While reading the Washington Post online last night I came across this little headline:
Indeed – what gives?
It seems that according to a new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, 21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit, 12% believe in heaven and 10% pray at least once a week. I followed the link to the report and sure enough that is what their survey says. Being that atheists make up approximately 10% of the population – the survey results are pretty troublesome.
The Post posed the question to their “On Faith” panel for an explanation.
While most of the panel reveled in the contradiction of the results, with most saying basically “we told you so”, Susan Jacoby had the best response:
That one out of five Americans who identify themselves as atheists also say that they believe in God or a “universal spirit” and that one out of ten pray at least once a week can lead to only one conclusion. These people don’t know that an atheist is, by definition, someone who does not believe in God or in the supernatural. To say that you’re an atheist who believes in God and prays is the equivalent of saying that you’re a vegetarian who loves to scarf down barbecued ribs and T-bone steak. Or a Christian who rejects the teachings of the New Testament. Or a religiously observant Jew who also believes that Jesus was the Messiah. Or a Muslim who believes that Jesus was God.
I think that the explanation for these seemingly contradictory findings lies in a phenomenon I discuss at length in my recent book, The Age of American Unreason . Americans as a people have become supremely ignorant about and indifferent to the specific meanings of words, and they are equally confused about important historical distinctions.This is a serious cultural disease throughout our nation. A majority of Americans, in what is supposedly the most religious nation in the developed world, cannot name the four Gospels or identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible. Why shouldn’t some American atheists be as ignorant about the meaning of atheism as many religious Americans are about religion?