Tuesday, August 16, 2011


     I think it does.  Of course, not every atheist is a good money manager, nor is every good money manager an atheist.  But atheism's edge over competing worldviews in encouraging realistic, reasonable, and moderate economic behavior seems undeniable to me.

     The whole thrust of atheism is realistic.  Putting a premium on empirical proof, it always seeks factual confirmation from nature for its foundational concepts.  For example, it bases its view that the cosmos is a random concatenation of unsupervised natural laws on everything factually known about the Big Bang and subsequent cosmic history, including the evolution of intelligent life from inorganic matter.  In other words, atheism seeks to anchor itself in the proveably real, even when it speculates about what lies beyond the known, in which case it infers the unknown entirely from what is known.

     This realistic thrust is fueled by atheism's belief that reason is humanity's best instrument for understanding and coping with the facts of life and death.  Atheism and rationality have become virtually synonymous, for which many theists who prefer irrational kinds of faith fault atheism.  While few atheists see the universe as a whole or our own cosmos in particular as ultimately rational -- after all, the capacity to reason complexly has till now been confirmed only in a single species on a single planet --, all atheists regard complex reasoning, as opposed to, say, immortality or divine afflatus, as humanity's defining trait.

     Realism and rationality blend together in a moderation found in every nook and cranny of atheism's worldview.  For instance, atheism never claims to know that supernatural being don't exist.  Instead, it makes the moderate claim that the best available evidence points enough in that direction to convince most realistic and reasonable people.  But if hordes of unmistakably supernatural angels or demons with miraculous powers started showing up everywhere on earth, atheists would change their minds.  They approach all human concerns, including morality, politics, and of course finance, in a similarly moderate, open-minded way.

     Financial success is of course largely a matter of luck.  Being the daughter of subsistence farmers in Somalia is a less promising financial launch pad than being the son of highly-paid professionals in Switzerland.  Yet given enough luck, the Somali girl could end up richer than the Swiss boy, though the initial luck of their wealth at birth would most likely determine their economic destinies.  And good luck can turn bad in the twinkling of an eye.  Kevin can lose his well-paying job as a skilled machinist to robots.  Megan can lose her well-paying job as an account executive to downsizing.

     Granting that luck plays a large role in inheriting or building wealth, managing well whatever wealth you have nonetheless requires skills and attitudes that atheism fosters at least as well as, and in many ways better than, other worldviews.  In the first place, atheism discourages debt and encourages saving.  Secondly, it contents itself with modest financial goals and pursues them prudently.  Finally, it resists panic in financial downturns and euphoria in upturns.  Its realism, rationality, and moderateness serves its followers well in all three respects.

     First, as far as debt and savings go, atheism's basic premise -- all human beings are responsible for themselves and are in no way controlled or helped by supernatural powers -- makes atheists not only very mindful of what they do but proud of their freedom and independence from meddling, imprisoning deities.  It also makes them hate being trapped in prisons of their own making.  Debt can, and in America often does, become such a prison, and the best way to avoid it is to spend frugally and save exorbitantly.  I have no hard evidence on how well atheists don't borrow or do save, but I suspect they're better at both than humankind as a whole.

     Second, modest goals prudently sought are an almost inevitable atereffect of atheism's sober view of the human condition.  Atheists know that while human intelligence allows its bearers to comprehend, appreciate, and exploit the cosmos as nothing else yet discovered can, its ephemeral splendor ends irreversibly in death and the oblivion of inorganic matter.  Life's one-way journey from consciousness to unconsciousness prompts atheists to see all human goals as transitory and conditional and hence achieving them as insignificant in the long run.  Hence the general un-grandiosity of the goals most atheists set for themselves and their un-feverishness in pursuing them -- a mindset I see as well-suited to earning a modest living and to saving for a modest retirement.  Again, I have no idea how many atheists try to get rich quick and end up scamming, being scammed, or broke, but I suspect the number's small.

     Finally, atheism helps its followers resist financial panics and euphorias, a virtue implied in much of what's already been said.  It stems from the atheistic belief that every event in nature is a baffling mix of random chance and rigid natural law.  Unlike theists, atheists accept this disorderly orderliness as the core reality of all material being (to a materialist like me, the only kind there is) and never try to deny or change it by praying to higher powers for supernatural favors or allowing themselves to fancy they've been divinely rewarded if they're lucky or punished if they're not.

     In short, atheists find no message or meaning in financial highs and lows other than nature's own puzzling aimlessness.  Though they of course try to understand and anticipate economic rises and falls, in the final analysis they view such phenomena as no more comprehensible than nature itself and so avoid betting too much of their money either way.  It takes someone like an atheist, who feels the blind chanciness of existence in her bones, to resist the fear and greed of financial excess.  Understanding and managing risk is the meat and potatoes of money management, especially in extreme markets.  Atheists thrive on meat and potatoes.

     In this blog I've offered some reasons why I think atheism generally encourages sound money management and, in economic crises, calms and reassures its adherents.  In my next blog I'll review my own financial adventures during the past four years of economic mayhem and explain how atheism has helped me survive money-wise.