A new study suggests that the number of atheists in uStates is considerably higher than the numbers shown by traditional polls by Pew and Gallup. The study is flawed, and the authors cheerfully admit this and are working on better ways to conduct their poll, and they remain convinced there are more atheists than assumed. I don’t find that terribly difficult to believe, as atheism in this country carries a high stigma, and in a number of states, could cost people their jobs and turn goodwill towards them cold. Politics here are inextricably linked with religion, and a politician who states they are an atheist aren’t going to find themselves very popular, to say the least. Even when a lot of atheists are willing to admit it, they quickly follow it up with making nice noises about religious people, or point out that they aren’t against religion, it’s just not their thing.
I remember when atheists at large were utterly thrilled when President Obama acknowledged the existence of atheists in America. He was soundly condemned for that mention by theists. We were thrilled because that simple acknowledgement was a large risk to take. It’s a stark illustration of just how much atheism is considered to be a dirty little secret here, and in the minds of many, it remains linked with being a dirty commie.
Here’s a simple question: How many Americans don’t believe in God?
Pew and Gallup — two of the most reputable polling firms in America — both come to a similar figure. About 10 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God, and this figure has been slowly creeping up over the decades.
But maybe this isn’t the whole story. University of Kentucky psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle have long suspected that a lot of atheists aren’t showing up in these polls. The reason: Even in our increasingly secular society, there’s still a lot of stigma around not believing in God. So when a stranger conducting a poll calls and asks the question, it may be uncomfortable for many to answer truthfully.
Gervais and Najle recently conducted a new analysis on the prevalence of atheists in America. And they conclude the number of people who do not believe in God may be even double that counted by these polling firms.
“There’s a lot of atheists in the closet,” Gervais says. “And … if they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance.”
Mother Jones also has this story, but with a different perspective: the new study showed that not one single republican identified as an atheist. I don’t find that surprising at all.