March 21, 2006

Low Atheism Numbers in the USA: Doesn't Make Sense

I like to look at statistics. Then I like to figure out why these statistics happen.
One of the most mind bogglings stats out there, is the low percentage of Atheists/Agnostics that live in the USA.
Compared to many other countries, the USA has excellent schools, a low poverty rate, and a mainstream media that tends to shy away from the Church. They even have a "separation of Church and State." But a study by Phil Zuckerman shows determines that only 3-9% of Americans are Atheist or Agnostic. Zuckerman, who analyzed many polls and surveys to come up with his worldwide numbers, places America 44th out of fifty countries containing the largest percentage of people who identify as Atheist, Agnostic, or non-believer in god.
For example, 44-85% (depending on the poll) of Swedes are Atheist/Agnostic. 81% of the Vietnamese, 64% of the Japanese, 43-54% of the French, over 31% of the British, 15-34% of Israelis, 19-30% of us Canucks (ranked 20), and 20% of Ukrainians don't believe in God or Agnostic.
In fact, most of the countries that rank lower than the USA are Muslim states(1-5%) and/or 3rd world states. Mexico is 2-7%, very similar to the USA, yet the number is between 18 and 24% in Spain. Poland and Romania have a very low percentage of Atheists/Agnostics, as does Ireland, and I wonder why the huge difference between England and Ireland.
Even in Italy, 14% of their population don't believe in God, similar to Greece at 16%. And let's not forget the Danish who hang between 43-80%.

One general theory in Zuckerman's piece: "comes from Norris and Inglehart (2004), who argue that in societies characterized by plentiful food distribution, excellent public healthcare, and widely accessible housing, religiosity wanes. Conversely, in societies where food and shelter are scarce and life is generally less secure, religious belief is strong. This is not a new theory (Thrower, 1999). For example, Karl Marx (1843) argued that people who suffer in oppressive social conditions are apt to turn to religion for comfort. Sigmund Freud’s (1927) central thesis was that belief in God served to comfort humans in the face of earthly pain, suffering, and death."

Of course, this doesn't explain the USA, Ireland or conversely Korea. To continue, "countries containing high percentages of non-believers are among the most healthy and wealthy nations on earth."

I just don't get the States. They are removed from the Biblical Lands traditionally and physically more than almost every country in Asia and Europe, yet have such a low rate of Atheists and high rate of believers, and worse yet, bible literalists (the fools of fools). The USA foundations may be the cause. They didn't persecute the religious, no matter what the Mormons, for example, thought. And then the USA Baptists pretty much took the Fundy invention of the Rapture in the 1800's, and ran with it, and made it their own.

I was weaned on American TV. I don't remember seeing Beaver, Fred, Barney, Samantha, Gilligan, Agent 86, Greg Brady, Danny Partridge, Batman or Herman Munster ever talk about god or go to Church. There was David and Goliath, but it was so tame that my father even let me watch it. Granted, for the last 17 years, Homer Simpson has been going to Church a lot, but I think he has created more Atheists. Obviously not that many though.

The USA still has up to 26 million Atheist/Agnostics. The scary thing is that according to a recent study, Atheists are the least trusted minority group in the USA.

Where does this crapola come from?: The article about the study.

From the study: “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”

One more reason to stay in Canada.

Updated Reason: DoctorBoogaloosLunchcounter gives a pretty decent explanation in the comment section. He theorizes that America felt indebted to god for winning WW2. Then of course the Cold War happened and the godless communists were the enemy. Canada and England weren't major factors in the Cold War, so this might explain why the USA has relatively less Atheists than those countries. And then to top it off, the Pledge of Allegiance became the motto in the USA in the mid 50's. "One nation under god," and buying gobblygook.

Funny : It's still "A-OK" to hate an atheist!


  1. I think the results are fascinating, troubling, puzzling, and (sadly) to be expected. It seems to me that the U.S. found itself indebted to 'God' for winning the Second World War. Then there were all those 'Godless' commies to ferret out during the 1950's. The 1960's were a blip; albeit a blip that reinforced my own atheism.

    American televison? Yeah, I grew up on a steady diet of this myself... and the fact that it was utterly homogeneous, ie. no feather ruffling, speaks to the fact that every producer/advertiser was happy not to rock the boat. I mean, hell, we all knew that the Beav and Wally were dragged to church every Sunday.
    The Pledge of Allegiance... after 1954 (or whatever the date was), every school kid was saying 'one country under God'. And anyone running for office in the U.S. needs to have a church/synagogue/temple on his/her resume.
    Anyway, great blog. I enjoyed my visit.

  2. Thanks, come back often. I already have a lot of visitors who come back because they hate my blog. I'd like the numbers evened out.

    Checked out your blog. Good stuff. Good to see another Atheism on the Right as far as the War on Terror is concerned.

