Religious Belief and Non-identification—making sense of change.

Changing Faith Chapter 3: Believing and Belonging

Changing Faith Chapter 3: Believing and Belonging

Mark Silk has been trying but failing to understand conflicting “survey” data on religious beliefs among people who do not identify with a religion. He’s taken exception to my colleague Tobin Grant’s analysis of high quality data from US Voters, and favored instead data from a couple of online shit polls supplemented with loser level phone poll data. Garbage does not trump science. Tobin  is right, however the 2012 ANES data can say nothing about how increases in non-identification have impacted religious beliefs over time or across cohorts. Indeed, even in high quality surveys, there are not enough respondents in a single year to adequately address this question. In my forthcoming book, Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of American’s Changing Religious Identities,  I examine this in Chapter 3, along with other beliefs and behaviors available in the GSS. What I show is that younger cohorts of “nones” are less likely to be atheists or nontheists. In the older cohorts, nearly one in five “nones” are outright atheists, however in the youngest cohorts this falls to under 10%. Of course, for many reasons (lifecourse factors being central) there are many more “nones” in the younger cohorts, and many of them never had a religious identification—while most of the older “nones” rejected a former religious identification. If you lump together atheists, agnostics, and people who believe in a “higher power BUT NOT A GOD”, what I call “non-theists” then the proportions increase to over 50% across all cohorts, but non-theism is also higher in the earlier generations. I show in the chapter that not-believing and not belonging is a dominant trend, but that is because of higher rates of non-identification and unbelief.

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