Interesting Statistics Contrasting Atheism and Christianity

In June, the Barna Group published a new study examining the numbers, lifestyles and self-perceptions of American atheists and agnostics in contrast to those who actively participate in the Christian faith. The “No-Faith” segment was defined as anyone who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have “no faith.” “Active Faith” was defined as simply having gone to church, read the Bible and prayed during the week preceding the survey. The study says:

  • 9% of Americans self identify in the “No Faith” group (1/11 adults, or 20 million).
  • Only about five million adults, however, unequivocally use the label “atheist” and staunchly reject the existence of God.
  • “No-Faith” individuals are younger, likely male, unmarried, college graduates, and earn more.
  • The proportion of atheists and agnostics increases from 6% of Elders (ages 61+) and 9% of Boomers (ages 42-60), to 14% of Busters (23-41) and 19% of adult Mosaics (18-22).

Both “No-Faith” and “Active Faith” groups were equally “likely to think of themselves as good citizens, as placing their family first, as being loyal and reliable individuals, as preferring to be in control, and as being leaders,” and they reported comparable personal difficulties including serious debt and addiction. However, additional results show that there are some significant differences:

  • “No-Faith” individuals are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • They are less likely than active-faith Americans to describe themselves as “active in the community” (41% versus 68%)
  • They are less likely than active-faith Americans to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
  • They are less likely than active-faith Americans to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • The typical no-faith American donated just $200 to charitable causes in 2006, more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the typical active-faith adult ($1500).
  • Even subtracting church-based giving, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars to charitable causes last year than atheists and agnostics.
  • 22% of “no-faith” adults failed to contribute any personal funds to charitable causes in 2006, compared to only 7% of active-faith adults.
  • Atheists and agnostics were more likely to be focused on acquiring wealth than Christians (10% versus 2%)
  • No-Faith adults embrace the description or perception of being “at peace,” less than Christians (67% versus 90%)
  • Atheists and agnostics are more likely to feel stressed out (37% versus 26%).
  • 56% of atheists and agnostics agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam, while 63% of active Christians perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Many of these statistics seem to indicate that, despite claims to the contrary, atheism on the whole does in fact tend to be less family oriented, less involved in the community and civics, and less compassionate and generous. As such, they lend some credibility to the notion that at least some kinds of morality or magnanimity require a foundation in Faith. Since involvement in civics and community, compassion, and generosity are essential virtues in our American system, it also lends support to the idea that the American system is inherently Theistic (also see my previous post on that topic).

Also interesting is the fact that since only 1/5 of the “No-Faith” group are unequivocal in their rejection of the existence of God and adopting the label “Atheist,” the vast majority harbor doubts about their rejection of faith.

I should note that The Barna Group is pro-Christian. However, the report contains the following information about the study:

This report is based upon a series of nationwide telephone surveys conducted by The Barna Group with random samples of adults, age 18 and older. These surveys were conducted from January 2005 through January 2007. In total, those studies included 1055 adults who identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of atheists and agnostics is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The cumulative sample of active-faith adults was 3011 interviews, accurate to within +1.8 percentage points. The minimum number of active-faith adults interviewed in each study was 250 individuals (+6.5 percentage points), while each study included a minimum of 100 atheists and agnostics (+10.0 percentage points). Statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.

Read the whole thing

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3 Responses to Interesting Statistics Contrasting Atheism and Christianity

  1. I don’t agree with your conclusions generally, but keep in mind that much of people’s charitable giving involves giving to churches, so being an atheist as opposed to being a believer may mean you just don’t give to church but are no less likely to give to non-religious charities. One could argue whether churches should be characterized together with other charities. As I recall the research I’ve read in the past, much of the Americans’ giving to private charities stems from religious giving.

  2. Dave, I think that the study accounted for the difference. As cited above, it found that even subtracting church-based giving, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars to charitable causes last year than atheists and agnostics.

    Also, the study said that 22% of “no-faith” adults failed to contribute any personal funds to charitable causes in 2006, compared to only 7% of active-faith adults.

  3. first, i MEANT to write “i don’t DISagree with your conclusions generally.”

    second, that’s what I get for reading swiftly! well said, thanks for pointing out that they accounted for church giving.

    of course there is always the question of direction of causality. “they lend some credibility to the notion that at least some kinds of morality or magnanimity require a foundation in Faith” implies that faith leads to giving. it could be that generous people find it easier to believe in God, or that stingy people become atheists to justify their selfishness. in that case, it wouldn’t be that generosity requires faith, but rather that faith requires generosity. my intuition is that causality usually runs both ways, so i don’t DISagree with with the “some credibility” claim.

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