Good News from Gallup

09 Oct

Gallup released the following information several months ago. I was familiar with the first finding, but I didn’t know about the second one. The first graph below indicates that about 16% of Americans don’t identify with any religion. This continues an upward trend away from religious identification that has been tracked in recent decades. I think I’ve cited this stat in the past few months, either in a post (or two) or some comments around the atheosphere.

The second graph reports a finding that I find very interesting: 28% of Americans believe that religion is old-fashioned and outdated.

I’ll begin by noting my assumption that this 28% figure is comprised of the 16% of non-religious-identifiers, plus 12% of others (I’ll call them the 12%ers). Since I don’t have enough information about the poll to find out for sure, I’ll go with that conservative assumption for this post (a more liberal assumption would be that the 28% figure consists of people who are not included in the 16% who aren’t religious; I’d love it if that were the case, but I won’t assume it simply because it’s my preference – I have a hunch that the conservative assumption is more likely to be correct). My question for the 12%ers is this, if religion is old-fashioned and outdated, why do you continue to identify with it at all? Are there specific features of religion that you find irrelevant, but others that continue to make religion attractive to you? If so, what are these features, and why do they repel or appeal to you? I can guess what some of the features are in each category, but I’d like to hear from others who have some thoughts about this topic. In the meantime, I’m content (for this weekend only!) to know that more than 1/4 of Americans don’t really take religion – or some aspects of it, at least – very seriously.

— the chaplain

UPDATE: The Gallup post I linked to above reports that “trends on an additional Gallup question indicate that there has in fact been a slight uptick in the percentage of Americans who say religion is not very important in their daily lives — from a range of 11% to 14% through most of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to 19% over the past two years.” It appears that some of the 28% who think that religion is outdated/old-fashioned still consider it to be somewhat important in their daily lives. I’d be very interested in knowing why they feel/think that, as it strikes me as an inconsistency in thought.


Posted by on October 9, 2010 in atheism, religion, society


43 responses to “Good News from Gallup

  1. Spanish Inquisitor

    October 9, 2010 at 11:34 am

    My question for the 12%ers is this, if religion is old-fashioned and outdated, why do you continue to identify with it at all?

    Religion is still a cultural glue, a reason for groups of like minded people to get together and share their commonality.

    That could be one reason why people, who don’t really think highly about the religious aspects of the church they belong to, still identify with that church.

    • desertscope

      October 10, 2010 at 12:51 am

      Like the admitted agnostic I work with that attends two (!) church meetings with two different churches per week and sends his daughter to an evangelical (read-young Earth creationist) private school. I suppose it is his community.

  2. Astasia

    October 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I think there are a percentage of people (who knows what number, though), who believe ‘just in case.’ Some of those people may be agnostics, but I think some of them still consider themselves ‘Christian’ or ‘Jewish’ or ‘Hindu’ (etc., etc.). I could believe that 12%ers are hedging their bets.

  3. jonolan

    October 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

    And one just has to look at how our society has degenerated to see the negative outcome of this trend.

    • Astasia

      October 9, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      Yeah, goddamn homosexuals with their gay marrying all over everything.

      (That’s how it goes, right? Or are there other degenerates we hate more? I can never keep up to date with who we blame all the failings of society on.)

      • jonolan

        October 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

        Actually, as far as I’m concerned at least, the queers who want to marry are at the very bottom of the list of the degeneracy (OK, they don’t even make my list really) that assails America.

        • JT

          October 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm

          Seems to me Christianity is the number one problem in this country, because without it, the republicans wouldn’t have a single issue with which to motivate millions of idiots into doing their bidding.

          Once you consider the fact that republicans have destroyed this country, the real problems are whatever allowed GWB to become president, and Christianity played a huge part in that. Imagine where we’d be without GWB’s “legacy” of debt and war?

        • Astasia

          October 9, 2010 at 9:08 pm

          Well, at least that’s something.

          As to the ‘is queer offensive’ question – it can be taken both ways, and it depends more upon how it said. I don’t identify as queer, but I know those who happily choose that label. (I don’t identify as homosexual, either, really. I’d only grudgingly call myself that.)

