Closet atheists

A US poll based study claims that the number of American atheists is under reported because many people aren’t up front about admitting it.

Pew and Gallup polls have both recorded a slow increase to about 10% of Americans saying they do not believe in good, but estimate from this study claims it is closer to 26%.

Vox: How many American atheists are there really?

Pew and Gallup — two of the most reputable polling firms in America — both come to a similar figure. About 10 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God, and this figure has been slowly creeping up over the decades.

But maybe this isn’t the whole story. University of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle have long suspected that a lot of atheists aren’t showing up in these polls. The reason: Even in our increasingly secular society, there’s still a lot of stigma around not believing in God. So when a stranger conducting a poll calls and asks the question, it may be uncomfortable for many to answer truthfully.

Gervais and Najle recently conducted a new analysis on the prevalence of atheists in America. And they conclude the number of people who do not believe in God may be even double that counted by these polling firms.

“There’s a lot of atheists in the closet,” Gervais says. “And … if they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance.”

Recent polling:

Most recently, Pew found that around 3 percent of Americans say they are atheists. It also found that a larger group — around 9 percent — say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit. (Which goes to show that you may not believe in God but could still be uncomfortable calling yourself an atheist — because that term implies a strong personal identity and an outright rejection of religious rituals.)

Gallup also regularly asks the question point blank — “Do you believe in God?” The last time it asked, in 2016, 10 percent of respondents said no.

More than just believing in God or not is involved. Perceptions or morals also plays a part.

Study after study has shown that most people (even other atheists) believe atheists are less moral. “We’ll give participants a little vignette, a story about someone doing something immoral, and probe their intuition about who they think the perpetrator was,” Gervais says. “And time and time again, people intuitively assume whoever is out there doing immoral stuff doesn’t believe in God.”

Therefore “People are embarrassed to tell strangers they don’t believe in God”. In the US at least.

So they tried a different approach with dual polls.

Gervais and Najle set up a very subtle test. They sent a nationally representative poll to 2,000 Americans, who were randomly assigned to two conditions.

The first condition asked participants to read through a bunch of statements like, “I am a vegetarian,” “I own a dog,” and, “I have a dishwasher in my kitchen.”

All the participants had to do was simply write down the number of statements that were true for them.

The value of this method is that participants don’t have to directly say, “I am a vegetarian,” or, “I’m a dog owner” — they only have to acknowledge the number of statements that apply to them. That alone should zero out any embarrassment or hesitance to admit to a particular item.

That’s important because the other 1,000 or so participants saw the exact same list — but with one statement added: “I believe in God.”

By comparing the responses between the two groups, Gervais and Najle could then estimate how many people don’t believe in God. (Because both groups of 1,000 poll takers should, in theory, have the same number of vegetarians, dog owners, and so on in each group, any increases in the number of agreed-to statements from the first group to the second should be reflective of the number of people who don’t believe in God.)

Because two polls with different sets of responders is involved could affect accuracy and margins of error. However:

One thing is clear from the results: Much more than 10 or 11 percent of the country (as assessed in Gallup and Pew polling) does not believe in God. “We can say with a 99 percent probability that it’s higher than [11 percent],” said Gervais.

His best estimate: Around 26 percent of Americans don’t believe in God. “According to our samples, about 1 in 3 atheists in our country don’t feel comfortable disclosing their lack of belief,” Najle explains in an email.

Gervais admits this method isn’t perfect, and yields an answer with a wide margin of error. (On the other end of the margin of error, around 35 percent of Americans don’t believe in God.) But the most fundamental question he and Najle are asking here is do polling firms like Gallup and Pew undercount atheists? And it seems the answer is yes.

So they think that instead of about 10% non-God believers it could be more like 20-35%.

This still seems relatively low compared to New Zealand. And it doesn’t deal with different degrees of belief.

For comparison here: How many New Zealanders believe in God?

61% of New Zealanders believe that there is ‘a God or some sort of universal spirit’

The full numbers from the SAYit survey were:

  • 28% absolutely certain it is true
  • 13% fairly certain it is true
  • 9% believe it’s true but are not too certain
  • 11% believe it’s true but are not at all certain
  • 6% believe it’s not true but are not at all certain
  • 5% believe it’s not true but are not too certain
  • 11% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 16% are absolutely certain it is not true

This shows 40% willing to say they are absolutely certain or fairly certain, while the majority say they have some uncertainty or don’t believe there is a God.

I think one thing this shows that whether you believe in God or not is a big deal in the US but doesn’t matter here.

In New Zealand devout God believers and atheists and a big bunch of maybes in the middle intermingle largely without caring what the beliefs of each other are.

I think this is a major plus for our country, a general tolerance of different religious beliefs. This is in contrast to the US.

I think that some people have odd beliefs about religion and politics and other things but they have as much right to think I may have some odd beliefs. We can express and discuss and debate these things openly without fear. This is a good thing.

The idealist

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I’m not an Atheist

Yesterday Kiwiblog had a very active thread after DPF posted Ten Commandments for Atheists. Jesus would weep at what gets said in his name and against him. Possibly. Presuming he existed and is as claimed.

I kept out of yet another cycle of futility. Until this morning,

I’m not an Atheist. There’s few of them. There’s a lot of people similar to me don’t believe in what is commonly claimed as God or Gods but apart from not being theist there’s no common ideology that ties me to Atheists or atheists.

Trying to define an atheist set of commandments for Atheists seems more weird to me than religious commandments. Who is doing the commanding?

I see problems with rigid commandments. They have been long superceded by a far more extensive legal system.

