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In commenting on CPAC’s rescinding of a booth for a proselytizing atheist group, the Derb made the following observations:

I doubt there are “many closeted atheists in the church pews” nowadays. Churchgoing no longer has the social valence it once had. Hardly anyone feels socially obliged to go to church nowadays. If you’re in those pews, it’s because you want to be.

There have been atheists in the ranks of conservatives for ever, and they have never felt the need to “closet” themselves.

The GSS doesn’t quite extend back to the beginning of forever, but on these particular questions it does reach back a quarter of a decade. On the first point, the percentages of those attending church at least once a month who are either atheist or agnostic by year (with the percentages of atheists/agnostics in the general population in parentheses):

1988 — 1.1% (5.1%)
1991 — 2.1% (6.2%)
1993 — 2.0% (7.4%)
1994 — 1.2% (5.4%)
1998 — 2.7% (8.3%)
2000 — 2.8% (7.2%)
2006 — 2.0% (6.4%)
2008 — 1.9% (8.0%)
2010 — 1.8% (9.0%)
2012 — 1.3% (8.7%)

Consistently bumping around at the bottom, in the 1-in-50 range. If you’re a churchgoer, perhaps a handful of your regular congregants aren’t believers, but, unsurprisingly, the vast majority are faithful. That has consistently been the case at least since the eighties. Most non-believers don’t attend worship services.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the percentages of self-identified political conservatives who identified as either atheist or agnostic by year. For comparative purposes, the percentages of political liberals who identify as atheist or agnostic are in parentheses:

1988 — 3.6% (9.6%)
1991 — 6.0% (8.8%)
1993 — 5.3% (12.5%)
1994 — 4.3% (8.7%)
1998 — 4.2% (12.1%)
2000 — 5.1% (13.8%)
2006 — 3.5% (11.8%)
2008 — 3.8% (15.5%)
2010 — 5.6% (16.7%)
2012 — 2.6% (17.5%)

Yes, there have always been non-believers in the so-called conservative coalition, but they are, and have been for some time, a minority, never having approached the double-digit percentage mark. The prevalence of secular rightists has remained steady over the last 25 years, even as the percentage of non-believers in the general population has increased. The same thing can’t be said about the left, because that’s where one will find the newly minted atheists and agnostics. Nearly 1-in-5 (and the fraction is even higher among white liberals) leftists are now atheist or agnostic, and that figure appears to be steadily rising.

While it’s reasonable to assume that the irreligious present a growth opportunity for the GOP, this doesn’t necessarily mean Republicans will benefit from dropping their mild religious overtones. As has been the case with Hispandering, the leftist-lite approach is hardly a proven winning strategy for the mainstream right.

GSS variables used: GOD(1-2), ATTEND(4-8), YEAR, POLVIEWS(1-3)(5-7)

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Blogosphere, GSS, Politics, Religion 
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  1. As I've mentioned before, I fall into the very rare category the Derb describes of nonbelievers who regularly attend church.

    One interesting result is that if you go the other direction using your GSS code definitions for church attendance and belief, consistently over 90% of those who don't attend church believe in God. To my mind, it is ridiculously irrational to not attend church as much as possible if you think there actually is a God but it is a testament to the human ability to rationalize decisions that so many people do this.

    I was thinking of this because of a conversation with a non-churchgoing coworker at lunch today. He's about my age and relatively smart (brother went to Harvard) but knocked up some chick on an early date back in October. He said, "I'm not very religious, but I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I'm really excited about this baby." I thought, "The only 'reason' this happened is that sex feels good, you didn't wear a condom, and babies are cute," but I'm not confrontational by nature and he's got enough to worry about as it is, so I stuck with, "Yeah, I see what you mean."

    Anyways, coming back around, what I'm trying to say is that by Bayes' Theorem, the spirituality of the nonreligious in terms of absolute number of nonbelievers is not significantly different from that of the churchgoing crowd.

  2. The real problem with liberals isn't their religion or lack of it, or their morals or lack thereof, rather, it is their recent slavish devotion to the state over the individual. The only rights of individuals they champion are solidly stupid and practically irrelevant. Gay marriage, puhleeeeze, people, affects almost no one. "Liberals" are letting the gov't/big banks/big business run the whole dang country for the benefit of that tiny group at the top while feigning their disapproval. Their economic policy consists in taxing the proletariat to death and redistributing it to the zero marginal productive class that no one would hire. That means the folks at the bottom can keep consuming and enriching the elite. Swell system those "liberals" got going.

    Anyway, no one cares that atheists are out there or whatever. Atheists make idiots of themselves with their whining over a few mostly ignored symbols. Heck, Europe is far less believing and the whole place is covered with Christian symbols from one end to the other.

  3. To claim belief and then act on it so half-heartedly is a useful reminder of the irrationality of so much of human behavior.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    While it's reasonable to assume that the irreligious present a growth opportunity for the GOP, this doesn't necessarily mean Republicans will benefit from dropping their mild religious overtones.

    Not sure about that. GOP Inroads Asian Americans – both Hindus from India and North East Asians from Korea, Taiwan, China – would be more likely if the Stupid party did not so closely aligned with Christianity.

    The GOP would, I posit, benefit electorally by purging itself of ostentatious religiosity per the UK Tory party.

    Nick – Pretoria

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