Nones, Atheists, and Sectarian Protestants—Winners and Losers in the 21st Century

2006-2014 General Social Survey

2006-2014 General Social Survey

The punditocracy is all a flutter about the latest non-scientific poll by Pew which found many things based on the 10% of targeted respondents (liberally defined) who bothered to respond. It’s sickening that Pew gets all the press when Mike Hout and Tom Smith at NORC did a very nice summary of GSS religion findings from an actual scientific poll.

One thing that people have been pondering, because they failed to read my book, Changing Faith , is how the rejection of religious identification matters for the religious character of the nation. Particularly, does this mean that America is becoming more secular? The OTHER problem with Pew is that at critical junctures they conflate identification with religious organizations with religious beliefs. That is a huge shortcoming for anyone trying to make sense of believing and belonging, because many people who do not believe, nonetheless belong. And, many people who do believe, do not belong. I address this at length in Changing Faith and am updating those findings to the 2014 data.

Still, above you can see REAL estimates (0r the best we have) from 2014 on the proportion of Americans who reject religious identification, and how that has increased over time (from 16% in 2006 to 21% in 2014). A similar trend is found for rejecting belief in a god (combining atheists, agnostic, and people who “believe in a higher power but not a god”)–with more than one in five Americans rejecting belief in a god. A more strict definition limited to atheism and agnosticism shows an increase from about 7% to 9% between 2006 and 2014—and about 7% of 2014 GSS respondents are atheists or agnostics who also reject religious identification (“nones”).  If we broaden that to non-theists, nearly 13% of Americans are nones who don’t believe in a god.

The growth of nones and atheists and atheists nones is mirrored by a decline in sectarian protestant identification—which decreases from nearly 25% in 2006 to under 20% in 2014. If we take out the non-whites, because they are not real Americans, the proportion of Americans who are white sectarian protestants falls from about 16% to about 13%—so non-theist “nones” are as prevalent as white sectarian protestants. Just for shits and giggles, I note that mainline Protestants are not in the freefall claimed by Pew and others—their proportions decreased from about 19% to just under 17%—and Catholic proportions fluctuate randomly around 23%. White sectarian Protestants are a minority of American Christians, and they are in decline.


Dewey Wins Again! UK Edition…..

Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Well, Ralph Miliband’s boring son and the Labour Party lost big across the pond last week, and the crushing defeat was completely unexpected. Shit polls and pollster hacks like Nate Silver were quite confident that Labour would rule the day and all of Brittania….Only they lost. Big. Just like Eric Cantor. And Dewey.

This is a function of the worldwide decline of scientific polling, and the growth of polling profiteers. The idea that we should have daily polls supposedly tracking “changing opinions” based on whether a politician farted or something is ridiculous. All this has done is to misinform parties, candidates, the media, and citizens about the opinions and preferences of the public. Aggregating bad data doesn’t help, nor does it make any sense to make data aggregators into revered shamans.

The decline in data quality and scientific polling has also led to the disturbing trend of using Cheetos munching weirdos from marketing panels in all kinds of “research.” These panels are not drawn from a random sample of the population, and panelists are expected to complete at least 4 surveys a year in or else they’ll only get baked Cheetos or be “withdrawn.” No attempt is made to assess the veracity of the data completed on-line by who knows whom. We saw this, of course, in the Regnerus fiasco, and the severity of the problems with this poll received more attention in a new reanalysis of his shit data.

But, the problem with reanalyzing shit data is that stirring the shit just makes it smell worse. Nobody should ever be allowed to publish a paper in a journal with “science” or “sociology” in the title analyzing data from a shit poll. It isn’t just Regnerus. GLBT activist scholars are busy right this very moment analyzing a shit poll taken from the exact same panel used by Regnerus. And, that 7 foot 8 guy who weighs 88 pounds is probably picking up his case of Cheetos for that one as well.

