Category Archives: Blog posts containing polls

What specifically could the leaders of national atheist organizations do to better serve the population of non-believers?


 What specifically could the leaders of national atheist organizations do to better serve the population of non-believers?

This question was open-ended in the survey; respondents were just asked to fill in a text field.  An impressive 4,058 people took the time to write something, and many of the comments were thoughtful and, I think, useful feedback for those in leadership of the various organizations that focus on issues related to atheism.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Lay off all the goddamn infighting (not criticism of ideas, but intolerance and ad hominem attacks). I have lost a lot of my zeal for the atheist movement because of the petty rivalries and endless navel gazing and dissection of one quote or sentence and the implications of the implications of the blog post about the quote that criticized x, y or z, ad infinitum. I was strongly involved in the feminist movement previously, but left for the same exact reasons. While I was heartened by the evolution of “Atheism-plus,” I quickly became discouraged again when I saw how divisive and angry many atheist communities were about this offshoot. Watching women being pilloried for expressing their opinions and concerns about sexism and lack of cultural understanding does not endear me to many atheist organizations. At all. A little more respect and consideration of minority opinions would be great. More specifically, talk to and learn from LGBT organizations, which, at least outwardly, manage to maintain cohesiveness and commit to national causes despite being very diverse. They have successfully organized for over 40 years to promote their interests – something I hope to see from national atheist organizations in the future, if they can ever agree on a set of goals….
  • ONE website, accessible in all major languages where we can find information of legitimate non religious/lgbt friendly organizations that are involved with humanitarian efforts. I would like to donate my time/money to these types of organizations without fear of scams
  • Keep working on visibility, being more and more in the public eye. Continue making forceful, clear statements–no wishy-washiness, no accommodationism–of the beneficial effects of rationality and skepticality, and of the harmful effects of god belief. Continue to show that a lack of god belief is actually a more healthful, happy way to live: for people, for animals, for the planet in general. And for the good, healthful, and happy future of all three. Continue, or in some cases begin, to foster in the non-belief community the good aspects that membership in a religious organization gives to its members. Some of those good aspects being a sense of community, a sense of belonging.
  • Atheists/nonbelievers are a significantly large segment of the religious spectra in the U.S., but have almost zero political clout. It seems to me that there are too many atheist organizations, a balkanization which dilutes the influence of all. Look at Bill Donohue and the Catholic League, which is basically Bill Donohue and his laptop. This guy is making several hundred grand a year, but he is worth it. The man is everywhere on the media, and he gets there because he demands to be there. Representatives of the atheist movement are only just starting to get media exposure, but we are the second largest religious denomination in the country – we should have a seat at the table, a place on the couch, a mic in the booth every single time there is a discussion involving religion in the media. Where is our Bill Donohue? I also see the atheist face as too timid, as not aggressive enough. We need to have a legal wing that will not hesitate to bring charges. There were some examples in the past year of advertisers refusing to air messages of atheists whilst happily putting up religious messages. One of these entities was a city transportation office. I felt these are good examples of the relative passivity of the movement. Ask yourself, WWBDD? What would Bill Donohue do? Another aspect of the timidity of the atheist movement has to do with messaging. There seems to be no understanding of the concept of the Overton window yet. Example – there have been examples of Catholic hospitals refusing treatments to women which caused them to die. We should have been calling for elimination of religious control of hospitals, and an expose of how very little the churches actually contribute financially to the institutions, yet they actually feel entitled to make medical decisions. Instead, we get ad campaigns that say “Atheists are people, too”. We need to be jumping on every opportunity to move the Overton window. We should be challenging the authority, worldview, and lack of rationality of religionists, not just saying there is an alternative, or we are nice people too. Example – I believe there is at least one country where children are not allowed to receive organized religious instruction until they are in their teens. Can you even imagine such a discussion being brought up by American atheist organizations? Yet, why should it not be discussed? Why is the mass program of brainwashing of children to believe seriously irrational things not a proper topic of discussion and debate? We can and possibly should be making a pretty cogent case that people who believe irrational and self- contradictory ideas such as Abrahamic religions, should not be allowed to hold public office. Seriously – we have U.S. senators denying global warming because of their religious indoctrination. Totally irrational, totally dangerous to society. Overton window again. 