          • jonolan

            October 10, 2010 at 10:10 am

            I’m not Abrahamic, Astasia; my religion has no issues with gay marriage. Hell, I’ve performed handfasting rituals for both gay and lesbian couples.

            From my viewpoint, people striving for a committed relationship and to create a family aren’t part of the problem of degeneracy.

    • Astasia

      October 9, 2010 at 9:10 pm

      I would like to say, jonolan, that while I whole-heartedly disagree with you on most of what you have put forth, I appreciate that you have sparked a quite lively debate – and that none of it has ‘degenerated’ into calling people jerkfaces and douchewads.

      • jonolan

        October 10, 2010 at 10:10 am

        It will get these, most likely between JT and myself.

      • jonolan

        October 10, 2010 at 10:11 am

        Oops. Make “these” “there.” Auto-fill is not always my friend.

    • sls2000

      October 20, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Hmmm…what degeneracy? Our crime rate is consistently decreasing, as are our divorce rates (except in those bible belt states). Oh, and the consistently highest rates of “degeneracy” in terms of teen pregnancy, etc., occur in the same bible belt states–which are ruled by the religionist abstinence only programs. Oh, and high rates of poverty in bible belt states….drug addiction rates…alcoholism rates, also highest in bible belt states. In places where the rate of religious adherents in the U.S. is lowest….guess what? LOWER rates of all these things…lower alcoholism, teen pregnancy, divorce, crime, etc., etc., etc.

  4. the chaplain

    October 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm


    Religion is still a cultural glue, a reason for groups of like minded people to get together and share their commonality.

    One key to your statement, as I see it, is the “likeminded people” part. Presumably, at least some of the people who think religion is outdated, etc., aren’t particularly likeminded with the people in their churches, so I don’t see them attending church for that reason. The other key to your statement, the “cultural glue” makes more sense to me with regard to 12%ers who attend church. BTW, it’s not clear whether the 12%ers actually attend church. Some may, others may be “spiritual people” (whatever the hell that means) or post-Church Christians (I know some people who fall into such a category) or something else altogether.

    I know some “just in case” sort of believers who are indeed, as far as I can tell, “hedging their bets.” It’s also possible that some of the 12%ers are de facto agnostics who still consider themselves to be Christian, Jewish, etc., because they haven’t reached firm conclusions about their beliefs.

    Could you provide some specific examples of “how our society has degenerated” for us to discuss?

    • jonolan

      October 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm

      “Could you provide some specific examples of “how our society has degenerated” for us to discuss?”

      – Rampant drug use
      – Sexual depravity – Not homosexuality, but rather the trend towards extremity
      – Moral Relativism
      – Family breakdown – baby daddy & baby mommy anyone?
      – Abortion for convenience
      – Charity by fiat

      That’s the short list, “Chaplain.”

      • Spanish Inquisitor

        October 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm

        Degeneracy, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

        Take rampant drug use. I’m not sure a good case could be made that drug use among the population is any more or any less now than it was historically. On a per capita basis, drugs have always been used to varying degrees of immoderation. The difference now is that with global communications, we are more aware of it, and with a population nearing 7 billion, we feel the effects of our neighbors drug use more clearly. Perhaps the types of drugs have changed. In the past we tended more towards the drugs that could be easily obtained, like alcohol. But man will always want to self anesthetize. And as long as drug use is criminalized, we will experience the associated crime.

        Sexual depravity – one man’s depravity is another mans titillation. De Sade anyone? What’s extreme sexual depravity? Rape? Ever read the Old Testament?

        Abortion for convenience – some might say that is progress, not degeneracy.

        I’m not sure what charity by fiat is, but moral relativism doesn’t seem degenerate to me either. I think there is certainly a place for it in a progressive, thinking society.

        Let’s see. Family breakdown? Yes, I can see the negative side affects of children having children. But degeneracy? Frankly, religion bears much of the blame. “Just say no”? Great contraception plan. And the RC Church proscribes contraception, abortion, and condoms use. So with TV shows and Madison Avenue emphasizing sex, the church isn’t helping.

