Excerpt from Tom Flynn’s editorial, “Triple Play,” in the June/July 2012 issue of Free Inquiry

For several years now, we’ve been relying on the multiply attested statistic that 15 to 16 percent of Americans claim to religious affiliation. Though all such persons can be called “nonreligious” or simply “nones,” a significant number of them reject such labels as “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “secular humanist.” A study released by the Gallup Organization late in March may change that discourse dramatically.

… Gallup has soft-pedaled what may (if it holds up) be a dramatic new finding. Respondents had been asked how important religion was as a part of their daily lives and how frequently they attended religious services …

This is a wholly new statistic, based on an approach to the questions that Gallup has not taken in the past. For that reason, point-to-point comparisons to previous studies of religiosity by Gallup or others are difficult or impossible. Still, if this finding holds up, it suggests that America’s nonreligious population–which had seemed “stuck” at 15 to 16 percent for some eight years–is continuing to swell …

… Gallup’s definition of “nonreligious is actually more rigorous than that used in “gold-standard” studies like the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008 and recent Pew Foundation surveys. Gallup bases its measure of irreligion on both an attitudinal question and a behavioral question: to be counted as nonreligious, respondents must rank religion as unimportant in their lives and report little to no church-going. By contrast, all one had to do to join the “no preference” population tracked in older surveys was to state no religious preference. So Gallup seems to be measuring a more outspoken kind of irreligion than previous studies, and despite that greater stringency, it is measuring irreligion at double the previously reported rate.

Maybe Gallup has discovered a new spike in the growth of American unbelief that previous studies did not detect. Or maybe it reflects as-yet undiagnosed problems with the survey’s novel methodology. Time will tell how this finding survives the scrutiny that pollsters and demographers are bound to give it.

*****

I wish they'd had a follow-up question - do you believe in god?

I'm interested to hear your ideas on when/whether we'll get to the point where being an atheist in America is no big deal ...

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Oops. Looks like a typo in first sentence above:

"...15 to 16 percent of Americans claim to religious affiliation."

Should read:

"...15 to 16 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation."

:D

On topic, this is an interesting finding, especially given the "greater stringency". Guess we'll have to see if it holds up to peer review and comparison to similar studies as the model is used again. But it's a hopeful sign, if so! Are we making a difference, after all?

Oy. Thanks for the proofreading!

And yes, I do hope we're making a difference.

Where is MY tipping point? Somewhere near the bottom of my third Vodka Collins --

I figure when theists find that global warming deeply affects them, they will double their efforts at conversion and finding some scape goat. Non-theists could be a target. As long as everything is good, for them, they are happy with petty irritations to the 'non-flock'.  

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