Readership religiosity survey results

Last week I posted a survey encouraging readers to reveal their religiosity. I was curious about the demographic makeup of our readership after reading a number of comments on religion over the past few weeks. Rather than a simple poll, I thought I would add a small variation to capture an extra level of nuance. I had all sorts of respondents from strong atheists to animists, pagans, Catholics, a Discordian and a “technoshamanistic gnostic buddhist monist”. Below I will describe the questions and reveal the results.

The survey is split into two questions: religious belief and religious activity. For the first question I used the Spectrum of theistic probability, which some of you might recognize is from biologist Richard Dawkins. I will repost the questions for those that did not see the survey. The parts in bold text are categories that did not appear in the original survey:


Where do you stand on the probability of God’s existence?

1) Strong theist. 100 percent possibility of God.
In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

2) Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist.
‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

3) Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism.
‘I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.’

4) Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic.
‘God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.’

5) Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism.
‘I don’t know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.’

6) Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist.
‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.’

7) Strong atheist.
‘I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung ‘knows’ there is one.’


I posted these questions without labels to avoid sociolinguistic bias. (Sidenote: If anyone wants to learn more about these positions, and why some are more tenable than others, I highly recommend Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, Chapter 2: The God Hypothesis, section: The Poverty of Agnosticism). In the analysis below I will use slightly modified terms: Theist, Weak Theist, Strict Agnostic, Weak Atheist and Atheist. For the purposes of this survey I am ignoring any distinction between theism and deism (this was brought up in some comments). I am simply looking for belief in a supernatural force v. unbelief. Another term brought up in the comments was “faith”. The term is irrelevant in this context. If you “have faith” then you should choose 1.

For the second question I tried to capture the amount of participation in religious functions. There is a difference between belief in religious dogma and belief in religious institutions. I wanted to capture a segment of the “religious” community that for one reason or another do not have a religious outlook on nature, but feel that religious institutions can nonetheless provide some positive benefit to society or their own lives. The philosopher Dan Dennett says these people have “belief in belief”. Here are the options:


Religious Activity

A) I am an ACTIVE member of my religious community
I go to church/synagogue/mosque regularly, I participate in rituals such as praying and fasting.

B) I am an INACTIVE member of my religious community
I go to church/synagogue/mosque every once in a while, during important religious days.

C) I have no religious community
I prefer sitting at home reading Carl Sagan (or ComingAnarchy.com for that matter!)


Some people pointed out my islamo-judeo-christo-centrict terminology. At the expense of lengthy explanations, I tried to make the questions short (and thus, the response time short). Being that most of our readers are from “the West”, and the complete lack of confused comments, I think most respondents understood what I meant. Jewish identity was also asked about in the commentary. I think that was captured well enough in the three options. If you are an ethnic Jew, who only attends the occasional Bar or Bat Mitzvah, then you would be a C.

Obviously, with just two questions we cannot capture every nuance, but I thought we could cast light on the variety of positions on religion. From that starting point, we could debate the validity of one position or another. Now, onto the results.

The survey was posted for one week. The survey was made as short as possible to get the most respondents. In total there were 212 respondents, most of them within the first 24 hours of posting. Since we have many more readers than that it can be assumed that the respondents were self-selecting (ie. not a random selection of the readership) and the totals presented below cannot be considered representative of the CA readership as a whole.

As mentioned above, I have broken down the seven categories presented above into five categories: Theist, Weak Theist, Strict Agnostic, Weak Atheist and Atheist.

First, let us examine the results of each section (Belief and Activity):

Religiosity poll: General results

To generalize:

* 38% of respondents have (some) religious belief
* 58% of respondents do not
* 4% of respondents remained strictly in the middle

And:

* 14% are active in their religious community
* 26% only show up for the big days
* 60% do not identify with a religious community

Respondents to our survey tend to be non-religious. A thumbnail sketch would suggest it is a 60-40 split for both religious belief and activity. This is closer than I thought since much of the readership is American (where religionists outnumber the irreligious nearly 6 to 1).

If we examine the relationship between the two variables we find a more nuanced story. The following three graphs show the respondents grouped as practitioners of religion — namely those who are active or inactive, and those who do not identify with a religious community:

Religiosity poll: Activity

Unsurprisingly an overwhelming amount of religious practitioners are theists (left chart). However, there is 10% that go despite their own atheism (“belief in belief”?). Looking at the right-most chart, it is also unsurprising to see that 85% of those that do not identify with a religious community were atheist or agnostic. It is flattering to see that some (17%) god-fearing readers preferred Coming Anarchy over church (wot wot!). The middle chart (Inactive) is the most complex. Of the people that are only occasionally going to church, a combined 63% are theists and a whopping 34% are atheists. In real terms, of the 123 self-proclaimed atheists surveyed, 3 are active and 19 are periodic practitioners of religion (for a total of 18%). That is a surprising proportion of “belief in belief” (with a couple of “belief in my marriage” thrown in).

Finally, a table of all responses for you to peruse:

Religiosity poll: Data

Conclusions

My original reason for posting the survey was my curiosity over the lack of theist response in Curzon’s origins of religion post. The 60-40 split seems to indicate that theistic readers were not willing to participate in that discussion for one reason or another. I think this data somewhat confirms my hunch.

