Hey! We’re at the bottom of the list when it comes to retention rates! That’s bad, right?
Where did that 30% number come from? When the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted its massive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, only 432 people surveyed said they were raised as atheists — a very low number. Of that batch, only 131 of them still considered themselves to be atheists. That’s 30%.
But where did the rest of the people raised as atheists go? According to a Georgetown University (Catholic) research blog, “Of those raised as Atheists, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% are Catholic, 2% are Jewish, 1% are Mormon, and 1% are Pagan.” Also, 20% became Agnostics or “Unaffiliated.”
In other words, about half of the people raised as atheists still didn’t believe in God as they grew up — but it’s a pretty small sample size we’re talking about.
None of this is new information — it’s been around for a few years — but it’s causing a lot of gleeful religious types to think there’s something wrong with atheism because we’re unable to pass on our “traditions” to our children.
And that’s part of the problem with the reporting. They’re treating atheism as if we keep score by how many of our kids remain “in the flock.” We’re not Catholics. We don’t have Sunday schools. We don’t indoctrinate our kids “into atheism” from a young age. We don’t have “traditions” to follow. Atheism isn’t attached to any particular cultural identity. Many atheists parents, I gather, encourage their children to think for themselves and not believe in something just because their parents believe it.
We don’t “raise our children as atheists” because that’s forcing our beliefs onto them — and that’s not something many of us want to do.
But damn near every atheist I’ve ever met became an atheist despite his/her parents’ attempts to raise them in a particular religion.
That’s what this graph doesn’t mention. All of these faiths ranked higher than us are still losing members — but many of them stop believing in God altogether. It’s not like people are leaving the faith of their parents to become Hindus.
Here’s another way of looking at the same data (PDF) — but instead of focusing on individual families, it focuses on what you were as a child compared to what you are now.
In that situation, our numbers are growing by a long shot, far moreso than any faith tradition:
We have nothing to fear. If we force atheism upon our children, they’re bound to rebel. If we teach them how to think critically, it’s possible they may not want to adopt the exact same belief system as us, but they probably won’t start believing in nonsense all of a sudden.
But when you force a faulty belief system onto children, they may very well realize how wrong their parents are and become atheists down the road.