June 14th, 2012
12:40 PM ET
My Take: More doubts about God doesn't mean religion is weakening
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
When it comes to doubt, sometimes a little skepticism is in order.
As CNN's Dan Merica reported earlier this week, a recent Pew Research Center survey sees doubt rising sharply inside the millennial generation. Between 2007 and 2012, this survey says, the portion of young Americans (those 30 and uner) who say they never doubt the existence of God dropped sharply between 2007 and 2012, from 83% to 68%.
This report has stirred up a chatstorm in the blogosphere, with 2600 comments and counting on Merica's Belief Blog post alone. But does this data really say what many atheists want it to say? Is American religion really heading for a fall?
Look carefully at the survey question. What this data is tracking is the percentage of young people for whom doubt has never creeped into their faith. I don’t know about you, but most of the religious people I know experience both doubt and faith over the course of their spiritual lives. So the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America's extraordinary religiosity, not its disbelief.
That suspicion is supported by the fact that this same Pew survey found that millennials who identify with a religion is not declining. Moreover, according to Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, only 3% of millennials are atheists.
The takeaway, it seems to me, is not that religion is declining in America but that it is changing. Or, to paraphrase my Boston University colleague and sociologist of religion Peter Berger, what is shifting here is the how of religion. In short, doubt is a part of the spiritual lives of more young people than it has been in the past.
I have been spending way too much time lately with Google’s Ngram Viewer. This website allows you to see how prominent certain key words are in books published in various languages from 1800 forward. It’s also possible to see how these key words match up against one another over time.
I searched the Ngram database for the words “faith” and “doubt” in American English from 1800 to 2008. Here’s what I found:
For much of the nineteenth century, “faith” won out over “doubt.” But as Biblical criticism, evolutionary theory, and comparative religions started to chip away at traditional understandings of Christianity, “doubt” ran past faith in the late 1880s. For roughly the next century, the two terms tracked rather closely. During the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, however, faith bypassed doubt.
What matters here is not the horse race. More significant is the fact that, since the late Victorian period, doubt has become part of the landscape of faith in America. To see doubt as a denial of faith is to misunderstand how most Americans live their religious lives.
The fact that doubt is now a part of faith for a significant minority of American believers strikes me at least as a sign of faith’s maturity, not its demise. Perhaps, like the millennials themselves, American religion is growing up.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Yes, few people like to label themselves as "atheists", a term which is regularly used as an insult by preachers.
But there are some results in that huge survey which Prothero bypassed in order to quote the miniscule 3% self-identifying as "atheists". When all age groups were asked how certain they were that god exists:
5% said they DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD.
4% said they were "not too certain" or some other low degree of confidence.
3% did not want to answer (seems unlikely the shy ones are believers when religion is so popular).
So that's 9-12% of the general population which has little or no belief in god.
And that is what people are willing to say to some pollster. Thanks to angry preachers, and people like Prothero who like to convince atheists they are freaks, people hesitate to admit disbelief. Prothero's claim that "the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America's extraordinary religiosity" is absolute nonsense. If, as HE SAYS, most religious people have had doubts, but only 30% of people will admit it, that shows that people are LESS religious than they are willing to admit.
I honestly think that less than half of our population really believes in god. There are plenty of people who call themselves Christian who don't actually believe in. There are also plenty of people who take what they believe, which bares no resemblance to any traditional definition of god, and call what they believe "god". Those people are atheists in my opinion, they just can't stand to admit it even to themselves.
Think about it. How many people do you actually know in the real world who truly believe in a god? In my experience, those people are pretty rare and definitely a minority.
I think 100% of all people know there is a God and Creator, but many simply supress it.
LOL. Prothero is in denial.
look up "the clergy project'
quite interesting how that keeps happening...
Missionaries and Christian Workers:
In the unevangelized world, there are 20,500 full-time Christian workers and 10,200 foreign missionaries.
In the evangelized non-Christian world, there are 1.31 million full-time Christian workers.
In the Christian world, there are 306,000 foreign missionaries to other Christian lands. Also, 4.19 million full-time Christian workers (95%) work within the Christian world.
Number of Christian Martyrs Worldwide:
An average of 171,000 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year.
No cite? What's your source, Leo?
"An average of 171,000 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith per year."
This number needs to go higher.
Your numbers come from what source?
And your point is(assuming any of your numbers are real)?
Leo: Demonstrating that the evil tentacles of Christianity are widespread and will be hard to remove. In time, though, they will all die off, fortunately.
Bob, Evil Tentacles? Feeding the poor! Saving Lives!
