Way More Americans Probably Are Atheists Than We Thought

❝ After signing an executive order earlier this month that seeks to relax restrictions on the political activities of tax-exempt churches, President Trump said the order was an important affirmation of the American identity. “We’re a nation of believers,” he said. Trump is right in one sense — 69 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American — but he’s wrong demographically: Atheists constitute a culturally significant part of American society.

❝ We’re not sure how significant, though. The number of atheists in the U.S. is still a matter of considerable debate. Recent surveys have found that only about one in 10 Americans report that they do not believe in God, and only about 3 percent identify as atheist. But a new study suggests that the true number of atheists could be much larger, perhaps even 10 times larger than previously estimated.

❝ The authors of the study, published earlier this year, adopted a novel way to measure atheist identity. Instead of asking about belief in God directly, they provided a list of seemingly innocuous statements and then asked: “How many of these statements are true of you?” Respondents in a control group were given a list of nine statements, such as “I own a dog” and “I am a vegetarian.” The test group received all the same statements plus one that read, “I do not believe in God.” The totals from the test group were then compared to those from the control group, allowing researchers to estimate the number of people who identify as atheists without requiring any of the respondents to directly state that they don’t believe in God. The study concludes that roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans likely do not believe in God.

While this result is fairly stunning and not consistent with any published survey results, there is good reason to suspect that more direct measures significantly underestimate the number of atheists.

Interesting article. Interesting methods. Having figured out I knew enough science to be an atheist by age 13, a philosophical materialist by age 18 – the questions are moot. If not boring. But, then, I don’t know anyone following my personal blog who’s older than me either. 🙂 Sorted these questions a long, long time ago.

Americans are a small measure less chickenshit about such questions, nowadays. Small.

How contemptible are Christians pimping for deathbed conversions? And then lying about them!

Only a particular species of creep could persuade me to write to the son of a friend and ask him to describe the death agonies of his beloved father. I typed that he must say “I would rather not talk about it” if he wished, then sent an email to Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens.

I sat back, feeling dirty and not expecting a reply. I would not have troubled Alexander had not journalists at the nominally serious Times and BBC promoted the claim of a strange, spiteful book that Christopher Hitchens was “teetering on the edge of belief” as he lay dying from cancer of the oesophagus.

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist is the work of a true fanatic, who has never learned when to seize a golden opportunity to hold his tongue. Recounting a memorial for Hitchens in New York, for instance, Larry Alex Taunton has to say how much he hates the event and the mourners. “The funeral, like the man himself, was largely a celebration of misanthropy, vanity and excess of every kind,” he intones…

I put the book aside last week. There seemed no need to write about Taunton, as Matthew d’Ancona and Padraig Reidy had already taken him to pieces with admirable vigour. But then Alexander Hitchens wrote back about that “bloody book”.

On the deathbed conversion – I spent my father’s final weeks and days at his bedside and watched him draw his final breath and die, and can assure you that there was no hint of any sort of conversion (as I’m sure you have already guessed). In fact, we barely spoke about religion at all except for joint expressions of frustration at the god botherers who made the rounds in the ICU and other units where dying people could be preyed upon by vulturous Christians…

I am delighted to say that Taunton’s sole achievement is to show us that, in death, Hitchens provided a further reason for militant rejection of religion: its creepiness.

I second that emotion. I thank Nick Cohen for his article. RTFA for more details though I imagine any of you who have studied men and women of letters and their lives knew what to expect from Hitchens. And, sadly, desperately, what to expect of a demagogue – unable to challenge Hitchens successfully in life – who trotted out a book of lies after his death.

Belief in God is down — evolution up!


Three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down from 82 percent in 2005, 2007 and 2009, a Harris Poll indicates.

The Harris Poll found 57 percent of U.S. adult say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, down from 60 percent in 2005, and 72 percent say they believe in miracles, down from 79 percent in 2005, while 68 percent say they believe in heaven, down from 75 percent. Sixty-eight percent say they believe Jesus is God or the son of God, down from 72 percent; and 65 percent say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, down from 70 percent.