What kind of weirdo would agree to fill out longwinded polls online in exchange for Cheetos? How many Americans are really that connected to the internet, even? Are ethnic minorities who are online just like other ethnic minorities? What about the elderly? Can we just assume that the non-randomly recruited 80 year-olds in some online marketing panel are just the same as other old people? Yeah, just adjust the data. Right.

In the last year I’ve reviewed four or five papers using data from non-random., online marketing panels. If you are a sociologist and you’re using such data, stop. If you continue, you are hurting scholarship and likely hurting your career and those of your students who are being encouraged to take short cuts with dirty unscientific data.

Wilma Mankiller, 1945-2010



I just learned that Wilma Mankiller is on the short list for the $20 to replace that horrible racist shitbag Andrew Jackson. There is some tough competition. Harriet Tubman is a tough act to follow. But, I sure hope they don’t give it to some milquetoast white woman…..

Originally posted on Iranianredneck's Weblog:

She saved the Cherokee

The Cherokee tribe has lost its most important leader of the last century. Wilma Mankiller died of pancreatic cancer April 6th. When Mankiller took over the tribe the Cherokee were in turmoil. Their facilities and tribal support system was shot, the BIA was screwing them, and they had no way to make things better for their people. Until this firebrand grabbed the feds by the balls and dreamed to make things work for  her tribe. She didn’t want a handout, she wanted the ability to survive as a nation. And, she did it. Now, the Cherokee are prosperous and proud. It never would have happened without Wilma Mankiller.

I met Wilma many times when I was a lowly busboy working at restaurants in Tulsa. She was like a gracious queen. You couldn’t be in her presence without realizing her enormous integrity and grace. She looked busboys in the eye, and…

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Religion and Marijuana Legalization—420 Special



Support for the legalization of marijuana has increased dramatically since the dark old days of Nancy Raygun’s “Just say No” and the 2014 GSS found for the first time that a majority of Americans, 56%, support legalization. And, who do you think has been left behind? It’s no surprise that Christian fundamentalists are the least supportive of legalizing marijuana, and that secular Americans who think the Bible is a book of fables are most supportive of legalization–and the difference is huge. But, that is only part of the story. Race plays a huge role, and while African American fundamentalist are quite prevalent, they are now and have always been more circumspect about the War on Drugs.

Indeed, even in 1988 African American fundies were somewhat more supportive of legalization–17% compared to 12% of white fundies. Fast forward to 2014 and the majority of African American fundies have realized that illegal pot is just a plot to put black people in jail. Support among African American fundies is at 54%, just about the same as in the full sample of the GSS regardless of race or religion (55%). In contrast, only 34% of white fundies in the 2014 GSS support marijuana legalization—making them far different from real normal Americans. The war on drugs has always been a war on ethnic minorities and political and religious dissidents. Secular Americans understand this, which is why nearly 80% of respondents who think the bible is bunk support legal weed.

Maybe in a few more 420s we can eliminate this question from the GSS…or maybe we should keep it so we can continue to see what the fundies would do to us if they wrest control of the means of coercion.

