Posts Tagged “aris 2008”

Pay no attention to headlines ... they lie! (PsiCop original)It’s not news that the numbers of “Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated, are growing in the US. It’s been documented for several years now, particularly after Trinity College’s ARIS 2008 project generated a report in 2009 about what they called “the Nones,” or the religiously-unaffiliated. This week, the Pew Forum released the results of their own survey on the matter. They find that “the Nones” are growing in number (WebCite cached version):

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

This part of the report has generated any number of mass-media stories trumpeting the growth of “atheists”; for example, this one from Canada’s National Post, whose headline reads as follows (cached):

Rise of the atheists: U.S. Protestants lose majority status as church attendance falls

The NP article itself fails to mention atheists or atheism very much, only noting that they’re merely a subset of the “religiously unaffiliated.” So where does this headline come from?

The truth is that this survey doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about atheists or atheism specifically. The folks at Pew are, themselves, quite clear on this:

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.

The fact is, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated as identified in polls such as Pew’s and the earlier ARIS survey, are believers. They simply don’t belong to any religious organization and don’t attend services regularly. But they remain religious people.

The Pew data itself shows that those designated as “Atheist” has grown only 0.8% since 2007, and “Agnostic” has grown only 1.2% in that time. These results can hardly justify any of the media headlines (such as the above) declaring that “Atheism” is growing astronomically. It isn’t. Non-believers are assuredly a minority in the US, and they’re likely to remain so, for quite some time to come. Only paranoid religionists would fear they’re going to be outnumbered and have their beliefs outlawed.

P.S. The full report is available on Pew’s Web site (cached).

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The folks at Trinity College here in Connecticut released a report on a segment of the population previously mentioned in their 2008 survey (called ARIS) of religiosity in the US (which I blogged about earlier this year when it was released). Today they released a follow-up report, based on the 2008 survey data, on what they call “the Nones” (here’s a US News & World Report story, by Dan Gilgoff, on it):

If current trends continue, a quarter of Americans are likely to claim “no religion” in 20 years, according to a survey out today by Trinity College. Americans who identify with no religious tradition currently comprise 15 percent of the country, representing the fastest growing segment of the national religious landscape.

While the numbers portend a dramatic change for the American religious scene—”religious nones” accounted for just 8 percent of the population in 1990—the United States is not poised adopt the anti-religious posture of much of secularized Europe.

A point of clarification: the Trinity report on the Nones (which can be viewed here in PDF format) is not precisely “a survey out today.” It is, as I said, a follow-up report based on the earlier 2008 ARIS survey; this is not new data, as Gilgoff suggests. But Gilgoff does correctly note that not all the “Nones” are atheists:

That’s because American religious nones tend to be religious skeptics as opposed to outright atheists. Fewer than ten percent of those identifying with no religious tradition call themselves atheists or hold atheistic beliefs, according to the new study.

In other words, not all these Nones scoff at God. They may believe in a aloof, impersonal, supernatural Creator — or something along those lines — but do not necessarily reject the idea of a God. This means that many Nones might actually be best labeled as Deists.

One of my own positive observations about this report is that one of the questions in this 2008 poll, “Regarding the existence of God, do you think…?”, has a number of possible responses which allowed the surveyors to tease out potential differences among people who might together be lumped under the label of “non-believers.” These were: “There is no such thing [as God]”; “There is no way to know”; “I’m not sure”; and “There is a higher power but no personal God.” I note this because too many surveys of religion don’t dig into non-belief … instead, they present one overly-general response such as “I do not believe in God,” which can mean different things to different people.

What this means is that religonists who’d railed that “the New Atheists” had been making converts en masse back when the ARIS 2008 was initially released, are not actually correct. It is not “atheism” which is growing; the Nones identified in the survey include people with varying degrees of non-belief, and include Deists, who are most certainly theists (of a sort).

At any rate, this report appears to be the first major, serious, meaningful, large-scale investigation of “non-belief” in the US. It’s odd that, some 43 years after Time magazine asked on its cover, “Is God Dead?”, that only now has anyone bothered to seriously look at non-believers.

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