    But one thing, my biggest pet peeve in blogland is black backgrounds for blogs. Makes things tough for my now middle aged eyes to read. But I know a black background is cool, just not practicle.

  3. I want to add that your point about WW2 coupled with the Cold War makes a lot of sense. Canada and Britain for example were not very big players against the godless Russians.

  4. The few atheist that I have met tended to be obnoxious preachers of their religion Atheism. I came to the conclusion that they have very lonely lives.

  5. So you are basing your judgment of Atheists on the few you met? Sounds scientific.
    Atheism isn't a religion. Atheists believe in Reality. There is absolutely no proof that god, 5 gods or 666 gods exist. God is a man made phenomenon.
    But Atheists are more open minded than you think. If factual evidence came around that proved god existed, we would start believing in him.
    You Fundies are in denial.

  6. I live a sheltered life but the worst people I have met have all been Christians. If you need a person to go into battle with pick an agnostic or an atheist - they'll be there for all the right reasons.

  7. "You Fundies are in denial."

    I think they practice "conflict avoidance." True, fundies are very happy people and by comparison, an atheist may indeed look grumpy. But I think the fundies' happiness is gained by a type of "surrender to Jesus", for them, the world is high contrast, black and white. For every situation there is an absolute right thing to do and an absolute wrong thing to do, and if you don't know what that is....just look in the bible, ask your preacher or consider what Jesus might do.....
    I think the atheist understands that the world is not so easy to figure out, it is not black and white, but a spectrum of possibilites and choices. It is this extra effort to use reason and logic to guide your choices which creates the feelings of satisfaction, responsibility, and even morality within the atheist.

  8. It's a shame you piss your life away on this shitty blog of plagiarized postings.

  9. I thought you didn't want to moderate. Hypocrite.

  10. America is only a crucifix away from being a theocracy - I can't go anywhere anymore without some Jesus freak getting all righteous on me, be it t.v., radio, bumper sticker or handing out literature.

    I would hazard to say that those atheist/agnostic numbers are about right, and most likely falling rapidly.

    The sad part is that I remember a time when one did not discuss politics or religion in polite company. I was okay with the religion aspect of that, but then something changed in the US (perhaps the "godless commies" thing, I mean, that is when we added "under god" into the pledge of allegiance), and now it's Christian or "other". And the "others" are terrorists according to the government.

  11. The religiousity of the U.S. shouldn't be too puzzling. While they have more than their share of poverty, the actual threat of poverty seems dwarved by their exaggerated fear of it. I remembering seeing an interview with Jay Leno who was afraid he might end up on the street one day. Since it's the fear that pushes bodies through church doors, this heightened level of fear does alot to sway hearts and minds that way.

  12. Very, very interesting post.

    Maybe I'm taking the easy way out, but I trace Americans' religiousity back to our Puritan heritage. Despite the centuries that have passed, our pernicious Puritan heritage still harms our country greatly. After all, not only is the US highly religious, it's also highly creationist and quite conservative. 20% of my fellow adult Americans think that the Earth is the center of the universe. When I read stats like that, I'm truly embarrassed to live in this country. Only through science can one find the road to secular life. With science, natural explanations are discovered and supernatural nonsense is thrown away, as it should be.

  13. Personally I think that there is so much pressure in the US for people to profess god belief, that the non-religious and the "semi believer" don't ever feel brave enough to buck the system. It seems to me also that so much of their social life revolves around church and church activities that it would mean social isolation if they did not involve themselves someway in religion.

  14. Beep Beep, around 45% of Americans go church once a week, not too far off Canada which is a little less than 40%. I don't know that people who don't go to church face any kind of isolation at all, especially when keeping in mind that NFL pre game shows start at 11 in the morning. In fact, church and religion isn't very much of a topic in Canada at the office or after work, I don't see it being discussed that much excepet within the home in the USA either.

    Frances, thanks for showing up. The USA's heritage being a factor might just explain a tiny bit of the phenomenon in todays age. Scientific discoveries over the last 200 years from dinosaur bones, to evolution, to genetics to science and the Big Bang should cause a lot more doubting of the bible, especially as a literate source of information. Perhaps the samller towns have the largest percentage of the intellectually stagnant. The big cities can't be that bad. Getting back to your point, most European countries had very theistic beginnings. Protestants as we know are more likely to be YECs, but that doesn't explain why England is so different from the US when it comes to Atheist stats. I think the Rapture is pretty much a USA phenomenon, although invented by Darby an Englishman, it really caught on in the USA. And it has done nothing but dumb down America.
    AA, I think you are wrong, if you want to plan a battle, let an Atheist plan it(Atheists don't account for god being on your side, but you want religious followers fighting for you(they are most likely to follow orders), or you will lose.
    Anon, yes religious people could appear happier, but we don't know how much internal conflict they must go through when they try to explain away light years, evolution, etc. Maybe retarded people are the happiest of all. I don't want to be a retard though, I'd rather be a cynic.
    d, Do you live in a big town or a small town?
    Central, isn't the fear of death/god that is universal? The fact that it is such a phenomenon in the US compared to other Western nations is what I'm trying to figure out here. Do you think the USA has a larger fear of poverty than the Canada England Denmark etc. That would also be an interesting question as to why it is.

