U.S. Religious Landscape Survey June 23, 2008

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

There’s a goldmine of information here. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just released the second set of findings from a study conducted last year — the first set was released in February.

The news reports are going to cover a couple major highlights, the big one being the following:

Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation…

The report… reveals a broad trend toward tolerance and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths.

The findings seem to undercut the conventional wisdom that the more religiously committed people are, the more intolerant they are, scholars who reviewed the survey said.

You can read the main findings of the survey (PDF) or just check out a few important stats, as they pertain to atheists, below:

Religious affiliation:


Of those who do not believe in God, where do they live?


Some people are just a bit confused…

Indeed, one-in-five people who identify themselves as atheist (21%) and a majority of those who identify themselves as agnostic (55%) express a belief in God or a universal spirit.

Does religion cause more problems than it solves?

… more than three-quarters of atheists (77%) believe religion
causes more problems than it solves, with nearly half (49%) of atheists completely agreeing with this statement.

What is the political party affiliation for the unaffiliated?



How many children are the unaffiliated having?



[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Walter

    Here’s a weird stat taken from page 5 of the summary: 6% of Atheists believe in a personal god and 12% believe in an impersonal force. Is it just me or does that show that about 1 in 5 people who claim to be atheists do not actually know what the term means?

  • Wes

    I think we have to be cautious about surveys which ask the general public to slap a label on themselves, because often people don’t understand what the label means. If the result of your survey is that 21% of self-identified atheists say they believe in God, then that’s a sign that there might be something wrong with the way you’re conducting your survey. Perhaps some of these people are members of minority religions and were under the mistaken impression that “atheist” means “not a Christian”, or something like that.

    Perhaps a more accurate way to see who’s atheist and who’s not would be to phrase the question something like:

    Do you believe in a God or gods?
    [x] Yes, very certain
    [x] Yes, somewhat certain
    [x] I don’t know
    [x] No, somewhat certain
    [x] No, very certain

    That might give a clearer picture of what’s going on, rather than just having them pick from a list of labels.

  • Wes

    I should add, in the part of the pdf which goes over belief in God, one thing jumps out at me—only amongst the Mormons did 100% of respondents say they believe in God. Under “Net belief in God”, we see that 2% of Protestants, 3% of Catholics, 2% of Jehovah’s Witness, 5% of Orthodox, 17% of Jews, 8% of Muslims, 25% of Buddhists, 8% of Hindus, and 30% of Unaffiliated do not believe in God.

    There are your atheists—the 8% of Americans who say they don’t believe in God. Part of the problem with this survey is it treats atheism and being a member of a religion as if they were mutually exclusive. But an atheist or agnostic might still attend church and identify with a religion for cultural reasons. Atheism and religions aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive for many people.

  • Skylar

    Ok, 67% of the “unaffiliated” are childless? Seriously, can we start keeping up with the rest of the population before we drop out of the gene pool altogether?

    Smart people need to breed more. Overpopulation is a terrible thing, but so is a world like Idiocracy.

    Let’s get started, kids.

  • So, you don’t believe in children either … very interesting, hmmmmmm.

    In all seriousness though, the “nothing in particular” crowd could easily include many of the “spiritual but not religious” set. I agree these stats need to be treated with caution.

  • EKM

    Skylar said,

    Ok, 67% of the “unaffiliated” are childless? Seriously, can we start keeping up with the rest of the population before we drop out of the gene pool altogether?

    Not necessary. I think a lot of atheists have religious parents. As long as religious parents keep driving their kids crazy, we are set.

    Atheists are not reproduced, just induced.

  • stogoe

    Children are nasty, screeching parasites. But I’d like to see the question. If it’s ‘How many children do you currently have?’ then it’s not so bad, as young adults are overrepresented in nontheism and are having children later in life, when they feel they can afford to care for them (instead of the spray’n’pray method).

    It strikes me as odd that Iowa is in the 5-10% range of atheists. It’s the West Coast, New England, Boulder CO, and Iowa. What’s up with that?

  • I guess the boredom of corn doesn’t always equal an affection to superstition.

  • Richard Wade

    So we have a small percentage of folks who identify as Protestants, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witness, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Unaffiliated who don’t believe in God, while we also have a small percentage of folks who identify as atheists who do believe in God.

    We are very confused. Even within only one language we have a tower of babble.

    I think words must be water soluble. The more they go through our mouths the more they dissolve into an undifferentiated concept mush. I can foresee a conversation I’ll probably have in the near future:

    “So, what is your religion, Richard?”
    “I don’t have a religion, I’m an atheist.”
    “Oh okay, but do you believe in God?”
    “Uh no, actually I don’t. I thought that’s what ‘atheist’ means.”
    “Well we can’t just assume that. For instance, I’m an Evangelical Christian and I don’t believe in God.”
    “Uh, let me sit down, I’m feeling a little dizzy.”

  • Yes, I shake my head too. Whatever your path, have the strength of conviction to stand by it.

  • BeeGee

    I’m one of those who attend church regularly, but don’t believe in God. I do believe that religion does more good than ill, and that, like any evolved cultural institution, it conveys a benefit to its society. Also, I’m egotistical enough to believe that if my religious upbringing helped make me into the good person I am today, then it should benefit my kids as well, and they’ll be able to figure out the truth later on.

  • Tony

    Well, if this study is accurate, my hope for the American public is sinking like a stone. What will it take to get these folks to open their minds? I wonder how the participants were selected? That would be a great question to see if there was a self-selection bias introduced into the study.

  • BeeGee:

    Thanks for proposing an idea I really hadn’t considered seriously. As an ex-Catholic I resist like hell the idea that I should indoctrinate my kids in the bathtub of bull that I grew up in.

    Yet I feel that my devoutness actually helped keep me clear of some pretty stupid stuff when I was younger (I was also an FSMawful nerd without noticeable social skills, so it may have been kind of 50/50).

    Anyway, I was concerned about trying to bring up decent kids who knew there was no Great Sky Faerie watching them all the time.

    Maybe the “Show Church” approach could work for me too. Must think more on it.

  • Scotty B

    Yay for Iowa, the lone bastion of hope in the midwest! 😉

    Kind of surprised though, considering MN has Minnesota Atheists, WI has the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and IL has, well, Chicago (read: large densely populated area) oh, and Hemant, of course.

  • The Thinking Theist

    The one thing that really stuck out to me in the survey is the amount of prostelyzing or “sharing of faith” that the Jehovah’s Witnesses admitted to. “More than eight in ten (84 %)…” said they shared their faith every month. Therefore, since most of them go door-to-door so be prepared to politely shut them down. 🙂

  • Thanks for pointing out the gold mine of interesting and useful data in the new Pew report.

    It is already yielding some interesting and insightful results:

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