      • Spanish Inquisitor

        October 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm

        Oh, and I see that you took pains to exclude homosexuality from your notion of sexual depravity, while at the same time using the pejorative “queers”.

        “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

      • JT

        October 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm

        Drug use is not your business, and not a moral issue. When a drug user turns to robbery to support his habit, then it’s your problem. So you have an issue with robbery.

        Sex isn’t any of your business, and you probably know that already, but the fact that you judge others’ sexual behavior means you’re probably religious. Again, this is not your issue, you only make it your issue because you need people to hate.

        Abortion. Again, not your issue. If you really think paying for an abortion is more ‘convenient’ for anyone than using condoms, you need to reconsider. You don’t have a moral aversion to birth control do you? Because if you’re Catholic, you’re the most immoral group in the world and really have no business talking to anyone about morality.

        Single parents happen because a couple got pregnant and weren’t prepared for the kid. The reasons for this need to be looked into, but eliminating abstinence only education would be a great start.

        We’ll get to the charity one when you can provide some documentation, but if you’re about to compare tax-exempt institutions to individuals in terms of giving power, then I’ll hand you that one now. Atheists don’t organize, don’t have tax exempt status, and will never be able to match a church as long as the church has favored status in the eyes of the govt.

        • the chaplain

          October 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

          We’ll get to the charity one when you can provide some documentation

          I’m curious about what “charity by fiat” means. It could be a reference to government welfare programs, but I’m just guessing about that. The flip side to that could be government-funded faith-based charities – most atheists don’t like contributing to those any more than “compassionate conservative” Christians like using their tax funds to help the poor. From what I’ve seen, a lot of those compassionate conservative types would rather use their taxes to blow up brown people than help people of any color.

          • jonolan

            October 9, 2010 at 4:40 pm

            “Queers” is short and easy to to type and IS NOT, from my experience, necessarily a pejorative. They haven’t apparently settled on a politically correct label since I’ve more than once been accused of showing my “heterosexual bias” by referring to them as homosexuals.

            Yep, government-based welfare programs. I’m not that fond of government-funded faith-based charities either, insofar as as the government, i.e. taxpayer funded part is concerned.

            • zmjjmz

              October 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

              Hmm, so you consider government welfare to be a degenerate trend?

              So let me ask you then, what exactly makes it degenerate? That it discourages rugged individualism? That it encourages consumerism? That it’s socialist?

              Take, for example, a very socially liberal and socialist state – Finland. Currently they seem to be doing quite fine, not exactly a morally bankrupt country.

              Also, I don’t know any homosexuals who take offense to ‘homosexual’, but if you’re talking about them colloquially you can probably say ‘gay’. I don’t know any that find ‘queer’ unoffensive, however.

            • jonolan

              October 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

              Actually, I consider government welfare to be a symptom of a degenerate trend. Too many people have ceded their responsibility for themselves and too many others have capitalized upon this to keep them dependent upon such largess, which they provide by taking wealth from others by force.

        • jonolan

          October 9, 2010 at 4:43 pm


          It’s obvious from your response that you wouldn’t know a moral issue if it shot you in the gut.

          • JT

            October 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

            No, I just happen to respect freedom enough to know where my jurisdiction ends.

  5. spitz

    October 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    You have to provide points of comparison and the criteria you’re using to show that degeneration has taken place. It’s not enough to post a vague list of things you don’t like.

    • the chaplain

      October 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks for explaining that more clearly than I did.

  6. the chaplain

    October 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for your list. Others may want to address your topics, so I’ll limit myself to a comment on “rampant drug use.”

    I disagree with your implied position that “rampant drug use” is an indicator of how our society – I assume we’re both referring to either the 21st century USA or 21st century western society more generally – has degenerated with the rise, and as a consequence, of atheism. I also assume that your concern is “drug abuse” rather than “drug use” in general, unless you don’t agree with me that medicinal use of drugs is beneficial to humankind (and domestic animals, for that matter), and that responsible, moderate use of legal drugs, such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, is not at issue in this discussion.

