New Survey: 50% of Americans Find Atheism ‘Threatening’

The Bertelsmann Stiftung is a German non-profit that researches, publishes, and “stimulates debate” on a variety of societal issues. They just released the results of their 2013 Religion Monitor in which they analyzed responses to a 100-question survey regarding religion/politics completed by 14,000 individuals in 13 countries.

What did they find?

Here are the most interesting results found in the report (PDF):

The U.S. loves religion and spirituality… but not as much as Turkey:

For some reason, only Israeli youth are more religious than their older counterparts. Everywhere else, the younger you are, the less important religion is to you:

More than any other country in this study, U.S. residents agree with the statement “Leading religious figures should exercise an influence on government decisions.” And, along with Israel, we rank highest when it comes to believing “Only politicians who believe in God are suitable for public office.”

Only the people of Turkey believe Islam poses no threat whatsoever to them (which makes sense given its demographics):

50% of U.S. residents find atheism “threatening” (second only to Brazil, where the number is slightly greater than half):

The Bertelsmann Stiftung analysts explained it this way:

One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is probably the heated media discourse about the “new atheists” that was conducted in both countries [U.S. and Canada] in recent decades. Additionally, the widespread centrality of religion in the USA means that this country fits the pattern of other highly religious societies. In any case, the public and highly emotional confrontation appears to have resulted in a certain degree of polarisation between religious people and atheists.

Nearly half of Sweden finds religion to be harmful:

People from the U.S. are most likely to “make great sacrifices for [their] faith if necessary” though we’re not the most likely to proselytize, a distinction that belongs to Turkey’s Muslims:

More than 70% of people in the U.S. trust those of us with no religious affiliation. While being a “None” isn’t quite the same as being an atheist, that result could possibly contradict studies showing that atheists are not trustworthy,

Other countries aside, when you look at these charts altogether, what you find is that the amount of respect we have for religion in the U.S. is just incredibly high. There’s still a strong correlation between religiosity and morality/goodness that pervades our politics and society at large. It’s a mischaracterization that hurts us in the long run. Other societies that embrace atheists (and other non-majority religions) seem to do pretty well for themselves.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • islandbrewer

    Am I the only one who read the title and said to themselves, “Yay! It’s down to only 50%, now!”?

    • WallofSleep

      That and, “Damn it! I’m sick of us being so close to Turkey on this kind of bullshit.”

      • edgar ayala

        I remember that only Turkey had us beat in a 2008 survey on people who believe in creationism or something like that.

        • WallofSleep

          Fucking depressing, innit?

          • SeekerLancer

            Well keep in mind a lot of countries aren’t a part of these polls. That doesn’t make it any more forgivable of course.

      • Randay

        This shows that the worst mistake the European Union could make would be allowing Turkey to join. The second worse was the Treaty of Lisbon, which was rejected by the voters of France and Holland under the title of the European Constitution. They just changed their laws and/orconstitution to allow parliament to adopt it rather than the people. So much for democracy. The third worst was expanding from 15 countries to 27. They should have waited a couple of decades.

        Unsurprisingly, the U.S., which is not in the EU, is lobbying it to allow Turkey to join.

        • Kat Twigg

          I disagree. If anything it shows why it is so important that the EU continues to work with Turkey to reach that goal. Obviously Turkey has a lot of reform work ahead before they can join the EU, but I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.

          Both the reform package that Turkey has to work through before membership becomes a possibility, and an actual membership, would likely move the country forward in terms of social and economic development, human rights, democracy, women’s rights, LGBT rights.

          And EU has a lot to gain as well. With Turkey as a member EU would become much more dynamic and it would lend the Union a lot of credibility in large parts of the Middle East and Africa.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      Hurrah! We are finally more popular than rapists and pedophiles. Before you know it we’ll be more liked than rabid bears and clowns.

      • WallofSleep

        Don’t be silly. NOBODY likes frickin’ clowns.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

          I like clowns.

          • Joe Bloe

            You 4 people don’t count.

        • NG

          I didn’t even like my great uncle Keith, who was a circus clown.

        • busterggi

          Obviously you do not listen to the Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Beyond Belief episodes.

      • Mark W.

        Does this mean that if I run in politics I can use the motto,”Eating your babies, not raping the economy.” as opposed to the usual,”Why vote for the lesser evil.”

    • Art_Vandelay

      We clearly have work to do. I’d feel more comfortable with that number around 70.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    “Threatening” seems a bit vague to me. I’m an atheist, and I consider atheism to be “threatening” …to religion.

  • LesterBallard

    I need to find out more about Scandinavian immigration policies.

    • Matt

      Truth be told, they don’t want us :(

      • LesterBallard

        I’m not fucking Stan Smith.

        • baal

          I’m sure the vast majority of us aren’t having sex with him either.

          • LesterBallard

            Ha ha ha, very funny, motherfucker.

