Slate Mischaracterizes Non-Religious Billionaires in Its ‘Exclusive Circles’ Animation

Ben Blatt and Nicholas Duchesne of Slate put together an animation showing the various characteristics of the world’s richest people — their ages, genders, sources of wealth, etc.

So you know I had to click on the “Religion” tab:

Only two Agnostics? Really?

Those two are Warren Buffett (who is indeed Agnostic) and Google’s Larry Page, who, while not Jewish, hasn’t openly disclosed his religious beliefs as far as I can tell.

But what about Bill Gates? Wasn’t he even used by atheists in a billboard campaign?

The Slate animation puts Gates in the Christian category:

This is the same Gates who has said there’s no evidence for concepts like a soul and said in a 1995 interview:

In terms of doing things I take a fairly scientific approach to why things happen and how they happen. I don’t know if there’s a god or not, but I think religious principles are quite valid.

Certainly doesn’t strike me as Christian.

And what about Mark Zuckerberg? He’s listed as Jewish:

I’m assuming the only research done here was looking at his last name since everything I can find online points to Zuckerberg being an atheist.

There are no citations given for how the authors concluded the billionaires’ religious beliefs, which doesn’t help, but it seems clear to me that the number of openly non-religious billionaires on this list is seriously underestimated.

Slate should make the corrections immediately.

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.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    From another angle, it’s interesting to see someone like Phil “sweatshop” Knight call himself a Christian.

    • Cormacolinde

      It’s fine if he’s only exploiting buddhists and hindus over in SE Asia, they’re not christian and will end up in hell anyway, so the sweatshops are an improvement!

      • GubbaBumpkin

        By “exploiting” low wage Buddhist and Hindus overseas, he is taking jobs away from workers in the US, most of whom would have been Christian.
        And those non-Christians are going to Hell eventually anyway; so in effect they get Hell on Earth followed by the real Hell. Double whammy.

  • DougI

    My guess is it’s a fluff piece and the author was just trying to fill up some space. Obviously not well researched since any web search could have informed the author that Buffett and Gates are Atheist.

    • paulalovescats

      Just about everything on the internet is a fluff piece. The news used to be an hour, and the TV used to go off at night. (yes, I’m old enough to remember the national anthem and the color guide to adjust your TV) Now they’re trying to fill billions of seconds and most of it is just crap.

      • ShoeUnited

        Honey, some of us here are old enough to remember the black & white Indian (Native American) test symbol followed by the national anthem.

  • Dianne

    Larry Ellison seems to be undecided “While I think I am religious in one sense, the particular dogmas of Judaism are not dogmas I subscribe to. I don’t believe that they are real. They’re interesting stories. They’re interesting mythology, and I certainly respect people who believe these are literally true, but I don’t. I see no evidence for this stuff.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Ellison

  • Gus

    The fact that they have an “undisclosed” category hints at a survey having been done, but maybe not? Maybe they’re just guessing, since there’s a correction that says they originally listed the Koch brothers as Jewish, which seems to indicate that they did, indeed, just look at the last name.

    That could be a neat tool, but it’s useless if there’s not an adequate statement of data sources and methodology. Stuff like this irritates me no end. You would think that a person who put something like this together would be curious enough to ask good questions, and in turn would know that that information is also useful to curious and thoughtful readers. The fact that they didn’t include it suggests that they’re not curious and thoughtful. In which case, they should just have a Tumblr, where not sourcing or providing context is the general aesthetic and get out of pretending to be journalists.

    • ShoeUnited

      Undisclosed seems to be pointing to “We couldn’t figure out if they were a Jew by their last name.”

  • glenmorangie10

    Obviously well researched. George Soros is Jewish. How could you know otherwise unless you did a google search for “George Soros religion” and read the first hit, his official website, identifying him as atheist.

    • Pepe

      Okay this is making the slate article more lol-worthy (lol-able?)

