People are leaving religious affiliation in droves. Indeed, almost 18 million persons over the last seven years in the US alone left the faith on a statistical basis.¹ But only a slim margin inside this conversion base† is filing into the comparatively paltry ranks of atheism. Just who are these people electing this third option, the “nones” as they are titled by the Pew Research Study pundits? Why were Social Skeptics shocked at the results, and why do their shrill voices continue to pretend that this enormous and fastest-growing demographic group in the United States, does not even exist?
In fact, these numbers, countermanding the 150 year old false dilemma under which we have all been trained, belie a more staggering statistic that as much as 65% of the United States adult demographic has something other in mind than simply “atheism” versus “believing.”
What is this “other” category, and what does it comprise? Perhaps they, and not the material monists, big-A Atheists and Nihilists, are the real free thinkers and skeptics? As a true skeptic, I want to know what this new and growing demographic has in mind. I want to know why they are leaving traditional religion AND are resoundingly rejecting atheism at the same time.
Based on the recently released Pew Religious Landscape Research Study on America’s changing religious makeup, significant unrest is afoot inside the ranks of United States adult demographic. Of the 245 million estimated adults comprised by the 2014 US population base, a staggering 50 million of these individuals have elected to opt out of both atheism and religion. A full 26% of the US adult population makes no comment on the issue of a ‘god’ and instead has chosen some form of different path from the polarizing mind trick which has enslaved American ontology for close to two centuries.
Who are these people? Just what manner of change is precipitating this gargantuan shift in the mindset of American adults? Well, one thing is clear, the shift is either stemming in part from or is closely associated with new information technologies. Technologies embraced and influenced by the youngest of our demographic. According to the Pew Research Study,
“While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007…”¹
Perhaps this is why Social Skepticism has taken such a great interest in changing the way in which information is ranked inside Google searches? Do they feel they are losing the battle at hand? Or surely this must all simply stem from the “War on Science?” Yes, that must be it! Heck, at least the churches, mosques and temples for the most part are not apparently threatened by this information technology change. But Social Skeptics are threatened by these changes; highly threatened. Interesting… and perhaps now we see here why. This is worth scientific consideration.
Both Atheism and Religion are Losing Ground to the “Nones”
The new and existing demographic are not embracing the false dilemma (mandatory selection inside a bifurcation fallacy) of religion or atheism. Just what then are they embracing? Certainly agnosticism (and very likely ignosticism) is represented in this count according to the study results;¹ to the order of 30% more persons in total than atheism itself. But both these tallies of atheist and agnostic, taken together, account for less than a quarter of all those who indicated that they are “unaffiliated.”¹ The new ontology, apparently free information based as it should be, is not enriching the collection plates of Nihilist or Fundamentalist alike. Perhaps Fundamentalists should join Skeptics in the Pub to drown their sorrows about losing the battle for the American mind. They can commiserate over their slipping grasp on controlling this old argument. But to my perception an idea set is winning. It just does not have coherence yet; and to my best suspicion, is exciting to a great number inside this demographic. But this is science yet to be conducted, so I can make no substantiative claim therein.
It is remarkable really how persons who are religiously disconnected, reject the notion of calling themselves ‘atheist’ even when prompted with the chance to anonymously do so. On the order of 8 or 9 to one, they exhibit a distaste for the moniker. Why a distaste for either categorization? Is it attributable to apathy? Or is there something else, which we are not acknowledging, which is dawning on the ontological consciences of American adults, and especially our new adults? As an ignostic atheist myself, I want to know.
Finally, how many persons inside the 71% percentage points of the religiously affiliated, indeed sympathize with these ignored but latent new understandings on the part of the unaffiliated? It is incumbent upon real researchers that we begin to understand this ‘unaffiliated’ group, the philosophies to which they do affiliate, and the currently influenced religious ‘in-transition’ demographic. Why they are leaving in droves (or are about to leave†)? Why do they remain unconvinced by material monists, Atheists and Nihilists while in their religious exodus? Why are Millennials not adopting atheism either?
In general, Social Skeptics are getting the fact that a decline in religiosity does not immediately portend an increase in atheist rolls. In fact they have no idea what is driving this change in demographic, nervously citing the results as a victory. The pseudo-victory is quickly glossed over, dodging the ominous fact that these numbers might indicate something they fear even more than religion – people actually becoming activists, seeking that science be done – rejecting Nihilism – intolerant of dogma – and smart enough to distinguish the difference; even on tough and controversial issues. They are visiting the credulous websites, viewing the disdained videos, they are asking the forbidden questions. They are not intimidated with how ‘rational’ you are. They put credence in eyewitness testimony and a mountain of ignored ‘anecdote.’ They want research, not pre-cooked answers, and this does not bode well for Social Skepticism. The Center for Inquiry understates the results of the Study in the graphic above.
