Atheism on the rise

Since the last Gallup poll was taken, just before the emergence of so-called New Atheism, the rate at which people call themselves atheists has risen significantly:

The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was conducted) to 60 percent.

At the same time, the number of Americans who say they are atheists rose, from 1 percent to 5 percent.

I don’t think this is a reflection of changing beliefs. Rather, it is a reflection of changing attitudes:

“The obvious implication is that this is a manifestation of the New Atheism movement,” said Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who studies American and global atheism.

Still, Cragun does not believe the poll shows more people are becoming atheists, but rather that more people are willing to identify as atheists.

For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the U.S.”

I’ve attributed this change in attitude to a number of facts in the past, including the Catholic Church’s rape problems, but I think a good deal of credit goes to Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, and others who have made the phrase “I am an atheist” something that is okay to say.

via The A-Unicornist

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A real trend

Being an irrational person, Bill O’Reilly cited a single poll and claimed it was evidence for a trend. He’s genuinely dumb. He’s also wrong anyway.

A Gallup poll of Americans’ attitudes towards religion released on Christmas Eve found significant recent increases in those responding either that they have no religious preference, that religion is not very important in their lives, or that they believe religion “is largely old-fashioned or out of date.”

But it isn’t all good news.

57% still say religion has answers to most of the world’s problems.

What does religion say of HIV? Or cancer? Maybe it has some insight into how best to tackle global warming? Does Jesus say what we should do about the recession? I guess the poll must not have asked “Does religion have the correct answers to most of the world’s problems?”

Good news for Maine

A recent Gallup poll “asked representative samples in 143 countries and territories whether religion was an important part of their daily lives.” The United States, despite the religiously-driven anti-science movement, does not rank as having an especially high number of individuals who say religion is an important part of their lives. For all the countries surveyed, the median response was 82%. The U.S. came in at 65%.

This does not mean the U.S. is unreligious. The interesting thing about this survey is that it is strongly correlated with poverty. In nations where poverty is higher, so is the rate of positive respondents to the poll. That is, poor people cling to their religion. It makes sense that someone who has lost hope, or at least been placed in the dismal position of being desperately poor, would turn to mysticism as a last resort. Of course, this has not helped the people of Sri Lanka or Eygpt gain much wealth. Religion simply isn’t the helpful. In fact, it isn’t really helpful at all.

So what’s rather shocking, at least statistically, about this poll is America’s amount of wealth and rate of religiosity.

Social scientists have noted that one thing that makes Americans distinctive is our high level of religiosity relative to other rich-world populations. Among 27 countries commonly seen as part of the developed world, the median proportion of those who say religion is important in their daily lives is just 38%. From this perspective, the fact two-thirds of Americans respond this way makes us look extremely devout.

Of course, the obvious point to be made is that this seems to directly contradict the issue of correlation. In fact, it does not. This is because as poverty increases by state, so does religosity. Alabama, the slack-jawed center of the South, comes in at 82% answering positively. Mississippi, the well-established cesspool of stupidity, Mr. 50 in Everything Bad, as it were, comes in a smidge higher than the worldwide median, at 85%. These two poverty-rich states are roughly equal to Iran with their rate of response.

It should be of little surprise, then, that all six states of New England fill out the top ten. In fact, the top four are, in order, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. Tending toward less general poverty, these states also tend toward less religiosity. Of course, it’s important to also consider the more liberal, more moral, less evil leanings in this area as well. Such people – the ones concerned with reality – often have a liberal bias. Freed from the shackles of sheepdom as wrought by religion, these states have generally better standards of living and education. No big news there.