    You seem to be suggesting that drug abuse is a relatively modern phenomenon. Actually, humans have been using and abusing drugs for millenia. As cultural norms have evolved, cultural attitudes towards specific drugs have also evolved. Since “an estimated 4,000 of the earth’s plants are sources of psychoactive substances,” drug abuse in one form or another will always be an issue with which human individuals and societies will continue to wrestle, as it has been for most of recorded history. In short, drug abuse is not a new phenomenon, nor is it connected in any specific way with atheism.

    • jonolan

      October 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      I meant what you call “drug abuse” as you well know. In point of fact though, I’m not overly fond of our current level / methodology of use of drugs for people and animals either but that is a whole different topic.

      • the chaplain

        October 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm

        I’m not overly fond of our current level / methodology of use of drugs for people and animals either but that is a whole different topic.

        A whole different topic, but one on which we might find common ground…

        • jonolan

          October 10, 2010 at 10:15 am

          If you think that we over medicate and (mis)medicate both ourselves and our livestock and that this creates proven, empirical harm, then we have common ground on the matter.

          • Astasia

            October 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

            Who knew? Even members of the right can occasionally say something that makes sense. :)

  7. arfie

    October 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I think it is because religions (it doesn’t seem to matter which religion) at their base level, seem to provide a set of tools for handling emotional crisis, for self evaluation and improvement, for responsibility to community.

    When people seek these same tools elsewhere, they are invariably another set of myths they are asked to buy into that are as ridiculous, at face value, as the ones they are walking away from (Xenu, golden tablets, spaceships, etc.). Why risk a new untested mythos? So they end up staying put and mentally downgrading the mythology.

    • the chaplain

      October 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm

      I think it is because religions (it doesn’t seem to matter which religion) at their base level, seem to provide a set of tools for handling emotional crisis, for self evaluation and improvement, for responsibility to community.

      You’ve covered a lot of bases here. Religion is one source of tools for doing all those things, but I don’t think that, in most cases, it’s the best tool set available. In some cases, such as extreme fundamentalist type religions, it’s arguably one of the worst possible tool sets. As you noted with some of your examples, relatively newer religions have not been any more helpful than the older ones.

  8. Tommykey

    October 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    People like that tend to cling to this notion that there was this arcadian past where everything was very nearly right, while glossing over or ignoring all of the things that were wrong.

    Last year when the Tea Partiers were having a rally in DC, one of them was being interviewed on CNN and he was asked what it was he wanted. He answered “We want to take this country back to where it was about 100 years ago.” Yeah, when women didn’t have the vote (except in a few states), blacks were disenfranchised, work safety regulations were weak or nonexistent (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911)

    Then you have elected officials like Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina who publicly advocates barring unmarried pregnant women from teaching in the class rooms. So, let me see if I got this straight. If an unmarried woman teacher gets pregnant, Jim DeMint wants to make it illegal for her to get an abortion and then he wants to deny her the ability to work in her profession, thus making it harder to make a living to support the child he wants to force her to have. Yeah, that sounds fair to me.

    • Astasia

      October 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

      You forgot the last part: after barring her from work and denying her an abortion, they’d be furious that she would want any sort of government assistance, say, for example, health care for the child.

      *sighs wistfully* The world would be so perfect if ultra-conservatives ran it.

  9. Erp

    October 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    14% gave some other answer to the second question. Note also that one could answer ‘yes’ to ‘largely old fashioned’ but not mean it is ‘completely old fashioned’. Some of the ‘yes’ people may well consider a few parts of religion not out-of-date. Or they might consider most religions out-of-date but not their own.

  10. Tommykey

    October 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Speaking of rampant drug use, in the early 19th century, the British sold opium in China, causing millions of Chinese to become addicted and destabilizing Chinese society. The ruling Qing dynasty responded by seizing the caskets of British opium in Canton and dumping it in the water. So, the British responded by declaring war on China and beating the tar out of them. Of course, the British considered themselves to be good Christians and the Chinese were just a bunch of heathens, so they deserved what happened to them.

