Polling the readership: Religiosity

I thoroughly enjoyed Curzon’s informative post On the Origin of Religion from a few days ago. His write-up was well written and much of the commentary was thoughtful and stimulating (thought it did tend to stray off topic quite a bit). Truth is, when I saw the title of the post I expected a firestorm. Not so. But I was surprised at the overwhelming ratio of self-proclaimed atheists in the comments. Much of our readership is American, and I would have thought more religious folk would object to the scientific dissection of their belief. Maybe they felt unqualified or thought it unnecessary even to comment. Maybe they felt with so many atheists in the room, it was not a friendly environment.

So I am curious as to the religiosity of our readership. Of the contributors to ComingAnarchy.com, three are self-proclaimed atheists and one is a practicing Christian. How about the rest of you? I have set up a survey where everyone can share their views in an anonymous and nonjudgmental way. It is a very simple poll using Google Docs with only two questions. It will take you all of thirty seconds to answer so I encourage you all to participate. It is entirely anonymous, but if you would like to publish your answers you can do so in the comments below. I will leave the survey up for one week, then tally the total and write a follow-up next week.

NOTE: Please take the survey before reading any of the commentary below. We don’t want to sully the findings.

Take the Survey

The survey is now closed.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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24 Responses to Polling the readership: Religiosity

  1. Younghusband says:

    Didn’t I say to take the survey before reading any comments?!

    Take the Survey

    The survey is now closed.

    Okay, now we can get on to some commentary.

    I am a 6 and a ComingAnarchy.com reader.

  2. Sonagi says:

    Though much of your readership is American, the Americans who read and comment at your blog are not representative of the US population in general. A majority of Marmot’s Hole readers are American, yet vocal atheists greatly outnumber Christians.

  3. Chris says:

    I am an atheist, and I have found God.

  4. Chris says:

    I rated myself a “1″ on your first question, along with Jung.

    As for your second, I very much prefer sitting at home and reading Carl Sagan.

  5. Joe Jones says:

    My views and participation level have fluctuated quite a bit over the years — I have gone through periods of intense belief as well as periods of intense disbelief. I now feel pretty settled on the notion that God is probably out there somewhere, that [he]‘s forgiving and that [he] has a sense of humor, but I don’t feel too confident in accepting any religion’s precise explanation of what [he] is and what rules [he] enforces.

    That said, I recently decided to have a wedding in a real Catholic church in Tokyo, which has re-activated my religious involvement a bit. I have run into some pretty wacko Japanese Christians in the course of my Tokyo career, but this church is run by missionaries and generally seems much more reasonable and less dogmatic than many more “institutional” churches I have run into in the States, perhaps because they don’t want to scare people away. It has a great cast of open- and internationally-minded characters, so we will probably try to keep that network active as we build a family.

    Of course, call me in 5 years and I may be practicing meditation in Bhutan.

  6. tdaxp says:

    I enjoyed Curzon’s post. It is a good summary of current research on the subject.

    There is no reason it should be controversial.

    We live in a world with fuzzy objects. My mind contains mechanisms that allow me to recognize the presence of fuzziness. This makes sense.

    We live in a world with God. My mind contains mechanisms that allow me to recognize signs of the presence of God. This makes sense.

    In That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis imagines an “Objective Room,” which the builders assure us lets us see what things “really are” — for instance, if you are in the room with a beautiful woman, you do not see her, but rather fat, flesh, musculature, organs, and so on. This delusion is dispiriting, except for the person who realizes that in the “Objective Room,” we see not what objects “really are,” but merely what objects are made of. We can see what objects “really are” in any old room.

    There is an analogy in that to this.

  7. Phil says:

    I voted 6 and 3. But I actually fail to see a distinction between positions 6 and 7 in the first question.

  8. Peter says:


    I enjoyed your comment, and that Lewis quote.

  9. FOX says:

    When inquiring as to whether one believes in God, perhaps one should clarify which god(s).

    The Hindu pantheon perchance? Or the long neglected ancient Greek, Roman, or Egyptian gods? Or a singular god à la the three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (though, curiously, the Christian God apparently manifests three distinct aspects)? Or possibly the hundreds of Aztec gods who demand perpetual blood sacrifice on a colossal scale?

    It’s telling that one’s “God” depends largely on where, when, and to whom you were born. A universal truth should not be contingent on geography or era.

    Though I find Marx’s conclusions on capitalism to be severely flawed and/or derisory, I must confess that I am in complete agreement with his sentiment (if not the context) that, “religion is the opium of the masses.”

  10. Anon says:

    I put 7, but also believe that there is a place that will always be beyond the ken of human senses and understanding. Not sure if those two beliefs are mutually exclusive.

    As for Marx, I think that is one possible use of religion, but their are counterexamples. The Christian religion on the Korean peninsula was a liberalizing force, at first, and helped shape a sense of nationhood under Japanese occupation. It did not mollify the masses into accepting foreign rule.

  11. Sejo says:

    I come from – maternal side, South Eastern, levantine Italy – a ‘marrano’ family: that is, a covert, Christianized, Judaic family, descending from a Spanish rabbi of some importance.
    My father – South Western, Borbonic Italy – was a communist à la italien: as said in the previous discussion, a man recognizing albeit his lack of faith the enormous importance of the Catholic church in his national and local community(ies). His father, nonno Raffaele, was a free-thinker (and his father was a freemason) and always curios about religion and religiosity: in his young days, before the WWII, Raffaele used to hang out with a high ranking Dominican monk questioning of theology and such. He never surpassed, though, his agnosticism and free-thinking values, ending up in a 14 years sentence for antifascism during our worst years and ultimately (perhaps for a lack of a progressive bourgeoise party, or his sense of social justice outside a religious path) being a local leader of peasants in the first days of our Republic and up to the Communist Party leadership in his region. Last year, ten years from his death, the town where he served twenty years as a teacher, councillor and manager of the local public hospital dedicated him a street. Maybe, one day, I’ll go there to watch the road sign. I still miss him too much to have a dignified presence, as for now.
    My parents have grown my brother and me as non religious people, leaving to ourselves the choice.