 I have yet to do a thorough analysis of all the responses, but the theme of more organization and coordination comes up frequently.  I’ll be doing more postings on this topic soon.  There are many aspects of these data for me that will be particularly interesting, for example how the responses and themes vary by region of the US, by nation, and by gender.  My personal view is that there is much to learn from the successes and failures (in terms of organization, coordination and communication) of the feminist and LGTBQ movements.

What do you think? 



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President Obama’s inauguration speech and references to God

President Obama’s inauguration speech and references to God

I listened to President Obama’s inauguration speech with interest today because I believe myself to be a responsible American citizen. How he frames his next term is important to me and all citizens of the United States and, indeed, to everyone around the world.   But I also listened to his speech to see how often and in what ways he would invoke religion and make references to God.  In short, Obama mentioned God no fewer than five times.  He ended his speech with, “Thank you. God bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.”

When Obama -or other public speakers in the United States- refer to God they think that they are being inclusive of all believers since the three Abrahamic religions refer to “God” in some form. But what of the large number who are non-theists?  Can you imagine a President or other public speaker knowingly saying something that they know marginalizes, for example, Jewish people?

As a researcher examining the world of atheists for the last five years, I know that his words made a large number of people in the United States uncomfortable.

Here is the relevant question from my most recent survey and the responses:

Which best describes how you feel in public gatherings where religion is invoked (for example when a speaker refers to God or says a prayer)?

I feel no discomfort
I feel slight discomfort
I feel moderate discomfort
I feel great discomfort
Total 6,450

From these data I think it is safe to say that the nearly 20% of US citizens who fall in “none” category when it comes to religion were made at least somewhat uncomfortable, many extremely so, by President Obama’s overt religiosity.  How about you?


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Morality and Newtown

One of the very first questions in the survey deals with morality:  “How do you view the morality of religious believers as compared to the morality of atheists?”  To date, there have been over 7600 respondents to the survey and over 3300 have added comments after selecting their response to this question.

Here are a few of the comments, the first two of which summarize the sentiments of many others:

  • “I feel moral behaviour stands independent of religiosity.”
  • “Because bibles says so is a bad answer to a moral question.”
  • “My experienced with those who claim to be deeply religious is that they use religion to justify their prejudices and bigotry.”
  • “Morality can be understood in terms of the impact of laws/actions on the well-being of others. It must be treated like a field of science. Religious believers are generally not bad people, but faith in the moral teachings of a religious doctrine can lead to immoral behavior.”
  • “For the most part, people are just people. However, religion can (and does) give people justification to commit atrocities that a nonreligious person wouldn’t consider.”

The rhetoric surrounding the Newtown tragedy from the religious community has, in large part, both implicitly and explicitly made the argument that we need religion to make us whole, to heal our wounds and, most critically, as a source for moral guidance.  Of all the things that bother many atheists –based on the data from the 2008 survey and these 2012 data- is is the assumption by believers that atheists lack morals.

The literature within evolutionary psychology specifically and more generally from other areas of scientific research indicates that, as Robert Wright titles his 1994 work, just that, we are “The Moral Animal.”  Wright merely extends what Darwin over 100 years earlier had pointed out in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).  Sam Harris in his many books, articles and interviews is perhaps one of the most articulate proponents of this viewpoint and provides a wonderful one-two punch along with Dan Dennett’s offerings.  Interestingly and not coincidentally, they both have a great deal to say about free will as well.