  15. I'm in Cleveland, OH - midwest or north coast, depends on who you're talking to. We were ranked most poverty ridden major metro area last year (used to be a big steal town - now, not so much). The state also leads the U.S. in home foreclosures. So, there are some poor people here.

    My jesus freak reference was and is to general trends I see - I travel a lot and I see it all across this country. Not to say there aren't open-minded, non-Jesus freak areas of the U.S., but it's not like it was when I was a kid.

    Example: I remember growing up and not knowing whether my friends were catholic or baptist or other - now that's one of the first things you learn about a person, either because it's on his t-shirt or license plate or business card or coming out of his mouth.

  16. Bacon, I suppose what I meant by battle was something really important where you need to rely on someone to go the extra mile or be there when you need them. My observation has been that if there is a difference between non-Christian and Christian it is that the former are more dependable and the hardest workers.

    They do say that there are no atheists in a foxhole.

    I find that my atheism is not entirely consistent and this could be the experience of many others. There is a widespread myth that Darwin recanted on his deathbed. Even if this were true it shouldn’t be taken seriously as he was obviously not in a healthy state to be making such important decisions. Many religious folk became so after a traumatic experience that made them susceptible to religious conversion. This phenomenon is not much discussed nowadays yet it is well known that the human mind can be manipulated quite spectacularly by using stress techniques that bring the subject close to emotional and physical breakdown and then introducing a new doctrine. The North Koreans were very good at this sort of thing and I wonder why we are not following this practice with some of our terrorist prisoners. I like to think that Osama is being held somewhere and undergoing this ‘therapy’ right now. Imagine a converted to Christianity Bin Laden showing up on the world stage. The techniques involved are not even particularly horrible and many people actually do similar things to themselves by stuffing up their lives with drugs and bad behaviour making themselves susceptible to suggestion when that JW comes knocking at the door – silly sods!

    Generally atheism requires a fair degree of comfort and education. This, however, is not a bad thing; as such big questions should be pondered with an unfettered mind free from worry. Yet this brings us no closer as to why Americans are rarely atheist.

  17. AA, to let you know, even the main Christian genesis site on the net now says that Darwin didn't refute evolution on his deathbed.
    Check this out:

  18. From that site:
    ‘Darwin recanted on his deathbed’. Many people use this story, originally from a Lady Hope. However, it is almost certainly not true, and there is no corroboration from those who were closest to him, even from Darwin’s wife Emma, who never liked evolutionary ideas. Also, even if true, so what? If Ken Ham recanted Creation, would that disprove it? There is no value to this argument whatever.

  19. Wow, that's the most intellectually competent creationist site I have ever seen. I am mildly impressed.

    Creationism or Intelligent Design always trys to lock itself in a “death-grip” with Evolution. Why, because Creationism as Science only exists in the gaps that Evolutionary Theory does not currently explain. It is pure negativism. Evolutionary theory does not “invoke” any other scientific theory or intellectual concept to make its case, it is completely oblivious of Creationism. On the other hand, Creationism can not make any claim that is not, in fact, merely a critique of Evolution. Creationist try to set up a dichotomy where any point that Evolution does not satisfactorily explain, becomes indirect evidence that Creationism is correct. In debates with Creationists, I have seen that they use a standard operating procedure, they begin by stating that there are only two possibilities. You must either believe in Evolution or you must believe in Creationism. Because this dichotomy is necessary for Creationism to gain its “negative proof” because it has no proof of its own. Evolution does not try to force the idea that only two possibilities exist.

    I remember well, the Creationist strategy during the 70’s and 80’s was to try to sully Evolution as a “religion” and not a science at all. When that did not suceed, they changed strategies to proclaim that creationism (Intelligent Design) was a science, just like evolution. Now that has also been shot down, I expect the pendulum to return to a strategy tyo return to saying that since evolution is not fact, it must be a religion, and so on, and so on........

  20. ID has no science behind it. Like you say Anon, they just look for things that evolution can't explain completely YET and call that proof goditit.
    Here is another progressive site. Knocks the crap out of the young earthers at least.

  21. I would take issue with the statement that 45% of US citizens attend church. The reality is that 45% may claim to have attended church but surveys of actual numbers attending shows only about 20% do.

    That warms my heart in one way because it means about half of all people who claim to be a church attender are lying. But it also means half feel they need to lie probably due to social pressure.

    It also means 80% are not attenders so why are we letting the 20% control the system. Humanists need to join together and organise. Trouble is that free thinkers are not great joiners.