Monday, March 09, 2009

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey

It appears that the atheist blogsphere is celebrating the results of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. It shows that the percentage of people who claim to have no religion has gone up from 14.2 percent to 15 percent.

Of course, for the sake of celebrating, we are going to ignore the fact that the survey that shows a 0.8 percent increase in the number of people who claim to have no religion has an error range of plus or minus 3 percent.

And we are going to ignore the fact that many atheists would disavow many others who claim "no religion" and subject them to as much if not more criticism as they do many of those who claim to belong to some religion or other.

And we are going to ignore the fact that the survey actually measures willingness to admit a lack of belief to a pollster which, in turn, presumes a willingness to admit a lack of belief to oneself.

My biggest lament is that all of this tribal "us" versus "them" energy could not be harnessed and put to work for peaceful purposes.

If all I knew about a person was that he was an atheist, then that would mean almost nothing to me. I am not one to assume that, just because a person does not believe in God, he is somebody who can be trusted. Nor am I prepared to assume that the fact that somebody believes in God means that he is a threat. So, I am not prepared to draw the conclusion that just because the number of people willing to claim that they do not follow an organized religion has gone up that the world is necessarily a better place.

We need to ask the question, "What kind of atheists are these?"

Are these the atheists who have perverted the teachings of Ayn Rand into a philosophy of life that says, "Take what you can, give nothing back."?

Or are these internalist atheists who believe that evolution has written a moral law onto their genes and all they need to do to determine if something is right or wrong is to contemplate how they feel about it. This is a frightening group of atheists because history gives us many unpleasant lessons on what a person can feel comfortable with.

My lament, as I said, is that this energy cannot be put to useful purposes. The divisions that I would most be willing to track are the numbers of people who are willing to protect children from harm versus those who seek to harm children. I am interested in the number of people willing to defend freedom of speech versus those willing to destroy it. The number of people willing to use deceit and rhetoric as a political weapon versus the number who prefer to give what, to them, seems true in an open court.


Luke said...


Also, your sidebar link to the DU trailer is broken.

Thanks for the props.

Also, I recently chatted with Carrier at a cocktail party and he seemed very interested to read your work on moral ontology.

Baconsbud said...

Something else I have noticed is that most people celebrating it tend to avoid saying that most of those calling themselves non-religious aren't atheist. Many of the non-religious as I understood, believe in a higher power but not in the views of the religions out there.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I will be interested to see whether, in the future, atheist writers refer to the 15% who answered "no religion", or the 12% who answered either, "No god(s) exist," "I do not know if any gods exist," or "Nobody can know if any gods exist."

Atheists who prefer political and rhetorical expedience over truth will use the 15% figure.

Atheists who prefer truth over political and rhetorical expedience will use the 12% figure.

Anonymous said...

As, I wrote in my blog, "One Episcopalian on Faith," I congratulate you on an excellent posting.

There is a message here for those of us who believe in God; for those of us who call ourselves Christians: What kind of Christians are we?