Spending money in search of ET more to your liking?
$200,000 raised to resume search for alien life
Earthlings' search for extraterrestrial life will soon be back on!
In the same letter, he said SETI is seeking a total of $5 million in funding over the next two years to operate the telescope with a search concentrating on 1,235 possible planets, including some in habitable zones around other stars, found by NASA's Kepler mission.
Christianity is the fastest growing religion both in the number of new adherents due to natural growth (births minus deaths) as well as in number of new converts (converts in minus converts out).
The total growth of Christianity (25,210,195) adds the equivalent of more than the population of Australia (21,555,500) or the U.S. State of Texas (23,904,380) of new Christians to Christianity. Every year.
The number of new converts to Christianity is more than twice the combined number of new converts to all the other religions.
And Leo still posts NO sources or Rational thought.
72.6% of internet statistics are pulled out of butts.
Leo's source is http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm
Check out the stats here http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Global-Christianity-exec.aspx
A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.
A century ago, this was not the case. In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.2 Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).
This is from that site too.
As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
(c) Economics; or
You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
(c) NASA astronomer; or
I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
(a) A gifted psychologist
(b) A well respected geneticist
(c) A highly educated sociologist
(d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
(a) a delusional schizophrenic;
(b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
(c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
(d) your average Christian
Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
(a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
(b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
(c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
(d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
(a) A victim of child molestation
(b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
(c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
(d) A Christian
The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
(c) Archeology; or
What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
(a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
(b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
(c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
(d) All of the above.
If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
(a) a deep psychiatric issue;
(b) an irrational fear or phobia;
(c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
(d) my religious belief.
Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
(a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
(b) A mafia boss
(c) A drug pusher; or
(d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
(a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
(b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
(c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
(d) All of the above.
The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
(a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
(b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
(c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
(d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.
"The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings
are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day,"
How ignorant! The answer, had you even bothered to look it up, is that God gets help from Santa.
Also, they both skip over poor people which really cuts the work load.
Ignoring the rampant lunacy of realityville's post, it's only there to make sport of people, I wonder Carl; You do know that St. Nicholas was a real person right?
Bill, do you know Saint Nicholas is dead?
Hence the past tense of the verb
"You do know that St. Nicholas was a real person right?" Everyone knows that; he lived at the North Pole and always voted Republican. He is remembered for his ability to teleport into wealthy people's homes and give them tax breaks. As you say, he skips over the poor people like that other famous bishop, Mitt Romney. A newspaper editor told a little girl named Virginia that he was still alive, so he must be. Have faith!
A religious scholar isn't going to take this argument at face value and look at all sides, they are going to not only defend their beliefs but the beliefs of others to support what they want. Since this guy is arguing on what he thinks others believe on something that isn't tangible to start with, they can pretty much say what they want and it becomes a fact for what he wants. Saying that 2/3 of a specific demographic have "never" doubted their faith is pretty bold, there is honestly no way to know this one way or another and if you've never questioned something you believe, you're not normal. Then again, it's not uncommon for those who follow a faith tooth and nail to say what they want no matter what and somehow jumping all the guns to show it's a valid concrete fact. Lots of people believe in UFO's and Bigfoot but that doesn't mean they exist, people who believe in them speaking with each other doesn't prove it more. This isn't an argument or even something openly questioned, this is just a religious person doing nothing but rationalizing what they believe.
"rationalizing what they believe."
Not only rationalizing but justifying.
Religious scholars are usually involved in the explanation of religious ideas and history in the same way others such as historians and philosophers are. Some use counter argumentative techniques to reduce and distill their work.
Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a specie
See the face of god at Imswinging.com and then know the true lord!
Oh I see Allah.. lol
I see Zues and Apollo! oh, and the Easter BUNNY!!!!! yea!!!!
I see dead people... Pretty much the same thing....
Did you really say "Shepard?" God's she-lion? I kinda think you meant to reference "shepherd" instead of "she-pard." Welcome to Mitt Rmoney's Amercia.
Keep making up all the claims you want you religious fools. It will always be in vain.
No matter how many times you keep on reciting your mantras or pep talks to keep your spirits up you will always fall back down to a lower level and will keep on inventing newer delusions to fuel your high.
Separate church and state all the way. Some of the wealthiest organizations in this country are religious, tax them. Religion has no place in our laws. The scripture has no bearing when we are debating our laws, logic should dictate our laws. Religion has no place in public schools. I want my children to learn the most current information regarding whatever subject they are learning. A two thousand year old work of fiction is not going help our children create a better tomorrow. It scared me that our last commander in chief thought he was a crusader.
