I have for a long time now contended that most atheists had low self esteem. I found several sources that asserted it but with no empirical proof. What really got me thinking that was the almost desperate need some of them have to mock and ridicule Christians. It struck me that they were doing that to bolster their own egos. I have now found empirical evidence of this notion. There are several studies that claim to demonstrate that atheists have low self esteem. This is still not proof. There is a long way to go to prove the argument, and I'm sure that its not true of all atheists anyway. These studies are limited in many ways. but there are several of them and they do cover more than one culture. It's a good start on exploring a hypothesis. The main study I am examining here, however, is called "rejection of Christianity and Self Esteem." I will refer to this study as RCSE.
All the studies are done by the same group Emyr Williams, Leslie J Francis, Mandy Robbins
University of Wales, Bangor, UK the major study uses A sample of 279 13- to 16-year-old secondary school pupils in Wales completed the Rejection of Christianity Scale and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory. After controlling for sex differences a small but significant correlation was found between the two variables, indicating that low self-esteem is associated with the rejection of Christianity. Leslie J. Francis did three of the IQ studies that show no correlation between religious belief, lack thereof, and intelligence. The last such study he did was in 1996, but he has done three such studies on IQ and religious belief.
The rejection of Christianity scale was constructed by Francis, but not just for this study. The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventor is standard has been used for a while.The study was done as a smaller piece of a larger picture that consists of several more studies and seeks to understand the relationship between self esteem and religoius belief. The larger picture is an argument that acceptance of Christianity is based upon good self esteem.
Much of the work that measures religiosity uses items that are specifically designed to determine positive valency. For example, the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity (Francis, 1978; Francis & Stubbs, 1987) assesses how positively people feel about God, Jesus, the Bible, prayer and church. Using this instrument, a number of studies have demonstrated a positive association between a positive attitude toward Christianity and a range of positive psychological categories, such as happiness (Francis, Jones, & Wilcox, 2000), general psychological health (Francis, Robbins, Lewis, Quigley, & Wheeler, 2004) and life satisfaction (Lewis, 1998). In particular, several studies have now confirmed the link between a positive attitude toward Christianity and better self-esteem (Jones & Francis, 1996).In other words a fairly large body of work already exists documenting the relationship between acceptance of Christianity and good self esteem. Measurements of things like happiness and self esteem are standard and have long been demonstrated by well validated measurement instruments.
The rejection of Christianity scale:
By way of contrast, the Rejection of Christianity Scale proposed by Greer and Francis (1992) was designed to assess negative valency. The authors of the measure presented 32 negatively phrased questions to a sample of 875 fourth- and fifth-year secondary school pupils attending ten Catholic and ten Protestant schools in Northern Ireland. The questions that received the lowest item-rest-of-test correlations were rejected, leaving a scale of 20 items generating alpha coefficients of 0.94 for the Protestant sample and 0.90 for the Catholic sample. This scale has been shown to have internal consistency reliability among Northern Irish undergraduate students (Lewis, Maltby, & Hersey, 1999) and Welsh undergraduate students (Robbins, Francis, & Bradford, 2003).
Little research has been done to relationships between this measure and self-esteem. Since previous research has shown that there is a positive correlation between self-esteem and indices of religiosity designed with a positive valency (Jones & Francis, 1996), it is hypothesised that a negative relationship will be found between self-esteem and this measure of religiosity designed with negative valency.
A total of 279 secondary school pupils in Wales from years 9, 10 and 11 completed the 20-item Rejection of Christianity Scale (Greer & Francis, 1992) and the 25-item Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1981). One quarter (25%) were aged 13, one third (32%) were aged 14; 30% were aged 15, and 13% were aged 16. Males comprised 56% of the sample and females 44% of the sample.
The Rejection of Christianity Scale (Greer & Francis, 1992) is a 20-item Likert-type instrument, employing a five-point response scale ranging from ‘agree strongly’, through ‘agree’, ‘not certain’, and ‘disagree’, to ‘disagree strongly’. The scale measures negative valency toward Christianity. This scale is designed so that higher scores indicate a higher tendency to reject Christianity.
The Coopersmith Short-Form Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1981) is a 25-item instrument, employing a dichotomous response scale of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The possible range of scores for this form of the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory is 0-25, with higher scores indicating higher self-esteem.
Both measures achieved satisfactory Cronbach alpha coefficients (Rejection of Christianity Scale, .88; Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, .80). After controlling for sex differences by means of partial correlations, the data demonstrated a small, but significant, correlation (r= -0.14, p <.05) between self-esteem (M = 15.3, SD = 4.9) and rejection of Christianity (M = 62.7, SD = 13.2) indicating that as teenagers’ endorsement of negative statements concerning Christianity increases, their scores of negative self-esteem also tend to increase.