      • MariaO

        Latest Swedish immigration rules says that if you, before coming, have a job contract with a guaranteed salary over a certain level you are welcome wherever from you are. Without getting a job first – it’s not easy to get recidency. Unless you are an EU citizen.

    • Artor

      Hmm… My grandfather was from Iceland, I wonder if that’s grounds for emigrating?

      • MD

        Iceland is fantastic! I don’t know about their particular laws, but most European countries grant citizenship down to the grandchildren of a citizen. You could already be Icelandic.

        • Deus Otiosus

          And they have Björk. Yum.

    • busterggi

      One word – lutefisk.

      You may change your mind.

      • SinginDiva721

        Well, in Iceland they have Putrified Shark. I saw that episode of Bizzare Foods and it did not seem pleasant.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A1karl

      • LesterBallard

        Yummy, just ask Bobby Hill.

  • AshleyWB

    This seems like an unjustified conclusion: “One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is probably the heated media discourse about the “new atheists” that was conducted in both countries in recent decades.”. Surveys have shown animus towards atheists in the USA long before the advent of the new atheists.

  • Toby

    The reason Israeli youth are more religious than their parents is due to the birthrates and immigration of ultra-orthodox while more secular minded Israelis emigrate that is shifting the demographics. Ultra-Orthodox children has gone from making up around 2% of the school age children 25 years ago to over 20% now. Also the percentage of Arab Israelis has also increased due to birth rates and they now make up over 20% of school aged children as well. Ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis obviously are more religious than the average Israeli. One might also wonder what effect the Holocaust and its aftermath had on the religiosity of those who became older Israelis.

    • Artor

      Also, Israel has universal military service. Everyone does a stint in the army…unless you’re Orthodox, then you’re excused. Gosh, why are there so many Orthodox youths?

      • WallofSleep

        I could be wrong, but I recall reading or hearing something about the orthodox exemption for compulsory military service no longer being the case.

        Edit: Here’s the most recent thing I could find:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/middleeast/proposal-for-ultra-orthodox-conscription-gains-traction-in-israel.html?_r=0

        • randomfactor

          The military is reportedly making accomodations for the ultra-orthodox that make it harder for them to shirk.

        • Yoav

          It’s a lot messier. The courts have declared, several years ago, the old arrangement illegal since it was never put into legislation and was inherently unfair. Since then governments have been kicking the ball trying to drop this mess on the next one since they don’t want to go into the political minefield of reforming the whole military service system that need to be done, the current system was designed around a population that was less then 1 million and now there are more people getting into military age then the military actually need so the military exempt some (beside the complete exemption of the haredi) but it’s all done ad hoc without any coherent policy. Personally I think the focus on the military service is a distraction from the real problem which is the increased percentage of kids in the haredi schools system that teach nothing making them unfit to hold any kind of job in a modern economy keeping them poor and more importantly depended on the rabbis who control the list submitted to the government for the financial assistance they need to survive.

    • GregFromCos

      It scares me to think what the middle east will look like in 50 years if they don’t get this stopped. The fact that the state subsidizes these kids through paying for men to study is just scary. Sure wish we could petition our government to stop subsidizing Israel until they stop subsidizing Orthodox religion.

      • Anna

        Unfortunately, criticism of Israel is considered almost traitorous in the United States. No politician, Democrat or Republican, would dare to take significant action against them.

  • ron

    Im the bible belt south you see churches declining everywhere. education will eventually win over religion.

  • ron

    Females in turkey do not have the same freedom as they do in the rest of Europe. They face the same problems in many cases as women ion Iraq, or afganistan do.

  • Edmond

    Lies! All lies! Christians are PERSECUTED in this country, I tells ya!

  • Matthew Baker

    Who knew keeping up with Turkey would be America’s secret past time.

  • DougI

    C’mon, Atheism is threatening. You have those hordes of Atheists in bookstores buying books. Others might be with their friends at a pub talking about philosophy or something. These are very dangerous things. I feel safe amongst my Christian friends while we plot bombing a health clinic or think about raping a girl because she’s showing too much ankle. Because, while we Christians have morals and what we do will bring people closer to god, the Atheists will bring people to hell with their facts and science.

    • LesterBallard

      And now we’ll be getting gay married in their homes and consummating in their holy Christian beds.

    • kaydenpat

      Christians rape girls because they’re showing too much ankle? Never heard of that one.

      • DougI

        I guess you should expand your knowledge. But even if those ankles were covered they’d still get raped by those morally superior Christians.

      • Leigha7

        Well, evangelical Christian groups do frequently say that any woman who dares to show too much skin, or wear clothing that shows off her curves, is causing men to lust, and that men have no ability to control themselves after that point. I’m sure you can follow that to its natural conclusion.

        It isn’t literally ankles, and it isn’t typically deliberate, planned rape, but the sentiment is more true than it should be.

  • cripdyke

    Younger Israelis more religious “for some reason”? It’s not some reason, it’s the holocaust.

