Atheists may not believe religious teachings, but they are quite informed about religion. In Pew Research Center’s 2019 religious knowledge survey, atheists were among the best-performing groups, answering an average of about 18 out of 32 fact-based questions correctly, while U.S. adults overall got an average of roughly 14 questions right. Atheists were at least as knowledgeable as Christians on Christianity-related questions – roughly eight-in-ten in both groups, for example, know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – and they were also twice as likely as Americans overall to know that the U.S. Constitution says “no religious test” shall be necessary to hold public office.Pew, 10 facts about atheists
That was just one of the ten facts about atheists that Pew listed in their updated article from 2015. None of the facts were surprising to me, even back in 2015 when I first ran across the article. Especially that one. In order to form an opinion about a religion, enough of an opinion to decide that you don’t want to be religious anymore, you have to study the subject pretty thoroughly.
I’ve studied every religion that I’ve run across in my 50+ years on this planet. None of them ended up being something that I wanted to devote my life to, much less any significant amount of my time. All of them ended up failing on some measure of value and relevance to life in the here and now. My last flirtation with religion was when I read the entire Book of Mormon in order to be able to argue knowledgeably with the Mormon missionaries who used to bicycle up to the house and lend a hand with projects we had going on while trying to convert us to their religion. This was back before the turn of the century, an event that both of them thought would spell the end of the world and bring on the second coming of Christ. The last time I spoke to them I said that I’d get back to them in 2001.
Anyone who has read both the Bible and the Book of Mormon that doesn’t have unanswered plagiarism questions isn’t paying attention to what they are reading. When I found myself still here on January 1, 2001, I contemplated looking those two guys up again and asking them what they thought about there not being an armageddon as was promised. Look, we’re all still here. Now what?
That sort of playful argumentation about emotionally charged subjects like religion have gotten me in trouble many times. You’d think I’d eventually learn to stop doing that, but I haven’t. It’s what lead me to state that Atheism is not a Belief System, a subject I document in this article.
The resultant arguments from that fiasco only firmed up my lack of belief in gods or the supernatural. I still marvel at how little proof most people require to believe even the craziest of things, religion just being one of those crazy things.
I take issue with several of the facts in the Pew article though. One of them was #3, Atheists make up a larger share of the population in many European countries than they do in the U.S. This was the motivation for me starting this article on the blog. The entire basis of the Pew article, limiting the findings to just those people who checked off the box atheist, is a major flaw in their article. There are even more significant numbers of people who are irreligious than there are actual atheists, not to mention the one/fifth of people who are so poorly informed as to identify as atheist and still avow to have a belief in god or gods.
The larger, more important, group are the people who are simply irreligious. People who say that they have no religion. That number in the United States is still less than half (39%) but represents a percentage of the population that can swing issues that are basically religious in nature (subjects like abortion) in surprising directions. If you use that number instead of the number that claim atheism, you have majorities of the population of most of Europe, with Australia ranking in the top ten countries in the world for numbers of irreligiousness.
The portion of humanity who don’t think religion is important enough to even have one is very large, and it is growing. Growing by leaps and bounds as the evangelicals in the United States and across the world attempt to alter governments to suit their religious beliefs. Nothing turns people off of a subject faster than having that subject forced on them when they don’t think it is important.