I am doing a psych degree and have a great interest in the construction of world views. We all construct our own, religious or not. Love the post on personalsing everything. All gods are created in our own image and there are 6 billion of those. Likewise we all 'hear' the words of the gods through our own noise so there are also 6 billion versions of the religious text. How's that for debunking the idea of absolute truth!
I think your study would have to include the early development of the people involved, were they brought up in a religious context or not, that will greatly affect their thinking as aetheists. Was their religious experience a largely positive or very negative/abusive one , this affects their mental health as adults. Personally I was a depressed christian and am a very much more stable and happy aetheist though still on SSRI's. I believe that the depression now stable and treatable which I have now is the result of physical malfunctions in my brain whereas the depression I was experiencing as a christian was largely emotional and may have caused the changes in my brain. The old chicken and egg story. The emotional stuff was much easier to deal with as an aetheist because I felt I had some control and value as a human being which I lacked as a christian. I believe the teachings of original sin 'all people are born bad and can never be 'clean'' is devastating to the psyche. The only hope of acceptability one has as a christian is to hide behind the blood of Jesus and hope that god will see you as ok coz he can only vaguely see you through the bloody mess. The other end of the picture I believe is just as damaging, the apocalyptic mindset. Christians believe that the world will get worse and worse less and less godly until jesus comes again. I read that as saying no matter how much energy we conserve, how much we recycle how much we fight injustice etc., god has already decided we will fail, the effort is hopeless, doomed. What a depressing religion to live! People within the fantasy will not 'see' those contradictions but the incongruity will gnaw at them constantly. How about the idea that I must do god's will only not my own, for me that meant I should have no hopes or dreams that were not given directly by god, not confirmed by the witness of the holy spirit to me or others. Including my choice of husband, having children, where to go on holiday and which country to live in. If god did not guide me, move me on as in the pillar of fire and smoke in the desert did with the children of Israel then I was not to moved. Needless to say my life stalled and my mind with it.
I was involved in christian counselling for some years and in a support group aimed at helping gay people not 'fall into sin' ehem for which I repent. I have to say that I found most christians to be unhappy on many levels and certainly the divorce rates, rates of drug abuse, child abuse, infidelity, teenage pregnancy etc don't seem to validate some peoples perceptions of christians as 'overly happy'. Since god doesn't actually help christains there is no reason for them to be better off than anyone else so the differences in healthy living, lifestyle, community involvement and self care would cover any differences in my opinion.
The positive side of christianity, in a healthy church community, is the sense of purpose people perceive in doing god's work and the support of a like minded community. The security and validation which stems from living in that bubble is significant, as I say in a healthy community! The positive influence of prayer in the lives of believers is scientifically proven and so is the actual ineffectiveness of prayer. It is a great study to read up on. A hospital was chosen and certain people there were prayed for. Some knew they were being prayed for some didn't and some were not prayed for. The group who knew they were being prayed for had the worst outcome. Hehe love that!
My personal experience of 35 years of devotion is that 'community worship' was extremely cathartic for me. It was a full hour of dancing singing writing and reading god's word in a very unstructured way. The church I was at is not typical of every church mind you. The lighting was low people were aware of others in distress and would come over and hug and support someone who appeared in need of it. I personally was freeer in the expression of worship than most people and I would cry, write and dance as my intuition, then regarded as the holy spirit led me. In those times I would sit very quietly and listen to 'the voice of god' now seen as my own inner/subconscious wisdom and find answers and guidance, support and peace. The words of the bible could be read as support, censure, validation or condemnation depending on how I was feeling about myself at the time and, I believe, on what my psyche needed. My daily prayer time was a similar experience but quieter. I would write sing listen and resolve issues for myself each day. Now science has proven that meditation contributed to good mental health and physical health for that matter. If everyone put that amount of time and dedication into getting in touch with their own inner centre and listening to their own sources of conflict, their own answers to problems I believe anyone would be healthier for that. Unresolved issues build up and cloud our judgment and eat away at our insides. Times of reflection help to prevent that backlog from becoming damaging. Now that I have discovered more about hypnotherapy I believe that prayer and that kind of worship is essentially self hypnosis a quieting of the chattering mind which allows the subconscious or perhaps suppressed emotion and thought to be heard and resolved.
I have really gone on and on here I hope that this reply will enlighten some aetheists about some kinds of christians some and be of use to you Anne.