An additional 4. At the same time, many do not see a contradiction between atheism and pondering their place in the world. There are currently no self-described atheists serving in Congress , although there is one House member, Kyrsten Sinema D-Ariz. Note: This post was originally published on Nov. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research.
This is a potentially significant problem for pollsters trying to get an accurate read on the number of atheists in the U. It is well documented that survey respondents tend to overreport their participation in socially desirable behavior, such as voting or attending religious services.
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But at least when it comes to religious behavior, the problem is not that people who occasionally attend are claiming to be in the pews every week, but that those who never attend often refuse to say so. Americans who do not believe in God might be exhibiting a similar reticence and thus go uncounted. Another challenge is that many questions about religious identity require respondents to select a single description from a list.
This method, followed by most polling firms including PRRI where I work as research director , does not allow Americans to identify simultaneously as Catholic and atheist. Or Jewish and atheist. But there are Catholics, Jews and Muslims who do not believe in God — their connection to religion is largely cultural or based on their ethnic background.
When PRRI ran an experiment in that asked about atheist identity in a standalone question that did not ask about affiliation with any other religious group, we found that 7 percent of the American public claimed to be atheist. Asking people about God in a multiple-choice format is self-evidently problematic.
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Conceptions of God vary substantially and are inherently subjective. Does a belief in mystical energy, for example, constitute a belief in God? When Gallup recently asked a yes-or-no question about belief in God, 89 percent of Americans reported that they do believe. Many survey questions also do not leave much room for expressions of doubt.
Way More Americans May Be Atheists Than We Thought
While atheists certainly are not the majority, could it be that these figures are a harbinger of things to come? Assuming global trends continue might religion someday disappear entirely? Scholars are still trying to tease out the complex factors that drive an individual or a nation toward atheism, but there are a few commonalities. So not surprisingly, nations that report the highest rates of atheism tend to be those that provide their citizens with relatively high economic, political and existential stability.
Capitalism, access to technology and education also seems to correlate with a corrosion of religiosity in some populations, he adds. Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, France and Uruguay where the majority of citizens have European roots are all places where religion was important just a century or so ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world.
These countries feature strong educational and social security systems, low inequality and are all relatively wealthy. Yemeni girls show their hands decorated with traditional henna designs as they celebrate the end of Ramadan Getty Images. Yet decline in belief seems to be occurring across the board, including in places that are still strongly religious, such as Brazil, Jamaica and Ireland.
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The US, too, is an outlier in that it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but also has high rates of religiosity. Still, a recent Pew survey revealed that, between and , the proportion of Americans who said they are atheist rose from 1. Decline, however, does not mean disappearance, says Ara Norenzayan, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and author of Big Gods.
Existential security is more fallible than it seems. In a moment, everything can change: a drunk driver can kill a loved one; a tornado can destroy a town; a doctor can issue a terminal diagnosis. As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity.
This phenomenon constantly plays out in hospital rooms and disaster zones around the world. In , for example, a massive earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand — a highly secular society.
There was a sudden spike of religiosity in the people who experienced that event, but the rest of the country remained as secular as ever. While exceptions to this rule do exist — religion in Japan plummeted following World War II, for instance — for the most part, Zuckerman says, we adhere by the Christchurch model. A rabbi reads during Purim festivities Getty Images. This psychological staple states that we have two very basic forms of thought: System 1 and System 2. System 2 evolved relatively recently.