Sunday, April 1, 2012

Over 30% of Americans are non-religious?

Well, that's what this latest Gallup poll says. Of course, that's by their definition of "non-religious":
Gallup classifies 40% of Americans nationwide as very religious -- based on their statement that religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. Another 32% of Americans are nonreligious, based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 28% of Americans are moderately religious, because they say religion is important but that they do not attend services regularly or because they say religion is not important but still attend services.

Note that I've seen other studies which indicate that Americans don't attend church as often as we say we do, but that's another issue.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any comparison with previous years, so I don't know whether this is a good sign or not. After all, I suspect that most of these people classified as "non-religious" would still claim they believed in God.

They might never go to church, and never think about religion at all, but taking that next step to admitting non-belief is too much for most people. And many Americans who never go to church still seem to grant automatic respect to clergymen. So I don't want to make too much of this.

Still, it's better than I would have guessed. Don't you agree?

According to Gallup, there really is a Bible Belt. Mississippi is the most religious state in the Union, and all of the top ten most religious states are in the South, with the sole exception of Utah (though Gallup says that Oklahoma straddles the line between the South and the Midwest).

The least religious states tend to be in New England or the far West, with Vermont and New Hampshire taking the honors. Note that Nebraska is 18th in religiosity, less religious than Kansas, but more than Iowa.

Oh, and you could probably guess this:
Religion is related to politics in today's America, and it is clear from a glance at Gallup's State of the States map that the most religious states in the union generally are the most Republican, while the least religious states skew more toward the Democratic Party.


Anthony G Williams said...

"They might never go to church, and never think about religion at all, but taking that next step to admitting non-belief is too much for most people."

Yes, I think that applies in the UK.

The vast majority of the population is functionally non-religious (don't pray, don't attend church except for special occasions, never think about religion in relation to themselves) but a much smaller proportion will admit to being atheists or even agnostics.

WCG said...

Tony, that's one reason why the greater visibility of atheists these days might really make a difference. That "next step" is important, because even casual belief supports faith-based thinking.

And if they stop teaching this stuff to their children, it will fade away - not entirely, no doubt, but to a large extent. We need people to start thinking that evidence should be a necessary prerequisite for belief. "Faith" should be a vice (if not a sin).

Tony Williams said...

I don't think it's that easy, Bill. A recent issue of The New Scientist magazine examined the whole question of religious faith, looking at research into this which (among other things) involved very young children.

The conclusion was that humanity is basically hard-wired to believe in supernatural agencies affecting our lives. That's the instinctive, default position, and always has been.

Agnoticism and especially atheism can only develop as a result of education, especially in critical thinking. So it isn't enough to prevent children being indoctrinated in religious belief, it's more important to train them in critical thinking.

WCG said...

You may be right, Tony.

I'm currently reading Letters from an Atheist Nation by Thomas Lawson - letters from atheists in 1903. It's fascinating, but it's kind of sad, too. A lot of those people clearly expected that religion, in the modern, scientific world, would soon disappear. I think they'd be aghast to see America a century later.

I don't know if we're hardwired to believe in the supernatural or not, but if we are, it's not incurable. At most, it might be an innate tendency, but no more than that, not for most people.

After all atheism has grown rapidly in your own country, in the rest of Europe, and even in America. That's not because we've changed genetically. But no, it's probably not as easy as I implied above, huh? :)

Tony Williams said...

Belief in the traditional organised religions has faded in the UK (and many other places) but in their place you get crystal healing, ley-lines, dowsing, homeopathy, spiritualism, lucky charms, UFO abductions, crop circles (even after the way they are made has been demonstrated by those who did it!) and all sorts of other superstitious "woo". People love to believe there's more to life than the material world we can observe and measure.

I don't know if a survey has ever been done to find out exactly what people do or don't believe, but I suspect that people like us (with no religious or superstitous beliefs of any kind) will be in a small minority even in the UK.

WCG said...

Well, that's a bit depressing, Tony. But we have to take this one step at a time.

I can understand wanting to believe in fantasy. I was crazy about some of that stuff when I was younger, myself.

But education in logic, in the nature of evidence, in the scientific method - and in superstition, too, why it's so easy to believe in such things - can probably make a big difference.

If not, well, it's still worth the effort. I really don't know what other options we have.

Besides, science itself is as remarkable as anything you can invent about the world. If you want wonders, you don't have to turn to fantasy. Reality is incredible enough as it is.