Forty-seven percent say they believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, compared to 42 percent in 2005.

The survey found 42 percent of adults say they believe in ghosts, 36 percent say they believe in creationism, 36 percent say they believe in UFOs, 29 percent say they believe in astrology, 26 percent say they believe in witches and 24 percent say they believe in reincarnation, or that they were once another person.

Just under 2-in-10 U.S. adults described themselves as very religious, with an additional 4-in-10 describing themselves as somewhat religious down from 49 percent in 2007. Twenty-three percent of Americans identified themselves as not at all religious, nearly double the 12 percent reported in 2007.

Cripes. If we keep this up we may catch up with the rest of the civilized Western World in a couple of decades or so. Too bad they left out who believes the Earth is flat.

An Atheist’s Credo

George P. Spencer of Lyndon Center, Vt., died in 1908 at age 83. His epitaph is inscribed on the sides of a granite monument:

“Beyond the universe there is nothing and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist. Of all deceivers who have plagued mankind, none are so deeply ruinous to human happiness as those impostors who pretend to lead by a light above nature. Science has never killed or persecuted a single person for doubting or denying its teachings, and most of these teachings have been true; but religion has murdered millions for doubting or denying her dogmas, and most of these dogmas have been false.”

Rock on, George!

Thanks, Ursarodina

Sermon in the Dutch bible belt: “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”

The Rev Klaas Hendrikse can offer his congregation little hope of life after death, and he’s not the sort of man to sugar the pill.

An imposing figure in black robes and white clerical collar, Mr Hendrikse presides over the Sunday service at the Exodus Church in Gorinchem, central Holland.

It is part of the mainstream Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse’s sermon seems bleak – “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”.

“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.”

Nor does Klaas Hendrikse believe that God exists at all as a supernatural thing

Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out.

A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.

The Rev Kirsten Slattenaar, Exodus Church’s regular priest, also rejects the idea – widely considered central to Christianity – that Jesus was divine as well as human.

“I think ‘Son of God’ is a kind of title,” she says. “I don’t think he was a god or a half god. I think he was a man, but he was a special man because he was very good in living from out of love, from out of the spirit of God he found inside himself…”

Professor Hijme Stoeffels of the Free University in Amsterdam says it is in such concepts as love that people base their diffuse ideas of religion.

RTFA. Long, detailed, interesting to anyone who cares about an ethical, growing society.

Of course, being about open-minded Christians, I imagine the response in our own bible belt will be the calling down of fire and brimstone upon the heads of these Christians who dare to differ with the past.

Rock beyond belief – and superstition – at Fort Bragg, NC

Fort Bragg has reached a truce of sorts with a group of Army atheists that opens the door for an event called Rock Beyond Belief on post next spring featuring music and speeches by noted secular humanists, including the writer Richard Dawkins .

On his Web site, Rockbeyondbelief.com, Sgt. Justin Griffith, the driving force behind the event, said this week that the post commander, Col. Stephen J. Sicinski, had authorized the group to hold the event on the post’s centrally located parade field, a major sticking point in earlier negotiations. Sergeant Griffith, who Fort Bragg officials said was currently deployed in Kuwait, said the event would be held March 31.

“This just might be the turning point in the foxhole atheist community’s struggle for acceptance, tolerance and respect,” Sergeant Griffith wrote on the Web site. “It’s an amazing time to be a nonbeliever in the U.S. military on the cusp of a major breakthrough.”

A spokesman for the fort, Benjamin Abel, confirmed that Colonel Sicinski had approved use of the parade field because Rock Beyond Belief had come up with enough money to pay for a stage, lighting, sound system and other expenses involved in setting up the grounds…Mr. Abel added that the fort would provide electricity, water and security for the event but not any direct financial assistance.