The Undemocratic Unfreedom of Sectarian Christianity

17/04/2015 Marcuse’s variant of cultural marxism emphasized how the materialism of post-war capitalism had created a “democratic unfreedom” whereby cogs in the capitalist machine genuinely preferred the materialist options produced by GM, GE, and Disney. Everyone would prefer to be striving for a Buick while working a low wage job and giving political control to the corporatists, not even realizing that they weren’t really free to envision a different set of relations of production. At least the one-dimensional materialists of Marcuse’s dystopia choose to be materialist pawns, but now even the freedom to be a tool of the system is being challenged by sectarian Christianity. “Religious Freedom” is now taken to mean the freedom to prevent people sectarian Christians don’t like from enjoying the material fruits of the capitalist system. It’s an old argument, you can’t attend a KKK rally or read a transcript from 1950s White Citizen’s Council meetings or the Friends of the Court briefs from Loving v Virginia without seeing the argument that religious freedom is the bedrock of segregation and discrimination. Notably, sectarian religious justifications for racial discrimination are a minority position, and these views draw the ire of the majority of Americans. Since Max Weber and Ernst Troelsch, sociologists have defined extremist religious groups within the dominant tradition as “sects”, and this conceptualization was honed further by Ben Johnson, Rodney Stark, Bill Bainbridge, and Roger Finke. The Sect-Church continuum remains the principle way to classify religious groups from any tradition—exclusivist groups claim to know the TRUTH, which implies that all other groups (generally, but not always the majority) are wrong. Far from being dead or antiquated (as Christian sociologists who hail from sectarian traditions seem to want), in my recent book Changing Faith, I amended these concepts to shed the notion of tension with broader society as being the primary characteristic of sects and instead focus on exclusivism–universalism as the proper measure. I did this because many exclusivist sects hold control over entire nation states, regions of a country, or localities. Believing that drinking alcohol is a one way ticket to hell does not put you at odds with the dominant social order in Waco, Texas, and extremely homophobic sectarian Protestants and Catholics with sectarian inclinations hold power in large swaths of the United States (if you don’t understand the concept of sectarian movements in churches, revoke your PhD and go back and read Stark and Bainbridge, submit a ten page essay to me explaining the concepts and I may give it back to you—nah, probably not) . Ah, but, writ large, exclusivism is at tension with civil society.  You may be a cool dude beheading the gays and drug dealers in a sectarian Wahhabi kingdom, but civilized societies are going to oppose your barbarism and there will be consequences in global society. Similarly, sectarian Christianists who are now militating to be able to discriminate against gays and lesbians are finding pushback from the majority of Americans who support same sex marriage (56%) and who think that homosexuality is perfectly acceptable (also 56% in the 2014 GSS).  Exclusivist sectarian beliefs based on primitive fundamentalist interpretations of Abrahamic sacred texts are at odds with broader civil society, and that is why sects are called sects! They aren’t evangelical. That’s an orientation toward proselytization which is absent from many, if not most, sects. Evangelical is a term favored by Christianists, who want to mask their true orientation and act as if they are a part of civil society—they aren’t. They’re sectarians who are antithetical to civil society.

Nearly 21% of Americans Reject Religious Identification

GSS 1972-2014

GSS 1972-2014

Shit pollsters have a good time trying to estimate population parameters based on crap done in some online marketing firm. I sincerely believe that they make most of it up and “weight” their crap to where it apes GSS estimates (except for the NRA-Gallup stuff on gun control laws). We now know based on the GSS, our only continuous scientific poll,  that nearly 21% of Americans reject religious identification–up from 19.8% in 2012, 18% in 2010….the trend continues, and only the Catholics hold the commitments of more Americans–just over 24% of GSS respondents identify as Catholic. The religious nutjobs in the sectarian denominations and on the right wing of Catholicsm are on the run because finally secular people constitute a legitimate threat, and we aren’t rolling over and letting the Christian Taliban have their way with us anymore.

The Majority of Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana

General Social Surveys, 1973-2014

General Social Surveys, 1973-2014

Despite claims from Pat Robertson that weed is vegetable addiction, and claims from the prison industrial complex that marijuana cause murder rates to increase, the majority of Americans now concur that marijuana should be legalized. Nearly 56% of Americans support legalization, after holding steady at 47% for the since 2010. So, we shouldn’t be throwing people into prison for life for selling a little weed. We shouldn’t be fining old men tens of thousands of dollars and killing their dogs and taking away their property because they grew a little weed. Legalization needs to be complete, beyond the “medical” nonsense. We need fewer cops and prison guards, and more herbalists. Most people are gonna buy their weed in stores, and it is being taxed now where it is legal, generating revenue instead of ruining peoples lives and jacking up everyone’s taxes to give good jobs to fascist assholes.

A Large Majority of Americans now Favor Legalizing Same Sex Marriage–haters are less than a third of Americans.



