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Study Contends There Are Twice as Many Atheists in America as Polls Show
“Atheist churches” are popping up across the US and Europe. Is it just a trend?
The mayor of San Antonio, Ivy Taylor, made headlines recently during a mayoral candidate forum. She was asked about systemic generational poverty in her city and what she thought caused it. Mayor Taylor replied, "To me, it's broken people...people not being in a relationship with their Creator.” Basically it was godlessness which caused poverty, in her view. Whether this was a deflection or her actual belief isn’t clear. But that she thought this would be an acceptable answer tells us something about how agnostics, atheists, and those questioning faith, are regarded in American society.
Another controversy in a similar vein, was when the Pope spoke out, saying it is better to be a good atheist than a “fake” Christian. This emphasizes Catholicism’s focus on good works as the path to salvation over pure faith, as Protestants believe. Christianity is the largest world religion, followed by Islam which is growing, but not as fast as the third place contestant, no religion, the fastest growing faith category in the world. Around 7% of the global population is atheist and if we include the non-religious, it’s 16.5%.
A recent Gallup Poll suggests one in 10 Americans don’t believe in God, a small but significant milestone. Over one-third of millennials polled were religiously unaffiliated. On another front, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped 8% between 2007 and 2014.
Oxford professor Richard Dawkins is well-known for his non-belief. On this side of the pond, two researchers say, there's a stigma against atheism. Getty Images.
No religious affiliation or “nones,” are the second largest faith category in North America today. They’ve been growing steadily for decades now. About 25% of the entire US population are among the unaffiliated. While in the past several years, the number of atheists has doubled. Most are white, male, and highly educated. 56% are politically liberal. People of color, women, and the less educated tend to be more religious.
Some experts say there are even more atheists that aren’t accounted for. A recent study at the University of Kentucky finds a lot of what they call “closet atheists." Researchers Will Gervais and Maxine Najle say there’s a lot of stigma surrounding atheism. Several polls have shown that people find atheists less trustworthy, even immoral. As a result, many lie to the pollster because they feel uncomfortable sharing their true feelings, Gervais and Najle say.
Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, found that those who self-identified as atheists mostly kept it to themselves. Two-thirds said they seldom, if ever, discussed their point of view. In the same survey, 51% of Americans said they’d be less likely to support an atheist candidate for president.
That number declined from 63% in 2007. Even so, there are no atheists in Congress today. Only one House member Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is religiously unaffiliated. Perhaps even more thought provoking, a 2014 Boundaries in the American Mosaic Survey, found that 42% of US adults said that atheists don’t share the same vision for America as they do.
Despite the image of atheists being outspoken, a new study finds that there may be just as many "closeted" ones. Getty Images
According to Gervais and Najle, atheism in the US may be as high as 26%, more than double Pew’s findings. The results of this study are being published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Pew had it at nine percent. A 2016 Gallup poll say’s 10% of Americans are atheists. But Gervais said, “We can say with a 99 percent probability that it’s higher than [11 percent].”
He and Najle decided to use a unique method known as “the unmatched count technique," to eliminate any stigmatization from the study. They created a survey and gave it to 2,000 US adults. These were two nationally representative samples. Rather than come right out and ask the respondent their beliefs, participants were given a list of statements. These included, “I have a dishwasher in my kitchen,” “I am a vegetarian,” “I enjoy modern art,” and “I own a dog.” One group however confronted an additional statement, “I believe in God.”
Each participant wrote down the number of statements that were true for them. Since both groups had around the same number of dog owners and vegetarians, the researchers could estimate how many didn’t believe in God. In this way, by taking off the social pressure, they arrived at a more accurate number, Gervais and Najle argue.
On the other hand, the director of Pew’s religion polling efforts Greg Smith, was skeptical of the findings. “I would be very reluctant to conclude that phone surveys like ours are underestimating the share the public who are atheists to that kind of magnitude,” he said.
Secular Sunday Assembly, an “atheist church” in England. Getty Images.
A lack of faith has been hard to study. Besides the stigma, the variety of labels and categories has expanded over time. They sometimes identify as agnostic, a skeptic, undecided, non-affiliated, or even a humanist—those who are “good without God.” Then there is a segment who simply refuse to be labeled. This wide differentiation may obfuscate "nones" actual numbers.
Another issue that might make them less visible is that there is no traditional, overarching institution to organize, cater to, and represent atheists. The Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation may be changing that. Stephanie Guttormson is the operations manager for the latter. She told National Geographic, “Organizing atheists is like herding cats.” But she added, “Lots of cats have found their way into the 'meowry.'”
There are websites, agnostic and atheist discussion boards, and Meetups for those who are on the skeptical side of things. There’s even a place for those who would like to continue taking part in some kind of ritual, without receiving dogma. In England, the Secular Sunday Assembly—something of an “atheist church,” has caught on. The idea has taken by storm, and similar institutions now dot North America.
To hear about this growing “atheist church” movement, click here:
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.