“This is not a Fort Bragg sponsored event,” he said. “We’re dealing with it the same as for other private organizations who have events on the installation.”

The idea behind Rock Beyond Belief began last year when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held an event at Fort Bragg called Rock the Fort. The base command, at the urging of its chaplains, provided some money and manpower for the event as well as a choice location on the parade field. Sergeant Griffith and other atheists at the post protested, arguing that the event was an Army-sponsored platform for the Graham organization to recruit converts, though the post command denied that…

Sergeant Griffith and other atheists in the military say their ultimate purpose is to gain acceptance within the Christian-dominated armed forces, including by winning the appointment of secular chaplains.

Amazing isn’t it? How long has it been since our freedoms were recognized by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Yet freedom from religion still takes political pressure and the threat of litigation for something as simple as an equal opportunity to address the public.

Especially within the military.

Rock on, folks. A little freedom of speech is a powerful thing.

The Good Book: A Secular Bible – an interview with the author

A.C.Grayling says his book…doesn’t attack religion, it’s a positive book, there’s nothing negative in it. People may think it’s against religion – but it isn’t.” But then he says, with a mischievous twinkle: “Of course, what would really help the book a lot in America is if somebody tries to shoot me.”

With any luck it shouldn’t come to that, but Grayling is almost certainly going to upset a lot of Christians, for what he has written is a secular bible. The Good Book mirrors the Bible in both form and language, and is, as its author says, “ambitious and hubristic – a distillation of the best that has been thought and said by people who’ve really experienced life, and thought about it”. Drawing on classical secular texts from east and west, Grayling has “done just what the Bible makers did with the sacred texts”, reworking them into a “great treasury of insight and consolation and inspiration and uplift and understanding in the great non-religious traditions of the world”. He has been working on his opus for several decades, and the result is an extravagantly erudite manifesto for rational thought…

Who does he think will read The Good Book? “Well, I’m hoping absolutely every human being on the planet.” He’s sure that a lot of people will wonder just who he thinks he is, to have written a bible, but doesn’t appear particularly troubled by this prospect. “The truth is that the book is very modestly done. My wife did give me a card,” he giggles, “that said, ‘I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God’. And I know that on Monty Pythonesque grounds there’s a good likelihood that in five centuries time I will be one, as a result of this.” He lets out another little chuckle. “But I certainly don’t feel like one now, that’s for sure.”

The little jokes and kindly bearing can make Grayling sound quite benignly jovial about religion at times, as he chuckles away about “men in dresses” and “believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden”, and throws out playfully mocking asides such as, “You can see we no longer really believe in God, because of all the CCTV cameras keeping watch on us.” But when I suggest that he sounds less enraged than amused by religion, he says quickly: “Well, it does make me angry, because it causes a great deal of harm and unhappiness…”

… We have to try to persuade society as a whole to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups; they exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody else, any political party or Women’s Institute or trade union. But for historical reasons they have massively overinflated influence – faith-based schools, religious broadcasting, bishops in the House of Lords, the presence of religion at every public event. We’ve got to push it back to its right size.”

Atheists, according to Grayling, divide into three broad categories. There are those for whom this secular objection to the privileged status of religion in public life is the driving force of their concern. Then there are those, “like my chum Richard Dawkins”, who are principally concerned with the metaphysical question of God’s existence. “And I would certainly say there is an intrinsic problem about belief in falsehood.” In other words, even if a person’s faith did no harm to anybody, Grayling still wouldn’t like it. “But the third point is about our ethics – how we live, how we treat one another, what the good life is. And that’s the question that really concerns me the most.”

Exactly the same round robin of reflection I encountered and resolved when still a teenager. The atheist part came first and easiest. Studying materialist philosophy – especially as a dialectic, a mirror of physical processes in science – took a bit more work and brought an enormous amount of satisfaction in knowledge.

A study habit I’ve never lost and never will.

