Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Losing my Religion

A new study sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that only 1.6% of Americans consider themselves atheists. Really? I would have guessed the number was higher... Do I live in the much of a bubble? Yes, probably. I had to search a bit to find that number actually since the Pew researchers buried it in the category of "other religions" -- lumping atheists in with agnostics and "nothing in particular." Altogether, this group of "other religions" (and yes, I object to that terminology) is 16.1% of the American population.

Of the folks in this group, only half were raised in that tradition:

"The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion."

The other interesting tidbits I learned also concern how we were raised:

"More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether."

From here my brain wandered off into three directions: 1) will my children follow the new trend and leave the "faith" in which they are being raised? 2) this shifting about does represent a profound shift from American traditions where families stayed in a religious tradition generation after generation -- political parties, regional identities, etc. were built on such stability 3) this is still a pretty hugely religious country. I do know that my students tend to be religious (though I no longer have that overwhelming evangelical student body population I had at Georgia Southern), but most of them tend to keep it out of the classroom so it is easy for me to ignore.

Every once in a while I do run in to it, though. I remember a student who was following me back to my office once and discussing a moral issue that had come up in the reading on one of the activists we'd been studying. The activist rooted much of her perspective in a particular religious tradition and the student was searching her own experiences, trying to see how her religion had shaped her worldview (good, we like that in a student). The student then asked me about my religion. When I told her I'm an atheist, she got this look of pity on her face and said, "oh, that is so sad." She was worried, as my mother has been since I "fell from grace" (I was raised Methodist), that I would not have the comfort of faith in an all-powerful being. Um, no, see I just don't find that comforting. Physics... that I find comforting. Rational thought, oh yeah, that will get me through the night.


biscodo said...

If you add to that the efforts by a Pew franchise which resulted in the survey known as ARIS, it appears that the ground gained by atheists and "non-religious" in the decade before 2001 has held stable, but not continued growing. FWIW, I have no problem being lumped as "non-religious" - it's an appropriate generalization for the sake of statistics.

I'm going to blame it on 9/11.

(Isn't that what you're supposed to do when one of the data points on the chart passes through 2001?)

The good thing about most of this is that that the religiosity is often more about posing or appearing or "identifying" than it is about people actually believing (i.e. those that go to church on Christmas and Easter, but don't actually pray or believe).

I'm not concerned about those who identify as religious, I'm scared shitless about what kinds of atrocities "true believers" are willing to do when they get their Jesus-hackles raised.

TeacherPatti said...

My students tend to be Christian. I have one student who tends to parrot what her grandma says ("there is only one!true!Lord!", "if you don't believe in the one!true!Lord! you go to the lake of fire") and I often have to redirect her. I can't wait until her last day with me...I am going to announce that her beloved (I hope I still am, at that point) teacher is part Jew!! If her head doesn't explode, it will be a good time. :)

Andre said...

My students are pretty vocal about their religious beliefs. They're mostly freshmen though and I always assumed that in a couple years they'd start realizing that it's ridiculous. Based on that study, I have to think that maybe they wont.

Daye said...

I knew there was a reason I liked you.

Ypsipearl said...

As you know, I was raised as an atheist and I remember having a similar experience to your pitying student. During high school my friend blurted out to her mother for the shock factor that "Stacey doesn't believe in God!" and her mother's reaction was to look at me in a very concerned way and gently ask if something had happened to me that made me not believe. I was like...uh...no. It was bizarre.