This is the start of a series on atheists. I am not sure how many blogs I will write on them but it is connected to a book I have coming out titled There is no God: Atheists in America (Rowman and Littlefield). It is a book I co-wrote with David Williamson. Being a Christian, I believe it to be important to understand those who do not agree with me. Furthermore, atheists have been understudied, and I love doing research on understudied topics.
This entry will help to set up the rest of the series. I basically want to discuss how we did our research. The findings I will talk about in the rest of the series are based on that methodology. Actually our idea for this research emerged when we did research on cultural progressive activists. We used an online survey with open-ended questions to gather their ideas about the Christian Right. Our sample was 61.7 percent atheists, which is an incredibly high percentage for a group that is 3-5 percent of the population in the United States. We ran some preliminary tests comparing the atheists to the other cultural progressive activists and knew that we had the potential to do interesting research.
Our research question focused on why individuals became atheists, how they logically justified their atheism, their perceptions on religion and the sort of society they want. We developed a questionnaire to address those issues. We asked about our respondents religious background, how they became atheists, their logical reasons why they became an atheists, what they saw as the benefits of atheism, their concerns about religion and what their ideal society looked like.
Over the next few blogs I will summarize some of the findings from our work. But to understand those results, it is important to consider who atheists are. In our sample, we had a high percentage of individuals with college and post-graduate degrees. This is reflective of the reality that atheists have higher levels of education than others in our society. We also interviewed more men than women. We even made an attempt to interview more women but still interviewed almost three men for every woman we interviewed. Research has shown that men are more likely to be atheists. I wished we had interviewed more women so that we would be in a position to look at possible gender differences between the atheists and non-atheists. Our respondents were also highly likely to be white which also matches what national probability samples have indicated about the racial makeup of atheists.
It seems to me that the term status inconsistency applies here. It is a term developed by Max Weber that describes the fact that status indicators such as wealth, power and prestige are not perfectly correlated to each other. A gangster may have a lot of wealth and power but that person does not have a lot of prestige in our society. Likewise, someone like Mother Teresa has a lot of prestige and even some power but not a lot of wealth. People living in status inconsistency are in a position to use their status advantages to compensate for their status disadvantages. So a gangster may not be able to enjoy status but the ability to enjoy wealth and power helps that gangster to feel good about him or herself even with this low status. Status inconsistency is part of what makes atheists fascinating. They generally have educational, racial and gender advantages to help compensate for their religious disadvantages. I believe that some of the findings to be presented in the next few blogs are connected to this attempt to manage status inconsistency. For example, in the next blog I will look at the values atheists place on science. Using science as a way to legitimate their beliefs is logical for some atheists to work towards a society where their education, rather than religion, becomes a source of status. Hope you come back in a couple of weeks to check out that