The most common error religious people make when they make their assumptions about Atheists, is that they think by choosing non-belief means we have no knowledge of their beliefs.
Ask any Atheist why they are an Atheist and I'd hazard a guess that 9 times out of 10 they'll tell you they are Atheist BECAUSE OF their prior religious life.
The sad fact is that even many of us Atheists, as children, were subjected to the same attempted indoctrination most other people are in this country. So while Atheists generally know full well about religious peoples' beliefs, religious people tend to not have the first clue about what it is to face reality and accept things for what they are as Atheists do.
The fundamental thing about religious folks is their NEED to label anything they can not agree with. Therefore they'll label us atheists to their choice of words to suit to their limited understanding.
Funny how Answer lumps a group of people together and labels them. Do you even own a mirror?
"Ask any Atheist why they are an Atheist and I'd hazard a guess that 9 times out of 10 they'll tell you they are Atheist BECAUSE OF their prior religious life." No, I never believed it. I stopped going to church when I was 11.
I personally believe in god , the 1 that created all things , not the1 that was created by man to contol it's people & force them into poverty & slavery (hypocrites) . What kind of god would allow this . I'll stick to my beliefes & you can have you're jim jones's of this world . We are waking up , Finally .....
FAITH ISN'T BLIND. It is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen. This faith is not created by man, it is a gift from God.
It's a brain wired in a different way.
Its shown a prolapsed.net! See the face of God!
oxymoron – n – a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in "evidence of things unseen"
I have tons of hope in the belief that people will learn how to type without hitting the CAPS button and faith that they will see how silly it makes their comments look.
Von D, it's a cheap way to boldface on these forums. NOT THE SAME AS TYPING IN ALL-CAPS BECAUSE OF STUPID.
So a baby born in the Amazon who never knew Christ will go to H E Double Tooth Picks after all?
You people are C-ra-zy!
Of course not, haven't you read Romans?
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." -Some dude named Jesus
All Atheists – please view video #2 at – thestarofkaduri.com
Nope. Ignoring your rant instead.
and cost mudfalls.com, a site run by Jack.
Haha, just like religion. Take rationality, or hard evidence and twist the meaning until it makes the the religious look better. Funny article there Stephen, keep them coming! There. Are. No. Gods!
Organized Religion and strict adherence to any gospel is nothing more than a consequence of the fear of death. Let go of that fear, stop letting others who don't know the answers to the big questions convince you that they do, and realize that you could very well disappear forever after you die. It will make your life much more meaningful.
I agree that fear of death is a silly thing, but any notion of atheism giving someone's life "meaning" is absurd. Meaning from a purposeless existence? Please.
Actually, Christianity teaches us to embrace our death. Death of self, death of ego, death of sin in this world and release from this corrupted flesh by passing away into the next. No Christian I know fears death.
"Hell." That word – get used to it.
Answer nice comeback, when is recess anyway?
"No Christian I know fears death." Ha ha ha , that's pretty funny. I thought I was supposed to be the clown around here. A big bop with the Clown Hammer™ for your foolish lie.
So typical of the religious.
There is more doubt now than before, so he calls it a maturation of faith rather than a decline. Similar to when we found out the earth was not the center of the universe, the catholics decided it was no longer important.
Really insightful. I very much appreciate this article. I have always believed that faith without skepticism is not real faith. Growing up I encountered many people whose religious views can be summed by something somebody said to me once: "I can't imagine how people can make it without believing in God." Obviously many people do survive just fine without this belief. Starting with the presumption that there is some wrong or crazy with questioning your faith is more than a little twisted.
I choose to believe what I believe for a variety of reasons. But I am always aware of the fact that it is called "faith" because it is a set of things that I cannot prove, and to claim otherwise would be, at best, dishonest, or at worst crazy. If you are afraid that questioning your faith will somehow weaken or destroy it, I submit that you never really had it in the first place.
Faith without skepticism is extreme gullability.
Faith with skepticism is just gullability.
Everyone seems to link the decline of religion with the imminent decay of all human decency. It's just the rise of the age of reason. Reason includes morality and truth, it just doesn't include a God.
I'm in the mood for another "Age of Enlightenment", as are many people.
Non-believers make up less than 1% of the people in prison, whereas they're between 15-20% of the US population. Christians, which make up around 75-78% of the population, make up over 95% of those in prison.
Decency seems to be more prevalent amongst secular people.
Noocrat you make a very good point. Perhaps our prisons are where true christian enlightenment is found. That or an AA meeting.