      • islandbrewer

        “lol-icious”

        • Pepe

          YES! Thanks. (I’m gonna use that all the time now)

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

        I can’t best @islandbrewer:disqus’s “lolicious,” but I do like “lolarious” quite a bit, and then the obvious “lolful.”

  • Art_Vandelay

    Bill Gates: “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There`s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

    Yeah…sounds Christian.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Certainly. He didn’t say Saturday morning, or Friday morning…

    • Brian T Hall

      you can put Bill Gate as an apatheist or agnostic… I don’t know witch one…

  • paulalovescats

    I guess because Gates lives in the US..very stupid.

  • Rationalist1

    Does Joe Klein work for Slate now?

    • Gus

      Funny how you never see Joe Klein listed among the top 50 billionaires.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Once I make my first billion, I will reveal my religious affiliation as Illuminati.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Well, this ends my interest in Slate before I started to have an interest.

    • ShoeUnited

      You and me both, buddy.

  • SecularismStones

    The whole “Jewish ethnicity” thing is what causes a lot of the confusion here, but I can’t understand how they made the mistake about Bill Gates. I know his wife is Catholic, and maybe he goes to church with her or something, but he’s not personally Christian. This diagram’s categorization is pretty arbitrary and pointless.

  • Brian T Hall

    maybe you guys can do a chart to show how much BS this chart is… spread the labels.. and add Agnostics and atheist, you can put them together and then make sure they are who they are… what do you guys think…

  • GubbaBumpkin

    As of now, the Zuck has been moved to the “Agnostic” category.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

    They have corrected Soros and Zuckerberg, but I find it telling that they had originally mislabeled the Koch brothers as Jewish and issued a correction in the article when they moved them to Christian but are completely silent on the Soros and Zuckerberg switch.

    Edit: I just checked the article again and they have moved Soros and Zuckerberg back to Jewish.

    • Gus

      And now they’ve changed the category to “Religious Background” instead of “Religion”. I guess that lets them off the hook, now they can safely lump all Jewish names as Jewish and all other white people as Christian. They’ve also eliminated the agnostic category altogether. Meanwhile, the East Asian billionaires are all lumped as undisclosed, except for one Buddhist. None of the Chinese are from mainland China, so we can’t reasonably assume that they’re predominately atheists, but still, somebody’s misrepresented.

      That got me thinking about the location breakdown. Apparently India and the Middle East aren’t part of Asia, only China, Malaysia, and Japan are. The assumptions they made putting this together are stunning. If you’re going to lump China, Malaysia, and Japan as Asia, but leave India and the Middle East separate, you ought to at least call them East Asia, or something. Frankly, it demonstrates some racism. The basic thought process would seem to go like this: “Must keep the Middle East separate, even though it’s only one guy, because that’s an important regional difference that matters, but China, Japan, it’s all the same, right?”

      But hell, judging by another correction, they can’t even spell Colombia right. This is one of the laziest excuses for journalism I’ve ever seen. They should just take it down if they still can’t fix the problems in their understanding of demography that still plague it.

  • blue slushieman

    The only reason they listed Charles and David Koch as christians is because they found out that they were not jews. I think it is almost certain that they are both atheist/agnostic.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    One simple thing that Slate got wrong about five billionaires.

    A new three page fluff piece, including pictures of their cats. Or random cats for those billionaires who don’t have cats.

    By Joe Klein.

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

    They used blue to represent males, and pink to represent females. That might get some empowered knickers in a twist.

  • dustin

    i just went to it and they took out agnostic

  • rg57

    You were expecting truth and honesty from Slate?

  • ImRike

    Here is the latest update:

    Update, Nov. 19, 2013: This post has been updated
    to clarify that the billionaires are characterized by their religious
    background, meaning their family’s heritage, not the current religion
    that they practice.

    That put Buffet back under “christian”, too!!!

  • Robster

    Religion is an affliction that removes the victim’s ability to tell the truth. It’s proven each and every day.


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