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Sun Apr 7, 2013, 11:58 AM

Atheists in America Part 1

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2013/04/atheists-in-america-part-1/

April 6, 2013 By George Yancey 14 Comments

This is the start of a series on atheists. I am not sure how many blogs I will write on them but it is connected to a book I have coming out titled There is no God: Atheists in America (Rowman and Littlefield). It is a book I co-wrote with David Williamson. Being a Christian, I believe it to be important to understand those who do not agree with me. Furthermore, atheists have been understudied, and I love doing research on understudied topics.

A disclaimer or two is in order. Although I do not share the beliefs atheists have, this series, and my book, is not a critique of atheism. That critique has been made by smarter people than I. My work is intended to describe atheists, not atheism. It is about the community in which atheists sustain their social reality. On the other hand, whenever a researcher looks at a social community, one usually sees strengths and weaknesses. I do not intend on describing atheists in a particularly negative or positive light, but if some of the findings create those impressions then so be it. I know that many atheists see themselves as marginalized, and there is research backing their claims. I have no desire to add to that feeling, but I am not going to fake a glowing report on atheists just to be politically correct.

This entry will help to set up the rest of the series. I basically want to discuss how we did our research. The findings I will talk about in the rest of the series are based on that methodology. Actually our idea for this research emerged when we did research on cultural progressive activists. We used an online survey with open-ended questions to gather their ideas about the Christian Right. Our sample was 61.7 percent atheists, which is an incredibly high percentage for a group that is 3-5 percent of the population in the United States. We ran some preliminary tests comparing the atheists to the other cultural progressive activists and knew that we had the potential to do interesting research.

But it was research that needed to be augmented. To do this David and I decided to interview about fifty atheists. We wanted to see if atheists have a different experience when they lived in a highly religious region of the country as compared to a more secular region. As a result, we interviewed half of the atheists in an area in the Bible Belt and the other half through an atheist organization located in a less religious region of the country. The atheists we found in the city in the Bible Belt were found through networking contacts we found in a small atheist group. There was no large formal organization we could use to find respondents which is likely a feature of the lack of a non-religious presence.

more at link

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Arrow 21 replies Author Time Post
Reply Atheists in America Part 1 (Original post)
cbayer Apr 2013 OP
Jim__ Apr 2013 #1
cbayer Apr 2013 #2
pinto Apr 2013 #3
cbayer Apr 2013 #4
pinto Apr 2013 #5
cbayer Apr 2013 #6
pinto Apr 2013 #7
cbayer Apr 2013 #8
goldent Apr 2013 #9
skepticscott Apr 2013 #10
goldent Apr 2013 #12
okasha Apr 2013 #13
pinto Apr 2013 #14
Fortinbras Armstrong Apr 2013 #18
cbayer Apr 2013 #11
Zoeisright Apr 2013 #15
cbayer Apr 2013 #16
LostOne4Ever Apr 2013 #17
kentauros Apr 2013 #19
LostOne4Ever Apr 2013 #20
kentauros Apr 2013 #21

Response to cbayer (Original post)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 02:23 PM

1. It sounds like it could be an interesting series.

I'll be interested to see how nuances like atheists may be disadvantaged as atheists but that most have other societal advantages that offset those disadvantages play out.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #1)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 02:25 PM

2. Me, too. It's such a diverse group in so many ways,

but I have seen these demographics before and they seem consistent. It may be that those with a certain amount of privilege are most likely to self-identify as atheist because it's safer for them to do so.

But the male/female divide is somewhat harder to understand.

Anyway, he seems thoughtful about this.

Will post his follow up pieces as they come up.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #1)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 03:25 PM

3. I had never thought of the advantage / disadvantage balance before. Interesting premise.

And agree, looks to be an interesting series overall. I appreciate his opening disclaimer. It's consistent with his bio profile at the web site.

The site looks to have some other good reads. Thanks for the link cbayer.

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Response to pinto (Reply #3)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 03:27 PM

4. Patheos is a good site, imo.

They cover a very eclectic array of religious topics and POV's.

Now, I just have to remember to watch for his next installation!

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Response to cbayer (Original post)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 03:45 PM

5. There may be a common thread in all this - belonging. However tenuous that may be.

Just occurred to me reading another post here on DU.

A common phrase among gays at one time was "family" to refer to other gays. i.e. - "He's family." A stretch of an analogy, perhaps, but it crossed my mind. It was simultaneously inclusive and exclusive.



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Response to pinto (Reply #5)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 03:49 PM

6. I have noticed that some atheists talk in the first person plural

frequently. When marginalized, I think people wish to identify with others that share that position. And with good reason.

And it is both inclusive and exclusive - again, with good reason.

During the feminism of the 70's, sisterhood became very important - another example.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #6)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 04:20 PM

7. Sisterhood - good example. I found the "family" tag a really positive piece of my life.

I think we all want to be a part of something, at some level, in some realm. And that may be any number of somethings. Religiously, socially, culturally, etc. Doesn't deny differences or diversity, just recognizes that we may sit in different seats but we're all on the same plane.

(blatant pop music aside) "We are family" by Sister Sledge was a huge gay bar dance hit in its day. Not sure how it related to feminism, per se, but it sure resonated among gay guys...



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Response to pinto (Reply #7)

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 04:24 PM

8. I remember the significance this song had during the days of sorrow.

That's back when I used to frequent the bars with my friends. The song was empowering and allowed a release for many.

