Nontheist? Take This Survey

Over the past several years, one of my primary goals has been endeavoring to bridge the gap between the traditional atheist organizations and the millions of “newer” nonbelievers (or nones). In doing so, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a number of magnificent individuals. One of which is Dr. Tom Arcaro. I’m delighted that he is on the board of Atheist Nexus, and privileged to call him a friend.

A few years back, I had the pleasure of aiding Tom in creating a survey about the stigma of being an atheist. The results were quite enlightening and the results were published in a Skeptic Magazine  article.

Now, we are revisiting the nontheist community and expanding our queries into how atheists interact with the non-believing communities. We will be sharing the resulting statistics with the leadership of Atheist organizations in January. Our hopes are to provide them with information to better meet the needs of nonbelievers. Please take a moment and take the survey, and pass the information on to friends.

Below is a letter written by Tom:

Atheist friends and colleagues,

I write to ask your assistance on getting the word out about a survey designed to help us better understand the world of atheists.

I am a sociologist at Elon University and have been researching atheists and atheism for the last five years.  I have amassed a team here at Elon to support me in doing this research, and we will all be quite honored to make a modest contribution to the cause of atheism.  Our main goal is to serve the atheist community.

What do we know about the make-up of the atheist community both here in the United States and around the world?  What are the perceptions of atheists about the state of atheism-related organizations and what these entities can or should do for them?  What are the perceptions of atheists about believers?  What types of atheists are there? How does being an atheist impact how one navigates in the social world? What is the demographic makeup of the atheist community both in the United States and around the world? What similarities and differences are there among atheists of different genders, ages, and geographical locations?

Though one can find answers to these questions in various books, articles, blogs and forums, having a robust, fresh set of survey data can serve to deepen, clarify, and expand on what we already know -or assume we know- about the world of atheists.  The intent of this survey is to generate such a data set and thus assist atheist-oriented organizations better to understand and serve the atheist community.  All relevant data (and analysis thereof) will be made available to the leadership of appropriate atheist- oriented organizations.

Getting the word out about this survey is critical so that we may hear the voices of as many atheists as is possible and, ultimately, work together to make ours a world where atheists are both understood and represented.

The URL for the survey is  I have also set up a web site for the survey (Serving Atheists) that will serve as a place people can go for updates, preliminary reports on the data, and also to offer comments.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Dr. Tom Arcaro
Professor of Sociology
Elon University
Elon, NC  27244

  • Jake

    FYI, I believe there is a typo on section 5, question 5, option B. The word “positive” is missing.

    • Richard Haynes

      Thanks Jake.

    • tom arcaro

      I have made the correction. Thanks for the catch.

  • Pingback: A Survey for Nontheists

  • Clare Wuellner

    I took the survey and was disappointed that there wasn’t an opportunity to comment at the end. For question 5.1., there needed to be some sort of attempt at acknowledging variation in social situations. For question 5.4., acknowledging those not in the work force would make answering the question easier. There are some in school, others, like myself, are stay-at-home-moms. Yes, the survey-taker can interpret, but the more room for interpretation you leave, the more difficult it will be to make claims about your results that are valid. Question 5.5., assumes that the survey-taker is “out” and needs to consider variation within a person’s family. For instance, ask separate questions about most- and least-judgmental likelihoods in a family. What percentage of your family is accepting? How do your parents/children feel about your atheism? Question 5.6., is like the previous question, too broad. You could glean so much more information if you broke down the question. First of all, by “community” do you mean my friends or do you mean Austin, TX? All non-work related social activity? My “community” is huge and varied. I’m sure for many people, the stigma one experiences is very situation-dependent. Kids’ school? Places one volunteers? Just my $0.02!

    • Richard Haynes

      Thanks for the feedback Clare. I’ll pass it on to Dr. Arcaro.

    • tom arcaro

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful feedback. Though I responded to the feedback of the many people who did “test runs” of the survey and made considerable changes, it remains, as you point out, an imperfect instrument.
      All the best,

  • Rich Hammett

    I don’t feel uncomfortable at all about being an atheist or telling people about it, but I don’t usually bring it up for other’s comfort, and because it can disrupt communication. There wasn’t a good option for that.

    • Rich Hammett


    • tom arcaro

      Thanks for the feedback. As I mentioned in another comment, the survey is, at the and of the day, an imperfect instrument. I do feel confident, however, that the data will be useful to people like Richard that are trying to respond to the needs of atheists.

    • Kelley McNeill

      YES! Thank you Tom,
      This is exactly how I feel. There should have been a way to clarify the reasons I do not speak out more in social situations. Here in the Bible Belt of America, my discomfort is directly related to how upset others become when I talk about my beliefs or decline to participate in a group prayer or don’t say yes when asked to pray for my ailing relative. Believe me, I have done all of these things. As a result, I’ve seen everything from anger to someone getting up and leaving a party, to crying and becoming fearful, to withdrawing into a shell, to making a spectacle of themselves trying to convince me to believe in God… and not just any god… their god. One morning after, a relative of mine called and begged me to say I believed in Jesus. I refrain from being vocal about my beliefs because I find many of my religious friends and family members to be what I consider fragile and deeply disturbed when in the presence of someone who does not share their beliefs about god.

      Another bit of feedback I would have liked to share is what influences in my life have led me to choose Atheism.

      But this is a great survey and I thoroughly enjoyed participating!

      • tom arcaro

        Thanks for your rich feedback and comments. I will begin to share more stories like yours from the data soon. Please know that your situation is similar to MANY.
        Please pass on word about the survey to others (blog, tweet, Facebook, etc.)


    • tim

      Rich Hammett
      i am sorry you feel you need to keep it a secret. i understand how people respond. i do not advertise my atheism, but i will not hide it either. it has cost me friendships, family arguments take a different toll. i feel that if someone can’t handle my beliefs they have a problem.
      as i told my lady: your bible and church teach tolerance right?
      then why am i the only one practicing it.
      i hope that gets better for you.

      • BubbaRich

        Did you not read what I said, tim?

  • Bradley Thomas Horton

    I could take the survey, but I know that god still does exist…

    • Bradley Thomas Horton


      • tom arcaro

        Funny man! :)

  • JohnB

    A great survey. Glad to have been a part of it. One of my goals has been to develop a comprehensive survey about survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the cover up and the impacts on society; your survey has prompted me back to that yet again.

    Any tips, support etc anyone wishes to pass along would be greatly appreciated.

    • tom arcaro

      Thanks for the feedback on the survey.
      As for tips, one suggestion os that you can never beta test too much. I had multiple people give me feedback on drafts and I found that to be extraordinarily useful. Good luck!


  • James

    In section three, the questions about local atheist groups do not have a response for “there is no local atheist group.” The nearest such group to my home is over two hundred miles away.
    In section five, the questions about outing yourself as an atheist to family, friends, work, &c do not have a response for “the reaction would depend on the person.” Some in my circle of friends and family do not care, some support, some oppose, some dropped me.
    In the work questions there are no answers for either “unemployed” or “self-employed.”

    • James

      Concerning the local atheist group questions, in this village my wife and I are the atheist group.