Red meat to cleanse the palate via the American Religious Identification Survey, well seasoned and tenderized thanks to a sample of 54,000 people. (Margin of error: 0.5 percent.) You’ll find the key data in Table 3. Self-identified atheists and agnostics have tripled since 1990, from 1.1 million people to north of 3.6 million — but the number who now claim “no religion” is 34 million, or fully 15 percent. So where does that 24 percent figure in the headline come from? Right here:

Note that the percentage who agree that “there is no such thing” is more than three times the percentage who self-identify as atheist in Table 3, meaning people are eschewing the label — probably either because of residual stigma in the culture or because high-profile proselytizing atheists have done such a good job of alienating the public that even those who agree with them don’t want to be associated. Meanwhile, people agreeing with any of the first three statements total 12.1 percent, which is more than seven times the total number of self-identified atheists and agnostics in Table 3. Toss in the deists via the fourth statement and you reach an obvious conclusion: A lot of people who identify as Christian have some highly nuanced beliefs about the Christian concept of God. What would one call a Christian who’s not sure he believes in a divine father? An atheistic theist? That label has been used before.

Exit question: How skewed is the data by the fact it only accounts for U.S. adults and therefore offers no prediction about the next generation? Hmmmm.

Tags: religion