Shit polls have been all over the place on same sex marriage, with many Christianists claiming the majority support is a myth. Yesterday, the 2014 General Social Survey was released, so now we know. The upward trend in support actually increased between 2012 and 2014 compared to between 2010 and 2012 (maybe an Obama Bump, eh?). And, opposition is also in steep decline–down to under one third of Americans.  More later…….

All Religions are True, and the Islamic State is, duh, Islamic

The Caliph will fuck no goats. He's got slaves.

The Caliph will fuck no goats. He’s got slaves.

Ah, the punditocracy…..The only thing worse is religious studies people. Neither can fathom the nature of religion or how it relates to political control over the means of coercion and the public goods and bads that might be provided by modern states. Instead, we hear babble, concocted mostly by activists, ignorant dipshits, true believers, and people with no clue about how to understand or engage politicized religion.

All religion is politicized to some degree. All must at least petition for tolerance from the state, or they will be murdered by the members of the dominant religion who control the means of coercion. It’s hilarious to hear pseudoscholars like Reza Aslan—whose most famous journalistic book points to the politicized origins of Christianity—argue that because the Islamic State is political and has baggage in the political economic circumstances of its origin period and place, it is therefor not Islamic. This has always been true, everwhere, everywhen. Only in the most advanced and tolerant societies have religions been able to operate freely without intercourse with the state, and frankly, even in those religious regulation and discriminatory repression are the rule, not the exception (ask Scientology, the Moonies, the Family, ISKON, etc).

A really excellent piece in the Atlantic by Graeme Wood has set off a flurry of pearl clutching among liberal Muslims, religious folk in general, and hyperstructuralists who never think that religion is ever influential (“…it must be something else…”). Wood draws on the excellent work of Bernard Haykel, one of the few real scholars who has studied contemporary fundamentalist Islamic movements.

It is frustrating to see the disingenuous responses to Wood’s investigation, particularly when they come from people who are supposedly academics who study religion. The argument against classifying the ISLAMIC STATE as Islamic follows the typical 19th century script that Durkheim sought to erase-A’priorist orientations towards religion classify religion according to what the seer believes religion to be based on their own prejudices and commitments. From Obama to the Council on American Islamic Relations, the fact that the ISLAMIC STATE doesn’t fit their vision of what Islam SHOULD be nullifies its qualification to be Islamic. “Should” is not a sociological concept relevant for defining categories. There are many Islams, way more than the three that Geertz amplified in his classic work. As Durkheim identified in his first critical assumption, “all religions are true”, if believers collectively understand things to be a function of their  interpretation of the nature of the sacred and profane as they have been taught in their interpretive communities, then that’s religious.

Nowhere did Wood imply that all Muslims agree with the vividly otherworldly and apocalyptic perspective that undergirds the ideology of the Islamic State, quite the opposite. Not all Christians agree with the vividly otherworldly apocalyptic vision of Pat Robertson or John Hagee, but what moron would claim that they aren’t Christian leaders? Wood goes to great lengths to separate IS from other radical fundamentalist Islamic movements like Al Queda, Wahhabism, and other Salafist fundamentalist sects. Never did he say that this is “popular” or “mainstream” or “inevitable” for Muslims to gravitate to such a radical medieval interpretation of the sacred texts of Islam. But, what he said was that it is inherently Islamic, and that is correct. There is nothing in the IS that falls outside of what might rightly be considered Islamic. If Al-Baghdadi declares himself the hidden Imam, then we have another story. Until he does something like that (and there is no indication that he is going there), there is nothing un-Islamic about declaring a Caliphate, nor holding slaves, murdering dissidents, executing “infidels”, chopping of hands, or any of those other things that were common in the original Caliphate–and many of those things continue in fundamentalist Islamic polities like the House of Saud.