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Response to cbayer (Original post)

Mon Apr 8, 2013, 05:24 PM

9. The idea of "status inconsistency" was interesting.

It was said...

Status inconsistency is part of what makes atheists fascinating. They generally have educational, racial and gender advantages to help compensate for their religious disadvantages.


I wonder whether the fact that they experience privilege in some parts of society (race, gender, education) make them all-the-more likely to fight vigorously against their lack of privilege in another part of society (religion), and this is drives the so-called "militant atheist."

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Response to goldent (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 8, 2013, 06:07 PM

10. I guess I'm not clear what you mean

 

by "lack of privilege" among atheists with regard to their religion. Can you elaborate?

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #10)

Mon Apr 8, 2013, 08:07 PM

12. Some atheists would say that societal privilege comes with religion, specifically Christianity,

(even though Christians might not realize it) and atheists don't have that privilege.

So what I was trying to say is that if that if atheists on average have many societal privileges (race, gender, education) as the author claims, then the lack of the societal privilege that comes with religion might be viewed more seriously. As cbayer mentioned, an atheist without these privileges (e.g. non-white, not-male, no higher education) might view the lack of privilege of religion as not a big deal.

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Response to goldent (Reply #12)

Tue Apr 9, 2013, 01:21 PM

13. The very privileged

--and upper income, well-educated white heterosexual males are very privileged in our society--tend to prioritize and seek further privilege and are frequently frustrated on the few occasions when society withholds it. Think of the gazillionaires whose whole ambition is to make more gazillions, the well-heeled membership of largely white evangelical megachurches which is largely heterosexual just by definition, all of whom seek political power in addition to economic and social privilege. I think we see the same mechanism at work with this question.

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Response to goldent (Reply #12)

Tue Apr 9, 2013, 02:44 PM

14. Perception and context may be a part of the picture, as well.

Recently read a fascinating book, 'Room', about a boy raised by his mom in one locked room with one window up at ceiling height. It's told from his perspective. His world was his mom, the room and the stories she told him. He had no concept of "outside" or "other" save for a man who brought them meals each day. Even the glimpse of a place beyond the room through the window was simply another story in his pov.

Eventually, it came about that they were able to leave the room. He was actually hesitant to leave all that he knew. And once outside came to find that many of his mother's stories were about this larger world beyond the room. His adjustment to the reality is a great read.

My point here - it may be that the privileged, the less privileged and those with little privilege don't recognize the "other". They may know it's there but have a narrow experience and a limited perception. It is what it is may be the world for some. Until that changes.



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Response to pinto (Reply #14)

Sun Apr 21, 2013, 03:31 PM

18. Have you ever read Ursula K Le Guin's "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas"?

It's on-line at http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.pdf and makes an interesting companion piece to the one you just mentioned.

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Response to goldent (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 8, 2013, 06:22 PM

11. That's an interesting theory.

I have many levels of privilege - american born, white, educated/middle class family, raised mainstream christian, straight. But I was a pretty strident (militant?) feminist for awhile.

I recently encountered a situation which was a real eye opener concerning discrimination against GLBT people. Sometimes you just don't see it when it doesn't happen to you.

Of course, anyone would be more sensitive to the areas in which they are the ones being discriminated against.

But if you are poor, black, etc., some aspects of your lack of privilege are probably not going to seem so significant.

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Response to cbayer (Original post)

Thu Apr 11, 2013, 12:30 AM

15. Atheists do not have "beliefs"

so that study is flawed from the get-to. The definition of the word is "a-theist" - no belief in anything supernatural.

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Response to Zoeisright (Reply #15)

Thu Apr 11, 2013, 12:39 PM

16. He interviewed self-identified atheists. Whether there is a belief system or just a shared

disbelief is one of the things I think he wants to explore.

Should be interesting.

FWIW, I am not sure all atheists would agree with your definition. While all would agree that the word atheist means no belief in a god or gods, some atheists do embrace other supernatural phenomena.

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Response to cbayer (Original post)


Response to LostOne4Ever (Reply #17)

Sun Apr 21, 2013, 04:13 PM

19. I always thought that the book "The God Delusion" was the epitome of a sensational title.

As in, way to go antagonizing believers right off the bat! It also set in the minds of believers what Dawkins was going to be like, i.e., anti-theist. Most believers aren't going to want to read the writings of an anti-theist, myself included.

I put myself in the "nones" or no religious affiliation. However, that only means I have no religion to which I belong. It doesn't mean I don't have beliefs in a higher power. Everything I've read recently still points to a 3-5% amount of atheists in this country. There should be a link to the Pew research on that around here somewhere. Cbayer may be able to provide it as well

The number of atheists in the US is indeed growing, but the total amount remains at or less than 6%. That's still a huge number of people, measured in the millions

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Response to kentauros (Reply #19)


Response to LostOne4Ever (Reply #20)

Sun Apr 21, 2013, 05:59 PM

21. Okay, thanks for the additional info :)

It's not a book I'd ever read anyway, but if it sells, who's to judge that one way or another. Even titles we don't like can make us pick up a book and read it. The subject matter in this case just isn't an interest of mine, so bad title or not, it's not drawing me in.

Oh, here's a thread we had in March on the topic of the "nones": http://www.democraticunderground.com/126414

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