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Old 01-17-2013, 01:57 PM
Location: Somewhere out there.
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Although gradually on the rise, atheism/ agnosticism, is still proportionally low here in America compared to many other developed / industrialised nations.
I have been looking for some statistics on this but haven't been able to find anything very recent. A report by Phil Zuckerman from 2007 seems the most recent. Here's a summary:

Demographics - Investigating Atheism

Here are some of the statistics from the report: (the complete report is available in PDF online, but I couldn't link it)
Adherents.com: Atheist Statistics | Agnostic

An excerpt:
Surveys show that the nations with the highest degree of atheism 'include most of the nations of Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Israel', whereas 'it is virtually nonexistent in most of Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia'.
There have been various attempts to explain this unequal distribution. As Zuckerman notes, Norris and Inglehart, often regarded as offering the leading explanation, have argued that high levels of atheism in a society are strongly correlated with high levels of societal health, such as low poverty rates and strong gender equality. Societies with adequate food distribution, good public health care, and accessible housing generally show a waning of religiosity, while societies where there is inadequate food and shelter and life is less secure show much higher levels of religious belief. With the exception of Vietnam (81% nonbelievers in God) and Ireland (4%-5% nonbelievers in God) Norris and Inglehart maintain that the results of the available surveys corroborate their theory.
North America would seem to constitute something of an exception here. According to Norris and Inglehart's own estimates, only 6 percent of those in the US do not believe in God, although it is an advanced industrialised nation.However, they argue that the high degree of religious belief in the US can nevertheless be accounted for by the theory, since it is 'one of the most unequal postindustrial societies', with many sectors of US society being exposed to a high degree of economic insecurity, threat of unemployment, fear of sudden illness without adequate health care provision, and vulnerability to crime. (It is doubtful how adequate an explanation this is if taken on its own: the exceptionality of the US case may be better explained by taking into account a variety of historical, cultural, economic, political and sociological factors).
What do you think are some of the main factors which influence peoples beliefs here?
Do you think there is much truth in the explanation above?
Do you think the pledge of allegiance has been a factor?
TV Evangelism seems to be a peculiarly American phenomenon. Has this played a part?
Is it simply a matter of a long tradition of Christianity coupled with the sheer size of the country which makes change slow to happen?
Has 'separation of church and state' actually served to strengthen religion? I am English and back home religion has always been a compulsory part of every schools curriculum, yet Britain has a large and ever growing proportion of atheists, so this difference particularly interests me.

I'm looking for specifically atheist/ agnostic perspectives on this. I'm not looking for a theological argument on the existence of god. Sweden, Denmark and Norway all have very high percentages of atheists, so some sort of innate belief in god cannot be a factor in those countries, it therefore must be cultural influences.

Last edited by Cruithne; 01-17-2013 at 02:46 PM..
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Old 01-17-2013, 02:14 PM
Location: North by Northwest
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Obviously, the United States exceeds pretty much every other industrialized first world nation in religiosity, though I strongly suspect not quite to the degree surveys would suggest. I think here are probably a good number of atheists/agnostics that still cling to religious labels due to some combination of social pressure, force of habit, and/or cultural identity.

For example, I don't believe a lick in Judaism's theological underpinnings, but I identify as both Jewish and atheist because the secular components of Judaism remain strongly tied to my ethnicity, culture, and way of life. If I were polled in one of these surveys, I would identify myself as a "Jewish atheist" without hesitation, but depending on the biases of the pollster, I would probably be counted as either "Jewish," "atheist," or simply "other."
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Old 01-17-2013, 10:46 PM
Location: Northeastern US
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American fundamentalism / evangelicalism seems to be a fairly unique thing that is hard for the rest of the world to get its arms around. One has to ask why so many Americans were regressive and reactionary in the face of the Enlightenment to such a marked degree. My personal theory is that a lot of the people who colonized the New World were fringe crackpots who were fleeing religious persecution and wanted complete freedom to create their own utopian dream world. This gave rise to the Rugged Individualist(tm) who was anti-Church of England, anti-strong Federal government, and at times, just plain anti-social. It's no accident that the most arch-conservative religious people also give rise to gun nuts and survivalists. It became a virtue to "contend for the faith once [and for all] delivered unto the saints". We see ourselves as defending orthodoxy, sanity, mother, god and apple pie.

All of this makes disavowing god discordant with our national identity. It strikes at the heart of American exceptionalism. What makes us American is that by and large we came to the New World to freely pursue our uniquely doctrinaire brand of religion. This is supposed to be the reason for our exceptional prosperity and success as a world power. We literally believe, as a people, that we are entitled to this prosperity and power as followers of god. At some subconscious level, we can't separate the two. How can we light a torch and show the rest of the world the light without god?

Of course we are not all hayseed Bible thumpers and snake handlers. Most of our early elite were actually deists, in fact, and we have always maintained a secular society without an official state religion. And there have always been thoroughly secular persons in the halls of power. Still, we have this huge heritage that goes back to Jonathan Edwards and his famous sermon, "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God", which is still taught to our schoolchildren as part of our heritage.

I just think a particularly harsh and virulent form of religion has been driven so deep into our national psyche that it will take us awhile to catch up to the rest of the world.
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Old 01-20-2013, 10:54 AM
Location: Somewhere out there.
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Thanks guys for your insights. Religion does seem deeply entrenched here. I guess if religion was part and parcel of what built the country (like dare I say it - the constitution) - and there's no mistaking America's success on the world stage - then any part of that is going to to be hard to shake. Interesting Mordant that you should mention this:

It's no accident that the most arch-conservative religious people also give rise to gun nuts and survivalists.
It had crossed my mind whether there was any correlation between strong religion here and the gun lobby. I think this might be difficult to prove though. I doubt there has been any research into this. Your comment did have me thinking though whether there was a correlation between how a safe a country was to live in and the extent of atheism in those countries. Interestingly Sweden, Denmark and Norway feature on every list I have found, mainly being being in the top 10 safest countries and also being high in atheism. Just food for thought I guess. I'm sure there are many other contributing factors.

I think its going to be interesting to see what happens here in the next 10-20 years. America after all pioneered so much of the science and technology we know and use across the world and that's going to get harder to ignore. Of course there are many that have been able to find a balance in their lives between science and their belief, but in my view, that's going to be an increasingly hard task (I'm sure there will be others who would argue otherwise).
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