Leaders of 2 major political parties in the UK are atheists (gasp!)

Two Red Devils together after the Labour Party conference
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

New Labour leader Ed Miliband does not believe in God, he has said.

Mr Miliband had previously said his religious views were a “private matter”, and his declaration means two of the three leaders of major British political parties are self-proclaimed atheists.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also confirmed he does not believe shortly after being named Liberal Democrat leader, while David Cameron last year said religious faith was “part of who I am” but admitted he did not go to church regularly…

In an interview on Radio 5 Live, Mr Miliband was asked by presenter Nicky Campbell: “Do you believe in God?”

The Labour leader replied: “I don’t believe in God personally, but I have great respect for those people who do. Different people have different religious views in this country. The great thing is that, whether we have faith or not, we are by and large very tolerant of people whatever their view…”

Despite spin doctor Alastair Campbell’s famous comment to reporters that “we don’t do God”, Mr Blair has confirmed since leaving power that his religious faith was “hugely important” to his premiership. He said he did not speak publicly about his belief while in office out of fear voters would think him a “nutter”.

Since leaving Downing Street, he has converted to Roman Catholicism, and in his recent memoir, A Journey, he wrote: “I have always been more interested in religion than politics.”

Confirming that he is a nutter.

Here in the States, of course, cowardice is the better part of valor. If any potential candidate for president didn’t prattle on about “God bless you all – and God bless the United States of America” he or she would probably be shot at sunrise.

They certainly wouldn’t be elected to any office requiring intellectual honesty, knowledge of science or insight into history. Fortunately, none of these is apparently needed for Congress or the White House.

New Australian prime minister is an atheist

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Julia Gillard, the new Australian prime minister, has said that she does not believe in God, but has “great respect for religion”.

Why? Hasn’t served much of a purpose since the Stone Age.

Ms Gillard, who replaced Kevin Rudd as leader of the country in a dramatic political coup last week, said she had been brought up in a Baptist family, but had “made decisions in my adult life about my own views”.

I’m not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel,” she said. Ms Gillard’s views on religion are in stark contrast to those of Mr Rudd, who was a regular at Canberra church services, and those of her rival, Tony Abbott, who once trained as a priest and is known as a devout Catholic.

Since taking over from Mr Rudd and becoming the country’s first female prime minister, Ms Gillard has presided over a lift in the polls for the Labour government.

The last Nielsen Poll on the topic found that 75% of Australians could care less if political leaders believe in God – or Yahweh – or Allah – or [cripes] even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Only a century or two ahead of American voters.

Keep the “X” in Xmas!

“No god? … No problem!” reads the advertisement featuring the smiling faces of people wearing Santa Claus hats. “Be good for goodness’ sake.”

Over the next two weeks, 270 of the ads will go up on city buses and trains in the Washington area as part of the holiday kickoff to campaigns sponsored by secular groups in cities around the country and abroad. If last year was any indication, the signs are likely to spark a theological war of words.

“We don’t intend to rain on anyone’s parade, but secular people celebrate the holidays, too, and we’re just trying to reach out to our people,” said Roy Speckhardt, the executive director of the American Humanist Association. “To the degree that we are reaching out to the godly, it’s just to say that you can be good without god…”

Elsewhere, this year’s secular signs vary in tone.

In Seattle, this year’s signs say “Millions are good without God.” In Las Vegas, signs to be put up this week will say “Reasons Greetings” and “Yes, Virginia … there is no God…”

The campaigns come against a backdrop of a growing number of nonbelievers. Fifteen percent of Americans identified themselves as having “no religion” in a 2008, up from 8 percent in 1990, according to a study by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford.

Overdue. But, don’t get your shorts in a bunch over discovering Americans are more ignorant than the rest of the industrial West. That’s true in almost every aspect of life – whether it be politics, social structure, interpersonal relationships, knowledge of science.

You name it – we can figger out how to lag behind.