    • Anna

      All the Israelis in the 30-45 category were born after the Holocaust, and it can be assumed that a great number of those in the over 45 category were as well. I don’t see how the Holocaust could explain the increased religiosity occurring in the 16-29 age group.

      Edit: Unless you meant that the Holocaust caused older Israelis to become less religious? Even then, only the very elderly would have any personal memories of it.

  • Lijdare

    I find that a comparison of the responses from Turkey in two (maybe three) categories to be both telling and disturbing. The first of the two main categories are the percentage of those who Turks who find religion and spirituality to be important where both are quite high on the order of 92+%. The second is that which questions one’s trust in other people. Turks having trust in other people in general is only at 40%. How is it in a country which finds Islam to be of no harm (the 3rd category) can a people whose major religion is Islam not have trust in the majority of Islamic Turks? Perchance does this speak to the real efficacy of the religion of Islam that person in a country cannot trust their fellow Muslim. I think that would be the saddest result of those statistics. It speaks poorly about the religion as one which fosters all that we find good about humanity.

    • MD

      I think it has more to do with the culture of corruption and crime that exists is most developing countries. The politicians steal, cops take bribes, your neighbour doesn’t pay taxes (neither do you.) you’d have to look at the level of trust is South American countries, which are overwhelmingly catholic.

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    The trust in the “None”s seems very, very interesting.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      With Nones there is none-thing to hate.

  • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

    So much hate and distrust in the middle east. What if they all lost their faith and became atheists? Would that be the real solution to peace in the middle east? I’m no expert in the subject by any means, but it seems to me that the bulk of the problems are with dividing ‘holy’ lands and landmarks with the rest being cultural and historical issues. If they all just one day became PEOPLE instead of Isreali or Palelstinian, would that be enough? I’d like to think so, but I doubt we’ll ever find out.

  • Geoff Boulton

    I wonder what the figure would be for god-fearing Christians who feel ‘threatened’ by god? I mean, it’s right there in the name. Just saying ;-)

  • midnight rambler

    Interesting that 30% of Spaniards think that Judaism is threatening. And 15% in the US, for that matter.

    • Leigha7

      Interestingly, the number is about the same in Israel, which you would expect to be less threatened by Judaism (or perhaps a lot more threatened by it, depending on how you look at it, because there’s a lot of problems between Orthodox and Reform Judaism there).

  • Space Cadet

    I’m getting to the point where I simply don’t care about these polls. The questions/statements seem to be so vague as to not really give you any insight into what the respondents truly think. For instance:

    I am willing to make great sacrifices for my faith if necessary

    What did this mean to the people involved? Both those who formulated the statement and those who responded? What constitutes a “great sacrifice”.

    The first thing I thought of was the Until Abortion Ends campaign that started, what, two years ago? The abortion issue in the US has become such a hot button issue, so divisive, that there is virtually no middle ground in the debate- you’re either for it or against it, for the most part. People have committed murder over it; people commit their lives to one side of the issue or the other; it can ruin families and relationships. It’s important.

    What happened when people decide to make personal sacrifices in the hopes of making it the forefront of the national dialogue?

    http://www.iamwholelife.com/topics/until-abortion-ends

    They gave up candy. And soda. And other things that are completely inconsequential.

    So what does “I am willing to make great sacrifices for my faith if necessary” mean to the respondents of the poll? Obviously that could mean anything from “I’m giving up Snickers for Jesus. Yay!” to “I”m blowing up this plane for my god”. Which makes that question, and any speculation as to the meaning of the results, completely worthless.

  • Bdole

    “Only the people of Turkey believe Islam poses no threat whatsoever to them (which makes sense given its demographics):”
    Well sure Islam is no threat…To TURKS.
    And there’s a reason their country is more or less religiously homogenous – same reason there are few Jewish people in Germany today.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    So we are trustworthy, but threatening?

  • Corey Robey

    More than 50% of americans find atheism threatening…. bigots never think they are bigots; they most often think they are responding to a threat.

  • Tel

    I’m amused that this comes hot on the heels of the study in Britain which found that over 40% of youth think religion generally causes evil.

  • rtb61

    Why do the fear atheism?
    It leaves them exposed to reality as they can no longer hide behind the fugue of religion. Especially the most perverted kind where they can pray for stuff, in a church, as long as they give money to the show person behind the alter.
    Religion, playing upon the fears of the ignorant and of course attacking those who would challenge this source of income.
    Should, under law, those that promise stuff via prayer be charged with fraud?

  • Leigha7

    Sweden: nearly 50% think that religion tends to be harmful, yet trust for “people in general” is over 80% and for unaffiliated people is only 60%

    I don’t really know what to make of that, unless they trust unaffiliated people less than atheists or just have some general mistrust of people who don’t claim a particular belief (as in, “I don’t like that you’re religious, but at least you know what you believe.” Not that being unaffiliated necessarily means you don’t, but as an example)?


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