Irreligious people on the rise? Or just suspicious polling practices?
Once again, the Pew Foundation has brought forth a report on religion in America. In the past they claimed that atheists know more about religion than religious people do, a conclusion not supported by their data.
This time the media headlines based on Pew's latest survey declare that the number of people with no religion is dramatically increasing. The way the survey is being pitched by the media is that America is becoming less religious.
In reality, Americans are not becoming significantly less religious. The Pew data show that those who declare that there is no God -- i.e., atheists -- have gone from 1.6% of the population to 2.4% in the last five years -- hardly a tidal wave, and within the survey margin of error.
An interesting aside is that nearly as many people in the poll didn't know their religious affiliation as declared themselves atheists.
The media is distorting the survey by an odd use of the word "religion" -- a use facilitated by Pew lumping people of faith who don't belong to a church with atheists.
According to the dictionary, the first definition of the word "religion" is:
[A] set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
However, the media is using the word "religion" to mean a specific worldly organization. For example, a Christian who believes that Jesus is God and that we should follow the Ten Commandments but who is not affiliated with any church is grouped with atheists and agnostics in the Pew survey; they are all referred to as "nones."
This is a clear attempt to distort the results of the survey; by lumping religious people who aren't associated with a specific church with atheists, Pew makes it appear that atheists are a significant demographic in America, when in reality they are a statistically insignificant minority.
To wit: according to Pew, 68% of the "nones" believe in God, which is essentially the entire group that has been growing according to Pew. It takes a liberal to declare that people who believe in God but who don't affiliate themselves with a particular church are becoming less religious.
Of the "nones," 33% say religion is important to their lives, 41% pray monthly or weekly, and 18% say they are religious, while 37% say they are spiritual. It would seem odd that nearly a fifth of a group Pew and the media declares is not "religious" self-identify as religious.
As with previous Pew surveys, there are some apparently contradictory data. For example, while 68% say they are at least fairly certain that there is a God, 42% say they are neither religious or spiritual. That means that four times as many Americans (10%) believe in God but say they are neither spiritual or religious as identify themselves as atheists (2.4%). Which raises the question: if you believe in God but you're not religious or spiritual, what are you? It would appear that a lot of the "nones" just use the word "religion" differently from how the rest of America understands it.
As with previous polls, some of the questions seem to betray a desire to reach a certain conclusion. For example, people were asked if they "never doubt" the existence of God. Amazingly, 80% of Americans, after four years of Obama, declare that they never have doubted the existence of God. It would seem that a country where four out of every five people would declare that they have never doubted the existence of God is a thoroughly religious country. The real question is, why word a survey question in a manner that even very faithful people are likely to answer in a way that could be declared irreligious?
Another odd conclusion being touted from the survey is that Protestants are no longer the majority in America. The survey shows that 48% of Americans are Protestants while 73% of Americans are Christian -- apparently, when Obama declared America to no longer be a Christian country, he was attempting prophecy. But to talk about the percentage of Protestants in the context of the growth of "nones" is an obvious attempt to get people to believe that America is becoming less Christian, when in reality, nearly three out of four Americans are Christian.
The real story being told by the Pew survey is that roughly 5% of Americans in the last five years have stopped being affiliated with a specific church -- though in the appendix to their survey, it appears that the error on that number could be +/- 3.7%, so there's a good chance that this tidal wave of nones is entirely fictitious.
The survey provides some indications of why people who still believe in God might not want to be affiliated with a church. It appears that the core cause is the natural unwillingness of a certain segment of the me generation(s) to follow rules.
Of the "nones," 70% view religious institutions as too concerned with money and power, and 67% say that religious institutions focus too much on rules -- apparently, God is not a big fan of rules in the minds of these folks. Not surprisingly, the "nones" tend to be politically liberal.
But 78% of those same people say that religious institutions bring people together, 77% believe that churches play an important role in helping the poor and needy, and a full 52% of the people the media wish us to believe are not religious declare that churches protect and strengthen morality.
It would appear, then, that the "nones" like what churches do but don't want to personally deal with the effort of following rules.
What the media would like us to believe is that a tidal wave of disbelief in God, and in religious morality, is sweeping America. But the data in the Pew survey do not support that at all; atheists and agnostics are still a tiny fraction of Americans. And a 5% change over a five-year period with a margin of error of 3.7% is hardly a tidal wave, even if one interprets the data the way the media wants us to.
Liberals have a strong desire to see religion decline in America because religion is the one thing that can keep the government from claiming complete authority over the populace; it is no accident that the Declaration of Independence says
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Additionally with the very public rejection of God by the Democrat convention convincing Americans that religion is passé and that those of faith are a quickly dwindling minority is a matter of damage control.
What is clear is that once again, the media have used a Pew survey to push an anti-religious talking point in direct contradiction to the actual data in the survey.
You can read more of Tom's rants here.