Friday, August 14, 2009

Profiling the Nonbelievers

atheism, atheist, survey, christian, agnostic,

A survey of the nonreligious in the US was performed (they surveyed 5,000 people), and I have to say, the results are interesting.

In the category of "things I already knew", nonbelievers don't really agree on a label:

The survey found the population to be less homogeneous than previous studies have typically portrayed them to be. Forty-eight percent described themselves as atheist, 12 percent identified themselves as agnostic, 22 percent chose the label humanist, 7 percent called themselves spiritual, and 5 percent chose other.

When given the option to choose multiple terms to describe themselves, 77 percent checked "atheist," 63 percent marked "humanist," 29 percent reported "agnostic," and 3 percent checked "spiritual." But when forced to choose only one label among the four, far fewer individuals identified themselves as humanist (24 percent). Meanwhile, 57 percent preferred the label "atheist."

Which is interesting because 75% of nonbelievers are "somewhat, mostly or absolutely certain that God does not exist." I think we need to start mailing out dictionaries, people, because that is the definition of "atheist". Of the remaning 25%, 15% just weren't sure one way or the other, and 8% were sure that god exists, but not of anything else.

Most atheists, as atheists will tell you, had some type of religious upbringing, ranging from casual to fundamentalist:

Nearly a quarter of nonbelievers had childhoods with little parental emphasis placed on religion. A quarter of them experienced a moderately religious childhood and 35 percent reported being raised with a strong or very strong religious emphasis.

The survey really gets interesting when we start getting into how nonbelievers live and think:

When compared to churchgoers, surveyed nonbelievers were predominantly male, more highly educate, more likely to be never married or cohabiting, and had fewer children living at home.
Nonreligious individuals were also found to have greater "openness to experience," which involves a high need for cognition, intellectual engagement, and xenophilia (interest in new experiences), than religious individuals. Among the differences between believers and nonbelievers in regard to education, gender, marriage, and child-rearing, openness was the strongest predictor of lower religious belief.

Churchgoers, on the other hand, reported higher "agreeableness," or a quality of being amiable or nonconfrontational as opposed to skeptical of others. The low agreeableness among nonbelievers indicates that strong nonreligious individuals appear to be somewhat less likely to acquiesce to or to trust others, the report stated.

That last bit explains a lot. The primary complaint among Christians about atheists is that atheists are rude and arrogant, which is a complaint most atheists don't really understand. No, we're not rude and arrogant, we're just outspoken, we reply. Or, hey, I was plenty polite until you starting poking me with that stick.

Now I get it. Christians value amiability highly. Atheists value skepticism. Given these opposing values, it's easy to see why Christians are so easily offended by atheists' . . . well, atheism. Questioning another person's beliefs doesn't really qualify as amiable, even if you are gentle and polite about it, and atheists are just acting out a valued quality, skepticism.

The survey also puts to bed that ridiculous "depressed atheist" meme, though I doubt the fundys will notice.

The survey found few differences between the religious and nonreligious group in regards to mental well-being. Contrary to popular belief, the nonreligious population is not any less happy or satisfied with life than the religious, the survey suggested. Reported life-satisfaction was well within the average range for both groups. Self-described spirituals, however, were less likely to report being satisfied with life.

In other notable findings, the survey revealed that more confident nonbelievers were the most emotionally healthy, relative to the "fence sitters" or religious doubters.

"[H]aving uncertainty regarding one’s religious views appears to be associated with relatively greater emotional instability," the report stated.

Makes sense. Unresolved issues will do that to a person.


  1. Sweet, good find.

    Also I thought the phrase was "Every time you masturbate, baby Jesus suffers crib death."


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