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Most Atheists & Agnostics in America are Not Religious

Secular Atheism vs. Religious Atheism

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Atheism and agnosticism are not incompatible with religion, so atheists and agnostics can be religious. In America, though, atheists and agnostics tend to be irreligious. According to a 2007 Harris poll, 89% of atheists and agnostics describe themselves as not very religious or not religious at all. Only 11% of atheists and agnostics describe themselves as somewhat religious or very religious.

Atheism and agnosticism may not automatically entail being irreligious, but there is a strong correlation. As part of a larger poll on religious belief, Harris Interactive asked people the following question: "Would you describe yourself as …?" These are the percentages of atheists and agnostics who agreed with the following answers:

  • Very/somewhat religious (NET) 11%
  •    Very religious: 2%
  •   Somewhat religious: 9%
  • Not very/at all religious (NET) 89%
  •   Not very religious: 21 %
  •   Not at all religious: 68%
  • The above numbers come from a poll of 2,455 U.S. adults conducted online by Harris Interactive between November 7 and 13, 2007.

     

    Relationship Between Atheism & Secularism

    It is a fact that there is no logical barrier that prevents an atheist or agnostic from being somewhat religious or very religious. Some atheists and agnostics in America manage it fine; large numbers of atheists and agnostics elsewhere in the world also manage it fine. It is also a fact, judging from the data above, that few atheists and agnostics in America actually are religious.

    The obvious conclusion, then, is that if the barrier to being religious isn't logical or necessary, then it must be something contingent — something cultural, historical, economic, etc. In other words, there must be something about the situation of being in America at this time in history which makes being a religious atheist or a religious agnostic very unlikely or perhaps undesirable.

     

    Why Do Atheists in the West Tend to be Secular?

    We don't have to look far to find likely reasons. The dominant religions in the West for centuries have been theistic; atheistic and agnostic religious options have been few and mostly foreign (culturally, historically). The dominant religions in the West have also oppressed atheism and agnosticism, which understandably leads to resistance against both religion and theism, not just theism alone.

    What's more, being an atheist or agnostic in America today usually means engaging in a lot of critical scrutiny of theistic religion — a process that does not easily lead a person to a new a-theistic religion. Over the course of American history, this has forged a close relationship between atheism, agnosticism, and secularism.

     

    Atheism, Agnosticism & Religion

    Or do you disagree? Is the relationship between atheism and agnosticism on the one hand and secularism on the other much more than a contingent relationship? Do you believe that there is something about atheism and secularism which make the combination far more likely and stable than a relationship between atheism and religion could ever be?

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