The present study has explored the relationship between rejection of Christianity and self-esteem among adolescents in Wales. After controlling for sex differences a small but significant negative(References used by RCSE can be seen in link above).
correlation is found between high-self esteem and rejection of Christianity, as hypothesized. This finding strengthens the conclusions drawn from studies like that of Jones and Francis (1996), which demonstrated a positive correlation between high self-esteem and a positive attitude toward Christianity by demonstrating that the association is not a function of the valency of the measure of religiosity. Evidence of this nature appears to be suggesting that the Christian tradition is supportive of the development of self-esteem among young people rather than detrimental to it.
The major criticism is that this study is not representative. It's only a small sample of Welsh children.
The rejection of Christianity scale has been validated.
This scale has been shown to have internal consistency reliability among Northern Irish undergraduate students (Lewis, Maltby, & Hersey, 1999) and Welsh undergraduate students (Robbins, Francis, & Bradford, 2003).
That is to say these are not the same as above, where those were done on secondary students these are done on college (Undergraduate). Although Wales and Ireland are basically the same general culture. The work on self esteem and rejection of Christianity is just getting started. The other pieces of the puzzle in this equation have all been put in place. The rejection of Christianity scale has been validated cross culturally in several studies. The link between positive self esteem and acceptance of Christianity has been validated cross culturally and the attitude toward Christianity scale has been validated cross culturally. Francis scale of attitude toward Christianity has been cross validated in Hong Kong and Belgium.
A second argument used by atheists is that Children are being given negative self images by religion, they are blamed for being gay and other things churches call 'sin' thus they are given their negative self esteem in return they reject religion because it has rejected them. On the face of it that looks like a pretty likely senerio. Through what mechanism does this happen? Is it inherent in all religion or is there a way to avoid it? Ralph Peidmont wrote a book that is part of a multi-volume set called Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, this is Volume 16. He discusses a study by Francis (p105) that establishes a positive correlation between a positive God image and high self esteem. In other words if you teach children that God is good and loves them they will will tend to have higher self esteem than if you teach them a negative, that is critical, fault finding, legalistic, blame oriented view of God.
The Fracis study in Peidmont's book used
...a 735 secondary pupils between 11-18 competed the Coopersmith Self-Esteem inventory and Revised Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and a semantic differential index of God images in order to examine the relationship between God images and self-esteem while controlling for personality factors. The data demonstrates a significant corroboration between positive God images and positive self esteem, after controlling for individual differences in personality. (105)
Peidmont traces the currents of social science research on the top through seven different "strands" of thought which include everything form "religions causes negative self-esteem" to "religion causes postiive self esteem" and all the machinations one can think of based upon variations of those two poles. The problem is none of that research was based upon the kind scientific instruments and controls that Francis uses. Peidmont discusses the work of Spilka and Benson who start from the other end of the spectrum and investigate the assumption that self-esteem shapes the acceptability of God images. Peidmont quotes Benson and Spilka in 1973:
Persons with high levels of self esteem may find it difficult to share the same religious belief. A theology predicated upon a loving accepting God is cognitively compatible with high self esteem, but it could be a source of discomfort for a believer low in self esteem. It does not make good cognitive sense to be loved when one is unlovable. Consequently the latter person can march to a different theology, one that is more consistent with his self image. (Benson and Spilka 209-210).
The implications are intriguing becuase it not only means that people who present a mean legalistic view of God have low self-esteem, not only that atheist's rejection of God is due to their low self esteem but that for those atheists who really rail against God as evil, mean, and vicious, they are really railings against themselves. Whereas it doesn't necessarily follow that we can correct it by teaching people that God is loving. Would they just reject the notion of a loving God because it doesn't fit their sense of self?
Benson and Spilka* did two studies in (73) and (75). the latter done by Spilka, Addison and Rosenshon. Both studies determined self esteem by a modified Coopersmith. They assessed God images by means of semantic differential grid which generated two scales defined as measuring a loving God image and a controlling God image.Self-esteem was negatively related to a wrathful God image. Among female students self esteem was negatively related to a wrathful God image. Although Peidmont shows other studies that didn't find a correlation, Cartier and Goehner (1976) related measures of self-esteem with God images (Peidmont 109).
The significance of this is two fold. If it is true that theological teaching is to blame for self image, or to laud for good self image, it behooves the chruch to seek to teach healing images of God. This may be a huge short coming for which a great deal of theological education deserves blame. It may also be the case that being an atheist, at least for some, has less to do with reason and logic as the atheist try to argue it does, and more to do with hidden psychological motives.