What I really hate about this “debate” is how religious folk (Muslim and Christian and elsewise) dominate the discussion by claiming that because some religious people disagree, this movement is not of that religious tradition. It’s the classic “debunking” style used by bad journalists and pathetic humanities types. Not all X do Y! Therefore, there is no relationship between X and Y, and nobody may claim that there is even a correlation between X and Y or else they are an ethnocentrist racist asshole. Of course, structuralist types like to use the grand debunk to argue that these types of movements are totally explained by colonialism and such shit. Yet, when you talk to movement participants (as Wood did, in Arabic), their concerns are not about structural factors, but cultural ones. Indeed, the House of Saud had no problem with its transition from colonial mandate to dictatorial monarchy. Aramco actually did a bang up job on that front. The Wahhabi do what they do because of religion, and the IS is just taking that up a notch–and ultimately threatening the RELIGIOUS authority of the current occupiers of Mecca and Medina.

Christian Terrorists Threaten Duke Chapel



Ah, the Duke Chapel. It has loud obnoxious chimes that go off every day play sweet Jesus muzak. I never minded. In my four years at Duke it was always kind of nice to hear the bells, and it was great because you always knew when happy hour ended at the Duke Pub. Hardly anyone actually goes to religious services there, and it’s mostly used for events..and for things like a backdrop for the Handmaid’s Tale. Most people at elite universities are not religious, and most of the Christians at Duke are not liberal Methodists so why would they bother.

Duke is a real meritocracy, much like MIT or Johns Hopkins. They’re more interested in getting the best students possible than in pleasing rich alumni by letting in little legacy Buffy who only scored a 1200 on the SAT. Little Buffy winds up at Vanderbilt or Princeton. Since we lifted the Oriental Exclusion Acts in 1965, a funny thing has happened. We’ve been hand-picking the best and the brightest people from all over the world to come to the United States! Many of these people come from Islamic nations; from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, etc. They get into the United States because they have advanced degrees and jobs lined up with corporations or universities that sponsor them. Go to small cities anywhere in the US and look for a physician, dentist, or radiologist. Notice the names, Khan, Bhutt, Anad, Alam….those are just a few that came up at the top of the list for our  humble town of Carbondale.  We have a serious shortage of medical professionals, and we’re filling that with immigrants. Since this is a college town, I could add to that the names of my many colleagues who are Muslim. Those same names would come up if I listed out the top honors students at Carbondale Community High School. As I showed in my book Changing Faith, American Muslims have high levels of education and income. And, their children have a propensity to perform at very high levels in academics. When I attended Duke in the late 1980s there were maybe 200 Muslim students, and most of them were probably international graduate students. Now, of the 15,000 students, over 700 are Muslim, and most of them are undergrads and Americans. And, they apparently turn up for stuff, particularly during Ramadan where they have hundreds of students breaking fast. Muslims make up about .6% of the American population, but 5% of Duke students. 

Duke added a Muslim chaplain to their stable, and as a nice gesture, they were going to chime a call for prayer on Friday afternoon from the giant Christian Chapel. Seems like a nice thing to do to be inclusive, and really a necessity when you have a sizable residential population of undergrads and no alternative in the Durham community. I’m an atheist but I understand that a university should try to help students adjust so that they can succeed.  And, minority faiths like Islam and Judaism don’t have institutional resources in what was until recently the rural South. Ah, but not if you’re a Christianist asshole. It doesn’t matter that the air is filled with Christian calls to worship on Sunday, and that Christian music plays during the Christian holidays. Givin’ them Muslin’s a call for prayer is caving in to Sharia law, and Billy Graham’s demon spawn says that if we don’t shitcan a 1pm firing of the high tech church bells, next year all freshwomen at Duke will be wearing burqas. And that’s the “civilized” response. It seems clear from what has come out from both the Duke Chaplains’ offices and University Central that there were very serious, specific terrorist threats by Christianists. I’m guessing that these were threats against the life of the Duke University Christian Chaplain, the Muslim Associate Chaplain, and threats to blow up the Duke Chapel. I doubt that I’m wrong. Christian terrorists are rather predictable.


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