Thursday, June 26, 2008

What a Strange Survey on Religion

A major survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith. A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

OK, so far, so good. But there are some strange results in this survey. Pew reports that 21 percent of atheists said they believed in God or a universal spirit, six percent considered it a personal god, and 40 percent of agnostics feel certain that God exists. Conversely, among respondents who say they are affiliated with a religious tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, etc.), a surprising number said they actually do not believe in a god or universal spirit.

So what does this mean, other than that many folks are seriously fucked up when it comes to atheism, god, and religion? I mean, how can an agnostic be certain that god exists (or does not exist)? Uncertainty about it all is sorta definitional to the term, isn't it?

Other interesting statistics according to the Pew survey: there are more than twice as many atheists and agnostics (a combined 4.0 percent of all respondents) as there are Jews (1.7 percent), and about four times as many as there are Muslims (0.6 percent). These types of numbers need to be widely reported so that non-religious/non-believers can "come out of the closet" and demand the respect and consideration we deserve.

I found this illuminating, too: Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%). Only among Mormons (57%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) do majorities say that their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life.

I guess Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses adhere more closely to what their holy books say about "eternal life" and "salvation." I don't know whether to admire them for not being hypocrites or despise them for being stupid. Can I do both?


Ceroill said...

I believe this is the same survey referenced in the article I have now redone a link for in another thread.

G said...

"so that non-religious/non-believers can 'come out of the closet' and demand the respect and consideration we deserve."

Respect is something that you EARN... typically by being courteous and respectful toward others, among other things. Those who "demand" it are usually thugs (mafia, govt, etc.) whose conduct wouldn't otherwise warrant it.

If a person is disrespectful and condescending toward others, he/she generally won't receive much respect from people.

coreydbarbarian said...

i thought that was an interesting survey, too. i've read opinions regarding the atheists who believe in god (they reckon atheism, for them, is a statement against their former religions), but agnostics who are certain..? hard to explain that one, except maybe americans aren't very literate.

you seem to discount the tremendous disrespect that atheists and/or agnostics receive simply for holding views that differ from the majority. i don't really think csm is saying disrespectful people should demand respect, only that atheists and/or agnostics deserve more respect than they get, generally.


Actually I think this illustrates good news; most people are not zealous fundamentalists. I was beginning to wonder. I guess you can chalk it up to most people like to keep it personal out of respect for others. The disrespectful are the ones who shout loud about their beiefs and try to insinuate their beliefs into the halls of governance.

csm said...

Actually, getting the respect you "deserve" has everything to do with actions and relevant things, instead of irrelevant things like whether or not you believe in a spirit in the sky.

G said...


That's exactly my point... "actions and relevant things." Those "relevant things" would certainly include our words and attitudes toward others. If one is in the habit of ridiculing the beliefs of others in an arrogant, condescending manner (e.g. Because of a belief in God, which can be neither proven nor disproven), he/she typically won't be given much respect.

Respect is a two-way street. Those who don't conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful of others will not receive much respect in return from those people (and often from uninvolved observers as well).

Of course, there ARE some people who don't show respect to anyone. But in general, you don't find many people who "deserve" respect (through their actions, words, and attitudes) who don't receive it.

coreydbarbarian said...

"But in general, you don't find many people who "deserve" respect (through their actions, words, and attitudes) who don't receive it.

we must have different experiences in this arena. i think the best we can do is agree to disagree on that one.

G said...

Understood. I realize that my own experience differs from that of others. I know there are many environments in the USA that aren't quite as "cosmopolitan" as the locale where I've spent most of my life.

coreydbarbarian said...

i find myself envious, g. truly.
the america i read about in my youth was pluralistic, cosmopolitan. it probably wasn't an accurate reflection of the nation as a whole, but...i grew up believing it was.

csm said...

I understand your point, g, but my point is that my original statement needed no clarification. It stood completely accurately entirely on its own.

csm said...

And I think theists lack the relevant experience to understand the venom spewed at atheists simply because we lack a belief in their (or any) god(s).

G said...

My uncle has been an atheist for many years. He is greatly respected by his entire community. He earned that respect by the way he has always conducted himself, the way he talks to people, etc. He has never mentioned even a slight amount of bias, ridicule, or oppression because of his beliefs. But I will ask him directly the next time I see him.

Personally, the only venom I've experienced has been at the hands of those who mock my believe in the God of the Bible... on blogs, at work... If you don't think I've experienced enough of it to understand, then you're wrong.

G said...

There is an ugly human tendency to try to build oneself up by putting others down. It doesn't matter what categories you find yourself in. I would actually be surprised if there were ANYONE who had never been the recipient of cruel words and actions from others, simply because they are "different."

Part of "freedom of speech" is the potential to be offended. People can be cruel and hurtful. It isn't limited to one race, belief system, etc. Welcome to our world.

Ceroill said...

One of the disadvantages of communicating only in print is that the chance of being misunderstood is greater than any other medium. With no clues from body language, facial expression, vocal inflection and intonation, it is all to easy to read more or less into a statement than was intended by the author. Hence the prevalence of 'flame wars' and such on the internet.

G, though I'm sure we would not agree on many things, it's good to have you here. I'm very good friends with folks who differ from me greatly in politics and spiritual matters.

For the record, I'm unaffiliated and agnostic. I distrust all politicians equally, and make no claims one way or the other about the existence of a Divine presence.

Bob said...

I couldn't find this in the report, but I seriously want to see how many atheists and agnostics think that all (or any) religions will lead to eternal life.

P.s., one more time, blogger/blogspot's captcha is the greatest impediment to disabled people on the whole Inernet.

csm said...