    • sls2000

      October 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm

      Um…not to mention the “Patent medication” sold in the U.S. before the FDA was established which contained cocaine, heroine, morphine, etc., etc., etc. Thousands of babies on teething medication made of cocaine, women taking “menstrual formulas” with heroine became addicted. Drug addiction is hardly new, and is actually ON THE DECLINE, has been since the 1960’s.

  11. the chaplain

    October 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm


    So, let me see if I got this straight. If an unmarried woman teacher gets pregnant, Jim DeMint wants to make it illegal for her to get an abortion and then he wants to deny her the ability to work in her profession, thus making it harder to make a living to support the child he wants to force her to have.

    Are they still calling that “compassionate conservatism” or is there a new term for such a position now?

    Now that you mention it, I wonder how the missing 14% answered that question?

  12. Tommykey

    October 9, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Chaplain, and then what they’ll say is “It’s all about personal responsibility! She made her bed and now she has to lie in it!”

    Er, no. It’s about punishing people because their personal choices offend the Bible thumpers private moral sensibilities, with the intent of the punishment to set these people back so they can then be blamed for their setbacks on their personal choices while ignoring the fact that it is the trip wires the morality police set up to cause them to stumlble that is actually doing the real harm.

  13. Sarge

    October 10, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Well, it isn’t going to go away any more than a variola virus does.
    It is simple in some ways. complex in others, from what I see.

    It starts in childhood, at least here in the US. It is discribed best in two poems, one from over a century ago, “a-Seein’ Things At Night”, and Ray Bradbury’s “Groon”.
    If you’ve been to Sunday school, the former example is more likely to be the most relavant, but there they are, amorphous, unknown shadows, swirling about in the corner of your room, spreading across the floor. You calll mom or dad, they come, tell you there’s nothing there, shut up and go to sleep. Light goes out, and guess what’s back?
    So, go to the next higher authority, the one who you were told in Sunday School “loves all the children in the world” and you wake up safe in the morning.

    Throw in a thunder storm once in a while, maybe a mean sibling added to the mix, and the seed is sprouting and flourishing.

    And, if you’ve never been in a working mine, steel mill, or other manufactury, I suggest you take a tour. If you’ve never worried about making a crop, worried about the “impersonal market” and other forces which may throw you into the street take a look. “Let go and let god” becomes more viable as an option when no matter how hard you work, no matter how well you’ve planned and prepared, everything can be undone in a minute. All it takes is weather or a man in a suit who has a “bright idea” while sitting in an office in a financial institution.

    I’ve been on a ship ( a sea going tug) and gone through very bad south Atlantic storms, I’ve been in disabled aircraft which have said “I quit”, I’ve been in combat.

    Most people never really leave behind their protector from “Groon”, they call on it again in those moments and ones like them. The don’t see that their actual salvation is because someone on the ship or aircraft applied a specific aspect of physics a little faster and more effectively than nature was concerned with. and thus rode out the storm or made it down from the sky and onto the ground without turning into a fireball or junk pile.
    In combat, it depends on keeping your head, being meaner, quicker, more audatious, and more aggressive. (I’ve noticed that in very dire situations you don’t feel fear until afterward. You’re too damn busy)
    And in a lot of cases just plain luck has more to do with it.

    But, since the nights with “things/groon” in one’s room, coupled with the wildly inconsistant positive rewards of prayer, a deity will always be responsible for one’s good fortune.

    People have been conditioned to “need” a religion, and it ain’t going away as long as it’s a percieved antidote to the very real problems of life.

  14. PhillyChief

    October 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Jonolan: I was wondering if you could possibly connect the dots between lower religiosity and the things you claim it’s caused such as rampant drug use, family breakdown, etc. I mean, I could easily point to the creation of the AFL as a cause since I’m sure those things have increased since its inception and eventual merger with the NFL. Oh, or how about rock and roll? It’s all been downhill since Elvis swung his hips, am I right?

    Naked assertions don’t mean shit. Connect some dots.

    • Tommykey

      October 12, 2010 at 12:47 am

      I thought it was after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in a season in 1961. Maris had the advantage of a longer baseball season, so it represents a breakdown of standards.


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