    So, where does this background lead me? I am sure of the existence of God. I can feel the presence, if it is not arrogance. I enjoy the wonderful planet we live in, even the single leaf falling in this terribly cold autumn. I can spot in a dog’s eyes his patience; in a mature skin, between the wrinkles, his majesty. Naturally, almost unconsciously, I’m a monotheist. Not able to comprehend a concept like the trinity and finding almost opposed to the Bible – the Old Testament, that is – a cult of images and Saints, I found myself close to the Jewish religion. I have got many Jewish friends and I follow the kasherut and the tzedaka but, having a deeply Catholic fiancée, a conversion would make no sense. I asked a rabbi I know of my position and – perhaps being the Italian community a very conservative one – he told me that God «can’t see me».
    I don’t know if that can be true, and I definitely don’t care as long as I can see his presence.

  12. tdaxp says:

    Peter, thanks ;-)

    Fox, in nearly all conversations of this sort “God” refers to an entity who fits both Plato’s conception of the Demiurge and Aristotle’s conception of the Unmoved Mover.

    Remarkably, there is very little geographical variation in this conception, though of course the reason for this is debatable. Such a “God” is worshiped by Deists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Many followers of Dharmic religions also worship God, and reaction to accusations of polytheism in the same way that Trinitarians would react to reactions of polytheism. (That is, all Trinitarians and many (most?) Dharmic followers separate the idea of a divine person from the totality of God)

    Of course, there is quite a difference between the idea of God, and merely an unseen agent with advanced technology. This secondary conception would cover the spirits of animism, interventionary saints of a number of faiths, Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, and other entities who are never considered to be either the Demiurge or the Unmoved Mover.

  13. tdaxp says:


    Could you explain the rabbis comment? I am truly curious. I do not know what to make of it.

  14. Sejo says:

    Sure, Tdaxp. My pleasure. And as a gift, would you explain to me what «I do not know what to make of it» means? A literal translation in Italian leads to something – that I know being out of question – rather unpleasant. Is it a more correct form of «I can’t get it», perhaps?

    However, basically, the rabbi told me that since I’m not formally a Jew, HaShem won’t care for me and my “acts of faith”, if this is a correct expression: nor for the charity, nor for the mitzvot. Many Jews would react in astonishment to this assertion, and some have done: the wife of a man I know, that has a PhD and a Rabbinical College degree therefore could be a rabbi in a non orthodox community, told me that this affirmation completely lacks of respect for the writings, because He made a world in which many peoples live and the good persons follow the Noahide laws that – for those who do not know – are a basic version of the Ten Commandments. Not to mention his greatest gift of all, the free will.
    Of course, I could reply in a political way to your questions, but I presume you’re not interested in who runs the Italian Jewish communities, and therefore which rabbis get elected.
    I hope to have satisfied your curiosity.

  15. Sejo says:

    Ooops, just now I get the feeling that «cannot see someone» in English could be a form for the expression of hate or disgust. It wasn’t my intention to say this. I will try to explain further: I am grey, traslucent, like a ghost to the eyes of God, not being a Jew, so he cannot see me as a believer, follower, whatever.
    Of course, I do not descend from trees when the sun rises: I have studied the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishna for what my intellectual abilities allow. I haven’t found a single line in which there’s this disrespect for other human beings. The opposite: what I found is an universal religion in which every man is equal to his neighbour.

  16. spandrell says:

    Believing in god is not the whole picture about religiosity in my opinion. I think a zealous evangelic christian has more in common with an enviromentalist nutjob; same way an agnostic and a practicing but not overly zealous christian´s lifestyles are mostly the same.
    The important difference is between zealots and let-it-be type of people, i.e. holier-than-thou people always striving to make a difference vs conservatives who understand the real world.

  17. tdaxp says:


    Thanks for the clarification!

  18. Chirol says:

    Spandrell: A very good insight about which I am in agreement. That’s the irony, that many atheists or agnostics may actually live quite similarly and value many of the same things as ordinary religious people of many faiths. On the same token, nutjobs are nutjobs anywhere whether Christian, Hindu, Islamic or Al-Gorists.

  19. Younghusband says:

    Progress report: So far we have about 150 people who have taken the survey. Sonagi pointed out that CA readers are not representative of America, which is absolutely true. So far the poll results show this, but there is more variety than I thought. Also, there are quite a few comments describing being “dragged to church” by significant others. That is something I did not account for in my simple survey.

  20. Leadbelly says:

    Although I am a staunch atheist (pretty much zero chance of any supreme power but hey ho, never say never) with a generally low opinion of the concept of religion, I am still to see us atheists create a socially unifying ideology as powerful or as influential. And that goes for all belief systems whether it be the major religions (“of the book”) or more tribal beliefs e.g. of the Nuer people or the excellently fascinating syncretic belief systems

  21. Alex says:

    I believe in god, but I rather dislike religion. I prefer Einstein’s view, “”My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals
    himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” I always have trouble with the idea that we can understand the Demiurge: anything that could create everything is well beyond my understanding.

  22. Curzon says:

    So YH, what are your conclusions? I look forward to the next post.

  23. Younghusband says:

    Polling is now closed. I will now tally the results and publish the results soon.

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