Don’t Believe, Don’t Belong

Odds Ratio of Non-Believing Belongers to Believing non-Belongers: 1984-2008 GSS

Religious folk of all types have always tended to imagine that non-belief is marginal in the United States, and even elsewhere. The growing proportion of the American population eschewing religious identification plays havoc with the assumption of a consistently religious population, with atheism and agnosticism on the fringe. The growing narrative among religious cheerleaders has been that people who shun identification with religious organizations still, overwhelmingly, believe. This, of course, is total bullshit.

First, not only do most non-belongers NOT believe the crap sold in our convenience stores of religious goods, but many of the people who BELONG DON’T BELIEVE. Yes, that’s right kiddies. People go to church and identify with religious groups even when they get no religious value from those groups. They do get social status, a community of similar people, activities for the kiddies, and all kinds of other stuff. But, the genuine truth is that many Americans don’t believe—almost 20% of the US population in 2008 believed that the Bible is a book of fables. Viewing the Bible as a book of fables has  increased in popularity from about 14% in 1984 to nearly 20% of General Social Survey respondents in 2008. And, the proportion of non-identifiers has also increased from 7% in 1984 to 16% in 2008.

Most people who DON’T BELONG, DON’T BELIEVE. In 1984 53% of those with no identification believed that the bible was a book of tales of goatfucking bronze agers, and in 2008 55% of non-identifiers held the same view. Given that the proportion of Americans reporting both non-Belief and non-identification has increased, Non Believing Non-Belongers make up the bulk of the growth of non-identification. And, while the majority of non-identifiers do NOT believe, the majority of non-Believers still belong.

The figure above plots the ratio of non-believing belongers to non-belonging believers in the GSS from 1984-2008. As one would expect if religious authority is cracking, non-believers were much more likely to report an identification in the 1980s, and there were MANY more non-believing belongers than believing non-belongers. By the 2000s, the ratio evened out. Non believers stopped belonging. But, even still, non-believing belongers far outnumber believers who don’t belong, nearly 1.5 to 1 in 2008.

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3 Responses to “Don’t Believe, Don’t Belong”

  1. Ryan Says:

    This seems like a publishable finding. Am I going to have to reference your blog when I cite this in the future, or are you planning on publishing this somewhere?

  2. sherkat Says:

    Yeah, well…..please don’t reference this blog, I’m in enough trouble already.

    The long story will appear in my book Religious Change in America, which should be coming out some time in the next few years hopefully still on NYU (I’m late…). And, I may put something together on this for the SSSR meetings. However, SSSR conflicts with Halloween, so what is a Satan worshiping family guy to do?

  3. mark h Says:

    non-believe-belongers, I just love saying that. Sounds like something that would be on the menu at Outback.

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