I'm sure your experience is quite different than mine, G. Probably the same goes for your uncle. And yes, no doubt your beliefs have been mocked. I bet I've done it myself.

That said, believers are in the majority and it is far easier for the majority to exhibit harmful bias against a minority.

And yes, I understand the not so subtle message you are trying to convey. Just because I find belief and things that believers do to be ridiculous - and point them out to be so - does not make me (or anyone who does likewise) to be less worthy of respect. Frankly, the things I've said and done pale in comparison to the believers belief that I will burn in hell for eternity. Some have even spewed such ridiculousness at me just for my lack of belief. Nothing an atheist has said parallels such a nasty eternity IMHO.

I know, I know, you think it is god who will damn me... but I don't believe in your god, I do "believe" that your believe this stuff, and that is what is quite nasty, again, IMHO.

csm said... many atheists and agnostics think that all (or any) religions will lead to eternal life

So you want to know how many lunatics there are out there then, Bob? If you really believe that a religion (or all religions) lead to eternal life, and you are not an adherent of one (or more) of them, then you'd have to be rather crazy, wouldn't you? Or, I guess, that person might not want eternal life?

G said...


I understand what you're saying about it being easier to be disrespectful toward someone who is in a minority (particularly in a small minority). But I think that statement is far more applicable in a localized sense. For example, I understand that the vast majority of Americans believe in some type of god. But if I attend a conference where the vast majority are atheists, who is more likely to be belittled?

Personally, I don't believe you are any less deserving of respect than others. My interest was more in the "demand" for the respect "we deserve," which carries the sense that atheists in general are somehow an oppressed minority that has been a consistent recipient of venemous hatred from all sides, simply because of what they believe.

Seriously, just search through the blog world. I'm sure you'll find at least as much venom from atheists toward Christians as the other way around. And my simple point is that if a person has a habit of going after others like a JYD, they generally won't receive much respect from those they attack and belittle.

Since I don't know the context of your being told that you're going to hell, I can only bring up one part of the problem from my perspective. I've heard atheists (not all, but several times) complain about being preached to by Christians. But I've also heard atheists (again, not all, but several times) criticize Christians for being hypocrites because if they REALLY believed what the Bible said, then they'd be spending ALL their time preaching to people about the dangers of hell. Once, I've even had an agnostic tell me that I must not love him like Jesus said because I hadn't preached the gospel to him.

Now, I'm definitely not in favor of getting in a person's face about it. But when we're put in a position of "damned if you do, damned if you don't," then what's a person to do?

But back to the point of respect. I DO believe that all human beings are deserving of respect. And I do my best to treat everyone in that manner. I hope you feel that I have done so with you.

One thing I am interested to know (from your perspective) is how to determine whether a person "deserves respect." Is it all human beings... all life forms... or a particular category of people? I understand it from a Christian perspective (as well as from a Hindu and Wiccan one). But I'd like to hear your views.

csm said...

Well, G, your example is interesting. If a christian (or any believer) were to go to an atheist convention or conference (never been to one of those myself) I think that person might deserve some disrespect depending upon how they conducted themself. Likewise, were I to amble into a church and try to convert christians or dissuade them from their praying, I would deserve disrespect.

On the other hand, just living your life, you should be able to say to someone, in the proper context, "Oh, I'm an atheist" without being subjected to scoffing, vitriol, argument, etc. That is one example of respect.

Another small example: when I sneeze and get the "God bless You" I just smile or move about my business. Some folks get irate if you don't thank them. I find that they did nothing that warrants my thanks, so I say nothing. I could say "no thanks, I don't believe in your god" but I don't. Further, some folks who sneeze expect me to "bless" them, and I don't, which can lead to uncomfortable or disrespectful conversations and events.

Regarding your example of hypocrisy, I understand that agnostic's perspective entirely. To me, a non-hypocrital response would be something like "Oh, I don't believe the bible is the 100% inerrant word of god"... lacking that, I suppose some other explanation might suffice. And frankly, depending upon the agnostic's tone and intent, s/he might have been feeling disrespected because of your lack of proselytizing (I wouldn't feel that way, but there are more variations of people, beliefs, and thoughts than I can imagine).

And again, the respect they deserve is fully explanatory. I think the default position would be to respect everyone until they have proven unworthy of respect. And lack of a belief in a god is not a condition upon which respect should hinge.

Did I answer your questions?

G said...

Yes. Thank you.

I guess when I hear things like "demand" and "deserve" together, I infer a "victicrat" attitude. Not that you intended it that way. Maybe just an aversion I've developed (like your aversion to "belief").

coreydbarbarian said...

"Another small example: when I sneeze and get the "God bless You" I just smile or move about my business..."

i actually thought about this one today! somebody sneezed, and i said "bless you". then i wondered specifically if csm would have been irritated if it was him that sneezed, then i wondered if the person i said bless you to was offended.

all i really meant was "best wishes" or "get better" or something similar, but "bless you" just comes out naturally (not even "god bless you").

Ceroill said...

corey, that's why I traditionally say 'gesundheit', which means 'good health to you'. It has no religious overtones, or for that matter any flavor from any ideology, aside from a wish for the person to be well.

coreydbarbarian said...

are you serious? gesundheit ='s good health 2 u? i've been lied to!

seriously, i was always told it meant god bless you. i would've never known the truth...

i wonder if my elders really knew it meant good health, or if they just believed what someone else told them...

thanks, bob! :)

Ceroill said...

Technically I think it translates as 'Sound Health To You'. Sund=Sound, Heit=Health. I think it's been used alongside 'God bless you' for so long that a lot of folks assume they are the same thing.