Furthermore, I also took the chance to find out how many have “belief in belief”. I was surprised to see almost 1 in 5 self-proclaimed atheists feel that religious institutions have something to offer. This is especially surprising when 1 in 4 theists thought the opposite. As Curzon alluded to in his comment, there is a debate about institutionalism that needs to be had. Unlike him I think it is related to belief because of how those institutions can be used to influence policy in negative ways and provide political cover for extremists. But, I digress, and shall leave that discussion for another post.

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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9 Responses to Readership religiosity survey results

  1. Sonagi says:

    As an apostate from Catholicism and weak atheist, I’m not surprised that some of my fellow atheists see value in religious participation. I abandoned Catholicism not because of any negative feelings towards the Church as an institution but because of a loss of faith, first in the existence of Christ and second in the existence of God. Likewise, it is not surprising that some people with religious faith might see little value in organized religion. Faith and religion overlap but not completely.

  2. T. Greer says:

    Interesting. When I had filled in the “weak theist” option, I was thinking os something alomng the lines of 90% surety. I am sure if you had included those labels, I would have opted fro the theist option.

    Still, if the survey results are anything to go by, it seems you have your work set out for you. A large number of your fellow atheists seem rather fond of religion as an institution.

  3. Thomas says:

    I must have been busy when you posted this survey as I managed to miss it entirely.

    However, there is a particular combination that I feel the verbiage of the survey cannot encompass. Though I must confess I might be the only one that holds this particular combination of beliefs, I am a deeply religious atheist.

    To be specific, belief is not an either/or position. I can practice my faith and believe in it’s principles and dogma yet not assert that it is literally true. Experientially, this is different that being an atheist that attends religious events simply for community purposes, a believer in belief, as Dawkins called it. It is the ability to deliberate hold within one’s mind and act on two contradictory ideas without experiencing discord.

    This may be a minor quibble as I can’t imagine too many people believe as I do.

  4. Chris says:

    I feel that “theism” and “atheism” are more terms for the Western depiction of God than the Eastern.

    The West holds to the belief that God is above nature, magical, although they don’t like to use that word. People accept or reject God often on whether or not they believe the supernatural to exist.

    But this idea of a Supreme Being who exercises power over the Universe is more of a Western paradigm… most Eastern religion is deeply psychological and teaches of a natural God who IS the Universe.

    Thus, I had a hard time with your survey because I can’t really label myself either an atheist or a theist. I do not believe in a being who exercises power over the Universe, and most certainly not an egotistic one, but I can’t bring myself to look at the Universe and not ask “Why?” beyond the question of “How?”.

    We as animals exist both objectively and subjectively, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to discard the possibility of the Universe existing in the same way (which is how I found myself digging into some of Alfred Whitehead’s ideas on the ‘Origin of Religion’ topic).

    I guess, for me the idea of a God has always been more complicated than the idea of a deity… a bit unconventional, but I’ve never been satisfied with conventional thought.

  5. Sonagi says:

    “Still, if the survey results are anything to go by, it seems you have your work set out for you. A large number of your fellow atheists seem rather fond of religion as an institution.”

    Not seeing the connection. Atheism is not by definitition against organized religion. Conflict arises only when members of an organized religion impose their beliefs on others or when non-believers restrict religious practices that do not interfere with the rights of others.

  6. T. Greer says:

    @Sonagi:

    You are correct in all you say. You do not make the connection because I failed to provide the context. Two or so weeks ago YH and I had an exchange where he argued for the removal of religion. After seeing this survey, I have concluded that this may be harder than he anticipates, as many the atheists here seem to support institutionalized religion.

  7. feeblemind says:

    FWIW, I am 100% convinced God exists, but I don’t generally participate in any discussions on or about religion. My relationship with God is my business. I don’t feel the need to have to defend it and I am not out to convert anyone to my way of thinking, so it seems best to just abstain from those discussions. I am wondering if other “theists’ think as I do and the resulting lack of participation skews your results?

  8. Sonagi says:

    I am wondering if other “theists’ think as I do and the resulting lack of participation skews your results?

    Might atheists likewise avoid participation in a poll like this one?

  9. Chris says:

    @Thomas: “To be specific, belief is not an either/or position. I can practice my faith and believe in it’s principles and dogma yet not assert that it is literally true. Experientially, this is different that being an atheist that attends religious events simply for community purposes, a believer in belief, as Dawkins called it. It is the ability to deliberate hold within one’s mind and act on two contradictory ideas without experiencing discord.

    This may be a minor quibble as I can’t imagine too many people believe as I do.”

    I do agree with you that there is value in religion even for an atheist. Confucius said, “To recognize your faults and to amend them is of the greatest virtue,” or something of that nature. Proverbs in the Bible is full of wisdom, as are religions the world over.

    Really, I believe the core problem with religions today is a misinterpretation of the teachers. The teachings of every religion can be summed up in the Golden Rule.

    “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:12

    “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary.” – Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a

    “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” – Muhammad, Hadith

    But, it is a biological, innate survival strategy to focus on differences. It’s how we distinguish the world. We have a way of focusing on what we see at the surface, analyzing differences and getting defensive before we ever give it deep thought and reflection. Really, I’d say that most of Jesus’ teachings were so wise that they flew over the heads of his followers for the next 2000 years (such as the rebirth of the paradigm, John 3).

    I will disagree that science and God conflict. Science is the study of objective existence, and thus blinds itself to answering the riddle of Cartesian dualism. In turn, those who study only subjective existence also blind themselves to the answer. I believe that to find the connection between matter and consciousness, one must realize that they’re bound as two sides of the same coin.