So, here’s a new poll question:

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Suggest a poll question to be added to this site

Toward the goal of serving atheists, I invite those that visit this blog to suggest their own questions for the “mini” polls you see throughout this site (and always on the right side of the main page).  Make your  poll question suggestions in the comments  section under this post and I will add those that seem to have broad interest.

There have been spirited and insightful comments responding to the “mea culpa” post regarding gender, and I would be especially interested in seeing someone suggest a poll question that would address one or more of the issues raised there.   Poll question suggestions concerning other themes and issues are welcome as well.

Have at it!

This poll suggested by one of our blog readers: 


We could use a world with more reason

Here in the United States we are yet again reeling from another mass killing, this time in an elementary school.  As I click around on Facebook, Twitter and on various blogs and news feeds I find a wide array of responses to the tragedy in Connecticut, some more resonant with my feelings than others.

Two responses of which I took particular note dovetailed in that they both reference a video that has gone viral.  Both Brother Richard and Brian Dalton (Mr. Deity) refer to Bryan Fischer’s reaction which blames schools for “kicking God out.”  He argues that “God is a gentleman and does not go where he is not welcomed and invited.”  I wonder where He was in 1994 in Rwanda. A church filled with nearly 1000 believers was left filled with corpses over three bloody days, sadly only an exclamation point on a 100 day, 800,000 person genocide.  I also wonder was when thousands of young boys were -and, horribly, still are-  being  molested by priests.

The fact that religious “nones” are the fastest growing group in the United States should come as little surprise.  Finding God has indeed become harder and harder for many.  Who would want to worship an omnipotent God who looks passively on massive human misery?

Yes, Friday there was an unthinkably sad event in the US that led to the deaths of 20 young boys and girls, but according to UNICEF “Research and experience show that six million of the almost 11 million children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based, cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets and improved family care and breastfeeding practices.”

Doing the math, that means over 16,000 children also died last Friday in what could be called “genocide by neglect.”  Simple question:  why do we ignore 16,000 and at the same time have saturation coverage of 20?  Why will we come to know the names and faces of the victims in suburban Connecticut but rarely if ever learn the stories of the thousands that die each day unnoticed?  How is it that we are taught that we are all equal but act as if some lives are clearly more important than others?

We need a world with fewer guns, more reason and a balanced set of priorities.

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Mea culpa: critical question omitted from the “Understanding the world of atheists” survey

How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?

I would like to candy coat this by saying “better late than never” but that would be disingenuous.  Or I could blame it on my XY chromosomal makeup, but that would ignore the fact that gender roles -and hence gender-biased behavior- are social constructs.  So I’ll just blame it on being an imperfect researcher (which I most definitely am).

So here goes,

How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?

Add your thoughts below by clicking on the  Post a comment link or tweeting to #servingatheists.

Extraordinarily rich qualitative data

I have been very gratified to see that many, many people are taking the time to answer the open-ended questions on the survey.  Here are just a few:

Survey question:  If you are currently in a “mixed” relationship (one believer and one non-believer), how is this situation a factor?

  • She is a non-afiliated believer, and dislikes organized religions, so it’s not so bad for me. Also, there is a lot of common ground we share, culturally, socially and politically. She decided to believe in some kind of god, and she pryas to it and all that, in a personal way; I respect that, even though I can’t share it. On that we have agreed to disagree.
  • I think he is secretly an atheist, but he enjoys the cultural, social, and community aspects of his religion.
  • I’m going to be ‘saved’ because of my marriage to a believer, according to my husband. Fortunately I have a sense of humor.
  • My believer spouse hates atheism and anything that questions God’s existence. I hate keeping my atheism in the closet, but stay in this marriage because I fear our children would be religiously indoctrinated out of spite if we divorced.
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Results coming in rapidly

The survey results are coming in at a rapid rate, and it is great that so many have spread the word about the survey.  For those who are still passing on information,  please let people know that taking the survey is an investment in time.

The preliminary results of the Poll on this blog site that indicate most people are taking about 20 minutes.