Note that the realization that this group in transition ‘aren’t all atheists‘ Ξ in reality to a 9 : 1 trouncing and rejection of atheism as an alternative to religion on the part of the “nones.”‡
According to Encyclopedia Britannica and the traditional surveys they cite,² Fundamentalism, or the literal interpretation of one’s choice of religion, of all types, composes anywhere from 25 – 32% of the United States demographic adult population.² If we back this figure conservatively out of the ‘affiliated’ sample of respondents in the Pew Study, even if we attribute the top end 32% or one-third of the US population as being characterized by Fundamentalist traditional beliefs of all faiths, we end up with a whopping 65% of the population which is considering something else.
It is this something else which I, as a skeptic, want to understand.
I condemn or prejudge no one in these groups, save for those who are violent or seek to oppress others and squelch freedom of thought, education and speech. Were we to identify these oppressive and violent groups, we would have to demarc a very thin sliver of the population overlapping both the atheist and fundamentalist portions of the graph to the right.
As a true skeptic, I want to know more about this unheralded and latent group set, and why they have chosen to reject both of the bifurcated ideals which have been artificially forced upon them from their youth? Under the Scientific Method, when the right question is asked, I feel the next methodological and deontological question to pose is “Who are these people, and what is it that they believe?”
Without the asking of that question, are we really performing science here, or simply a 150 year old form of bandwagon entertainment?
† please note that the term ‘leave’ incorporates statistically both those in the Pew Research Study who have changed their individual allegiances regarding religious persuasion between 2007 and 2014, as well as those we have lost by attrition and have been replaced by the new generation of adults inside that same timeframe.
‡ please also note that I think this aversion to atheism stems from a malpractice of atheism on the part of Social Skeptics. Those who enforce Nihilism and material monism on others, but mistakenly refer to their beliefs as ‘atheism.’ Perhaps this, in as much anything else, explains the overwhelming public aversion to the term atheist.
There is Another Path to Consider: The Rejection of Dogmatism and Fear
The third pathway in all this, which is being given rhetorical short shrift vis-à-vis poll questions formulated from an 1800’s mentality, is the pathway I call Ethical Skepticism. Now of course that terminology is not in the common vernacular and neither can I make the claim that these 50 million adult Americans are now choosing the pathway of Ethical Skepticism. They are not. But I can cite a case for research along the lines that the thinking inside this group bears some very common characteristics with Ethical Skepticism. Research which makes the following substantiation for further, more philosophically savvy investigation regarding the new mindset dawning on modern Americans.
1. I reject Fundamentalism because it is a low information set, high in condemnation and dogma, and extracts money by means of the resulting fear of the unknown. I reject this for ethical reasons. I also understand that dogmatic denial of the unknown can stem from non-religiously generated fear as well. Overly assured regard of what one holds as ‘truth’, with or without personification by a bearded grandfather icon, is not necessarily indicative of a philosophy developed independent of fear.
2. I reject Material Monism and Nihilism for now because they are operating on only a little more information than is Fundamentalism, in the grand scheme; yet the dogmatism is still disconcertingly high. Why? I just left dogmatism being used to generate fear and make money. Should I not hold off on jumping into another dogmatism, until we all as a species know more information?
3. The empirical evidence, scant or ephemeral as it may be, is NOT confirming Material Monism nor Nihilism; in fact is predictive in its falsification of both. I await more information however. I hear the clamor from ‘Big-A’ Atheists about the fallibility of the mind, perception and memory. But, I am not ready to start drawing their conclusions and dogma until I know more than simply a collection of one-liners.
4. I do not hold the answer, save to say that I know that I no longer have to live in the past four millennia of ignorance.
5. I know this is a shocker: But I do not have to even want an answer. In a low information environment, both nihilism and fundamentalist dogma are sometimes an attempt to force an answer-from-want, spawned by such urgency. The universe is not going to crumble in despair and hellfire, simply because I cannot comprehend its extents.
6. The observable universe appears to be regulated by a cohesive set of laws which serve to bring us into being. I must trust that the philosophies which underpin such rigor – continue on further beyond the horizon of that which we can comprehend, much less observe or measure. I am not equipped to judge an intent (nor lack thereof) with the information set I now possess. Nor is this lack of information indicative of some form of shortfall or lack of faith on my part.
7. There is much much more that we don’t know, than we do know.
¹ Pew Research Study, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape;” May 12, 2015, Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life; http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
² Fundamentalism, Encyclopedia Britannica, Henry Munson, 2015 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. Chicago, IL; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1191955/fundamentalism.