This is an example of why it is important to identify the business or organisation that paid for and conducted the research quoted if we are to know the truth. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the research as biased. But is it?
The research was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. Immediately, my attention was grabbed by the name and in particular the word Religion. Does it indicate that the Institute studies religion or promotes religion. Anyone who reads the works of Dan Dennett will immediately know that very few institutions study religion
Reading down the page I found that the study was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. What are these organisations?
Wikipedia’s page makes the Ford Foundation sound an ideal partner for social awareness and social reformers. A 2005 study shows the Foundation’s attempts, some more successful than others, to integrate white and African-Americans. SourceWatch suggests that the Ford Foundation is viewed by conservatives as left wing. For me as a socially-aware atheist, this further added to the Foundation’s credentials.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation is a primarily Jewish organisation but, according to the Wikipedia page it also appears to be left-leaning and human rights oriented. The Foundation seems to primarily rely the Public Religion Research Institute. A study in April looked at the opinions of Jews in America and found the majority favoured Barak Obama. Using the research, the Huffington Post suggested that, as with Catholics, Jewish leaders are losing touch with the opinions of the population. The Foundation also seems environmentally aware. That sounds good to me.
Neither of these funders appear to want to influence the results of surveys. So what are we to make of this new survey?
As I intimated before, my immediate reaction on reading the results was acute scepticism. Most of the atheists I know are politically aware and more likely to vote than the general population, which seems to contradict the findings of the research. However, the atheists I know are activists who tend to see politics as a secular necessity, an alternative to being told what to do by religious leaders. Most see democracy as essential to society and their inalienable right as individuals to influence how society is run.
If the survey is correct, and it may well be, then many of those who are now rejecting religion tend towards apathy and not positive action to influence social evolution. To me, that has the potential to be really bad. It could allow religions back into the political arena.
Maybe those of us who are activists need to help those who have recently rejected religion to see that politics and social awareness are essential alternatives to religion but that they must be worked at and developed. Life may be a bitch and then you die but we need to ensure we make the most of our lives while we can. Our children and grandchildren depend in us to make the world a decent place for them. We must teach our children and grandchildren that they, in turn, need to be socially and environmentally aware for their children and grandchildren but doing so as intelligent human beings who base their knowledge on empirical evidence and not being mindless followers of daft ideas.
This survey could, perhaps should, be seen as a wake-up call.