Jesus told me to love Him, to love my neighbour, to love my enemy. He told me to sacrifice myself for the good of others.

I can’t love a historical ‘Jesus’ figure any more than I can love Aesops or Theodoret or any of the ancient writers and subjects of writings.

Why should I love my neighbour? I get on ok with my neighbours but it doesn’t go any further than co-existing respecting their rights and boundaries and socialising with them a bit.

Loving enemies seems even more strange. Maybe I just don’t understand the wider meanings of the word ‘love’. It’s one of the most misused terms on the English language, and is frequently used without feeling or genuineness which seems contradictory.

Life, love, morality and human relationships and societies are far too complex to be encapsulated in a handful of phrases. As has been shown many times it just leads to dishonesty, abuse and excuses for abhorrent behaviour.

Atheism, or lack thereof

Is atheism a belief similar to believing in a religion, or is it a lack of a belief? It depends.

Some people promote atheism and seem to strongly believe in it.

I think far more people simply don’t believe in existing religions or gods but don’t think much about what that makes them. They are agnostic or atheist (or a vague mix of both) more due to a lack of a religious belief rather than having a specific belief.

It’s common to see atheistic leaning people to say they won’t believe in a god or gods unless they see proof of their existence.

I think that puts them into a sort of agnostic/atheist position without devoutly believing in any label.

Wikipedia has a definition of atheism:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[3][4][5] Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism,[8][9] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

The term “atheism” originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”, used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase incriticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word “atheist” lived in the 18th century. Some ancient and modern religions are referred to as atheistic, as they either have no concepts of deities or deny acreator deity, yet still revere other god-like entities.

That’s not very specific and allows for a range of positions or lack of a position on gods.

A website American Atheists tries to explain what atheism is.

WHAT IS ATHEISM?
No one asks this question enough.

The reason no one asks this question a lot is because most people have preconceived ideas and notions about what an Atheist is and is not. Where these preconceived ideas come from varies, but they tend to evolve from theistic influences or other sources.

I doubt that claim. How many people have preconceived ideas about atheism? My guess is that most people simply don’t think much or anything about it.

I didn’t know anything about atheism as a concept until I was well into my adulthood. I simply didn’t see anything for me in the church/religion options.

Atheism is usually defined incorrectly as a belief system. Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Some dictionaries even go so far as to define Atheism as “wickedness,” “sinfulness,” and other derogatory adjectives. Clearly, theistic influence taints dictionaries. People cannot trust these dictionaries to define atheism. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

Why should atheists allow theists to define who atheists are? Do other minorities allow the majority to define their character, views, and opinions? No, they do not. So why does everyone expect atheists to lie down and accept the definition placed upon them by the world’s theists? Atheists will define themselves.

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are: 1) If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color, and 2) If atheism is a religion then health is a disease. A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, “If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position.”

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds.

Even the “belief in gods and supernatural beings” (or lack of belief) is not clear cut. What is a supernatural being? Probably different things to different people.

I understand that many people believe in God, which is sort of the same thing for Christians, Muslims and Jews, their religions all have common origins.

So I believe gods exist for them in their minds. Does that make me a theist?

It depends on what definition of god you want to use. Commonly it means an all powerful thing that created everything and dictates moral laws and behaviours through earthly representatives. But it could also be just a belief in a greater power of some sort rather than a specific entity.

God could seen as an integral force of the universe like gravity.

Or it could be a construct of human beings, a figment of their imaginations.

For many people it’s a helpful figment. Many of those who believe in a god or gods get some benefit from their belief. But people who don’t share that belief could find their own benefits in different ways.

ReligiousTolerance.org attempts a Description of Atheism.

Most Atheists have analyzed the available material evidence about deities (gods and/or goddesses) and have concluded that there is no real evidence of their existence.

I doubt that many atheist-like people do much analysing, they are simply apathetic towards deities.

Many regard the concept of deity to be devoid of meaning.

I don’t know how many. That’s an odd statement.

They generally believe that the universe, Earth and its life forms came into existence and evolved by perfectly natural processes. They see no evidence of intervention or guidance by a supernatural entity.

I have seen people who follow a religion who think along very similar lines to that. Generalising about atheism is like generalising about theism, there are many flavours and strengths of belief.

Other Atheists are people who have simply never been exposed to belief in a deity or deities and therefore have no belief in them.

That sort of describes me. I was exposed to a bit of religion when growing up but just wasn’t very interested. Bible stories seemed a bit like Grimm’s stories but more boring.

Neither of my parents displayed any belief in religion although we occasionally went to the local church and my mother sent us to Sunday School for a while because she thought she should.

There was no consideration of ‘atheism’. It was just not thinking about much at all about it and not believing in anything religious.

I’m very grateful I live in New Zealand, a country where most people can live without any pressure to believe or not to believe, where we intermingle often not knowing or barely knowing what people we associate with believe in regarding gods and religion. It’s a personal choice without pressure.

AqualungI believe there could be some truth in that but it will always be up for debate.

Who’s taking over New Zealand?

I’m a bit puzzled.

Fears are often expressed on blogs about conspiracies of a group to take control of New Zealand, and force us citizens to live under their laws, customs, beliefs. and sexual practices.

When Maori take over New Zealand, and capitalists take over New Zealand, and homosexuals take over New Zealand, and Muslims take over New Zealand, and liberal secularists and atheists take over New Zealand, who will rule?

I understand it’s possible we could get a sudden rise of liberal gay Maori capitalist politicians but I don’t see how they can be atheist Muslims.