Way More Americans May Be Atheists Than We Thought

May 23, 2017

By Daniel Cox

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.1 The study concludes that roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans likely do not believe in God.2

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4 comments on “Way More Americans May Be Atheists Than We Thought

  • I’ve asserted for years that not many are telling the truth about belief and/or non-belief. I personally know priests who are clearly non-believers. I know believers who believe “just because”. And, I know atheists who identify as atheist out of braggadocio and/or spite of a loved one.

    The real litmus test for me is the person’s answers and attitudes towards certain issues and events. A believer in heaven and/or hell who is true in their belief would NOT risk eternity in hell to lie, curse their god, cheat, HATE, or kill… True belief manifests as a kind and even keeled person who does NOT JUDGE others, would NEVER tell someone that they were going to hell, goes to church and ENJOYS the time without glancing at their watch. This person would be honest and never gluttonous. They’d be angry with THEMSELVES if they fell short and even were tempted to do something that goes against the tenets of their church’s belief system.

    Instead, I see greedy, gluttonous, opportunistic, hating, judgmental, arrogant assholes at every turn, of every stripe, including atheist. However, the atheist asshole has usually made no assertion that their atheism is their moral compass and their singular identity. When you are __________________ and that is the “monoculture” of your one dimensional existence, you are most certainly NOT using “what the good lord gave you” to think and reason, and love, and tolerate.

    For this reason, I’d estimate the number of actual people on the planet who both believe in god and LIVE according to that belief — and I do not want to fucking hear about temptation and weakness and giving in to “sin”– you are either responsible for your actions or not (but if you are not YOU WILL BE JUDGED and BE JUDGED GUILTY AND GO TO HELL — please remember your silly god construction KNOWS EVERYTHING)…. so the actual number of people that I think live up to this standard is ZERO. Not the pope, not the Dalai Lama, no Rabbi, no Imam, no atheist. Everyone is HUMAN and trying to make sense of the world that they exist in and doing a flawed and imperfect job.

    I am currently reading “Deviate” by Beau Lotto. It is really good and although I’m only half through it, has already given me pause to rethink how we all interpret and experience reality. And, the truth is, we DON’T. Not for one second of any human’s life ever have they actually experienced anything remotely close to reality. His points are well constructed and well reasoned. I’d encourage any one here to read it. It is pretty cool stuff from a pretty high powered neurobiologist.

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  • A believer in heaven and/or hell who is true in their belief would NOT
    risk eternity in hell to lie, curse their god, cheat, HATE, or kill…

    I would agree with this except for the ol’ get-out-of-jail-free card: “forgiveness”. We can probably never know which of those who display the listed behaviors do so because they are really non-believers, and those who actually think all they have to do is say “Sorry!” (you should hear that in Kristen Wiig’s “Gilly” voice).


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