggerate the importance of rationality when it comes to peoples belives. To your sterotypical, blue-collar Tom and Jane, the thorough logical coherence of a theological/philosophic system has very little to do with whether or not to maintain religious beliefs/practices/fellowship. To most folks, the values of religion does not lie in intellectual sophistry – instead, it gives them an identity in a group, hope for an afterlife, metaphysical foundation for etics, and so on and so on. People who are not intellectually inclined, usually do not think very much on these matters. I’ve met quite a lot of outspoken, church-attending Christians who are less interested in theology than I am. So no, I wouldn’t say they’re more stupid than the average, ‘rational’ free-thinker… they just have another disposition of personality. It’s like – to take an Australian example – blaming Ian Thorpe for being a poor philosopher, or Peter Singer for being an equally poor swimmer.

    If you still wonder whether this belief in “something” is irrational or not, well… I do not belong to the Dawkins branch of atheism, which thinks we would be much better off if all religious expressions were eradicated from the face of the earth. Like Dennett, I remain agnostic about that. Religion is a multi-faceted phenomenon deeply rooted in human society – partly out of tradition, partly – I think – out of neurological disposition; a by-product of certain aspects of our cognition ( read the excellent article by Paul Bloom at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200512/god-accident , if you haven’t already). It has served as everything from great ethical inspiration to motivation for heinous crimes against humanity. Religion has been a part of human society from the very beginning, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to leave any time soon. Even in highly secularized societies like Sweden and Australia, many ppl still believe in this “Something”. And if people who believe in this “Something” act in a civilized manner, and do not “step on the toes of science” (as Stephen Jay Gould put it), I honestly have no problems with it.

  7. #7 Suzanne
    April 30, 2007

    forsen, I mostly agree with you – (and thanks for the cultural references mate ;-) )

    But I’m torn.

    On the one hand, I think it’s sad, and often destructive, that people feel they need to believe in “something” – because that “something” can easily become culturally transformed into a religion, and religion can easily become fanatical. So I worry about this, and many people here seem to feel the same way.

    But I also worry about the opposite. Like Dawkins I dream of a society free of supernatural beliefs, but that’s not something that has ever existed. What makes me so sure it will work? I don’t need religion, but maybe some people do. Maybe nobody needs religion, but maybe it does make society happier. How can we know?

    So I sit on the fence, and it ain’t comfortable here, so please, someone, anyone… convince me!

  8. #8 Tatarize
    April 30, 2007

    >>But I also worry about the opposite. Like Dawkins I dream of a society free of supernatural beliefs, but that’s not something that has ever existed. What makes me so sure it will work?

    Such a society does exist, in every species other than humans. They do fine. Also, the supernatural beliefs use to just be really amazing natural beliefs. It wasn’t until science came around crushing all the little hiding places for gods that people started shoving their gods outside the universe, science, reason, and rationality.

  9. #9 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    May 1, 2007

    obscurifer:

    isn’t it a bit irresponsible of a corporation to support adding another meal to the menu?

    Many fitness programs (i.e. based on regular training) suggest eating more often, say each 3-4 hour, to even out blood sugar load and provide steady nourishment, so maximizing recovery from hard training.

    It is unclear to me if there are any measurable effects. But if there is, perhaps a less rigorous training regime also benefits from this, it could put less stress on the organism.

    This must be balanced by eating smaller portions of course, and that would presumably preclude junk food – it wouldn’t be enough bulk to stop the hunger.

    One should also consider the allegedly measurable fact that eating more than 4 or 5 times per day gives more wear on teeth, brushing or no brushing.

    Suzanne:

    payments to the church are still an integral part of the tax system.

    Only for those who still are members, and this for practical reasons. In law, state and church is now separate. (Except for the formality that the former state church still has the privilege of keeping the name ‘Swedish Church’.)

    The fact that a majority of people still believe in “something” suggests to me that you can’t really call this an atheist society.

    I have looked at, and criticized, the statistics in earlier comments to Pharyngula. The problem is that inconsistent and leading questions makes numbers very different in different studies. Comparing with other european countries within the same studies, swedes seems to be among the less organized religious and most atheist.

    I think we need better studies to draw more definite conclusions on absolute numbers. It was easier when everyone went to church. :-o

  10. #10 forsen
    May 1, 2007

    Good if I have been of any help =) I am very uncomfortable when atheists are not content with people being outspoken atheists/agnostics/”free-thinkers”, but demand that they cross the “second fence” as well, into what you call “militant atheism” – the position that religion in itself is something wicked and evil, and that we would be much better off without it. I find the approach of Paul Bloom or the late Stephen Jay Gould much more fruitful (and more mature, but that’s my personal opinion) than the one of Dawkins/Harris/Grayling/Hitchens, or whatever radical atheist you want to pick. Actually, if I had to choose I’d probably pick theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller or Simon Conway Morris over the radical atheists, although their way of mixing science and religion makes me shun (“Non-overlapping magisteria, ffs!” =) ).

    Now let me be absolutely clear on this point – I think that the god of the Old Testament is one of the nastiest characters in the history of world litterature, I would gladly see the bogus of creationism/ID or fanaticism/fundamentalism going extinct. But all of religion ain’t like that!

    Religion as a phenomenon is nothing but than a product of the human brain and society – therefore it’s only good or bad to the extent that the societies and ppl that are good or bad. Claiming that religion is more evil than the minds who uphold would be, I think, to postulate the concepts metaphysical evil – and for all I know, metaphysics is something that atheistm/naturalism/reductionism, by definition, rejects.

    Concerning your friend, he’s just showing typical signs of what can be called the “infatuation phase” of a religious conversion. I went through the entire religious spectra in my teens/early twenties: conversion -> fanaticism/zealotry -> stabilisation -> backsliding -> outspoken deconversion -> atheism/free-thought. There are, generally speaking, two possible outcomes for your friend. Either he takes the path above. Or, he diverges from it in the “stabilisation” phase, and remains a stable believer with slightly more liberal views over time.
    Of course, he could take a turn for the worse and turn into a full-blown fanatic nutjob, but they usually wane over time. Fanaticism takes a hell lot of energy, if it’s not fueled by extreme outer conditions such as poverty or oppression (which, among other things, is a hotbed for radical islamism).

    Either way, I think we both can agree that it’s better for our friend if he becomes a stable (and perhaps even liberal?) Christian than a suicidal atheist. A stable atheist wouldn’t be bad either, but hell, you can’t always get what you want… =)

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