Thursday, February 18, 2010

Non-theist labels vs age

One of my readers asked if I would look and see if there was any correlation with age and the types of non-theist labels my readers used. Here you go (click it for a larger image):Sample size:
<20 = 68
21-25 = 139
26-30 = 103
31-35 = 54
36 - 45 = 61
46< = 42

I'm not sure the best way to test for statistical significance, and I'm too tired from my trip to figure it out, so let's just look at some general trends.

First, it seems like young non-theists use more labels than older non-theists. They had the highest percent of responders for every single term. One hypothesis as to why could be that young non-theists are still trying to figure out which labels best describe them, so a lot apply right now. It could also be that a lot of these terms have just recently become popular labels, and older non-theists don't identify with them.

The most glaring difference that I see is that young people love to be silly and call themselves Pastafarians. Oh, and that pretty much everyone hates the term Bright equally. No big surprise with either of those.

I'm not sure if I feel safe to make any more interpretations without some stats. Any older readers want to throw in their two cents?


  1. I'm a silly young Pastafarian :) There is something so satisfying about passively opposing organised religion through ridicule...

  2. As a 40-year-old non-believer who responded to your census, I would (and believe I did) choose "Skeptic", "Secularist", "Non-theist", "Humanist", "Godless", "Freethinker", "Atheist", and "Agnostic"

  3. Hrm-- It seems that, despite their small numbers overall, the >20's tend to outweigh every group in their distribution.

    In either case, as fond reader of Hitchens, Russell, Dawkins, Stenger, et al., I define myself most prominently by 'atheist'. I would, a la God Delusion, find myself most equivalent in ideal with the 'de-facto atheist' rather than the non-theist or agnostic. I don't believe that there definitively IS NO God, but I am tremendously sceptical as to his existance.

  4. I don't hate the term 'Bright' (I actually think it was a kind of neat idea, though it doesn't work out well in practice); if it had asked which terms -could- be applied to me, I'd probably have ticked them all. It's just not one of the first labels to come to mind when I think of my affiliations , whereas atheist and humanist were. I'm wishing I'd added heathen now, though. I love the sound of it.
    PS - Just realized this post was asking for older readers to respond. But, as I am young (and therefore rebellious), I defy your authority!

  5. Concur with Lessica; Jen, if you do this again you might consider distinguishing between the labels that one COULD apply and the labels that one DOES apply on a daily basis. Not at all the same thing.

    I think I split the difference: atheist is the only thing I consistently call myself, plus materialist if we're talking specifically about the soul (no such thing). People could, OTOH, call me most of the labels without my protesting. Not all, though. To me, "heathen" means an adherent to some polytheist system, like the Northern and Eastern European peoples before they were Christianised. One thinks of human sacrifice. "Infidel" is extremely redolent of some Salafi wingnut proposing to murder apostates; ever thought of stealing their term "kafir"?

    As a Rightpondian, I wonder whether the plethora of moderate and jokey names reflect the much higher threshold for atheism in the US. I can't see anyone here bothering with "non-theist"; which anyway is merely a partial translation from the Greek of "atheist".

  6. I concur with many of the above points. I checked only the ones that I actually call myself on a regular basis, although more would probably apply.

    If I remember correctly, I put skeptic, secularist, humanist, atheist, anti-theist, and agnostic. As I see it, those are all technical terms describing different aspects of my views and therefore need to use them all to properly characterise them. Most often, however, I tend to call myself an atheist or a skeptic.

    I also sometimes use rationalist and, occasionally, empiricist or materialist, depending on the subject matter under discussion.

    I tend to avoid terms like "heathen" and "infidel" because they have a religious flavour to them.

    I've never liked the term "freethinker" for some reason, although I'm not sure why. It might be that it strikes me as pretentious, in a similar way to "Bright".

    "Non-theist" smacks of cowardice, to me; it seems like a term deliberately chosen not to rile religionists, something which I see no reason to avoid.

    "Godless" isn't one that ever occurs to me to use - perhaps because it has embedded in it the implication that we're missing something.

    As far as "Pastafarian" goes... while I find the FSM vastly amusing, it's far too silly to be a worthy label. If I'm going to use any sort of label for the purpose of reductio ad absurdum, I'd much rather go with "Ateapotist" in homage to Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins.

  7. I'm kinda wishing "sane" had been an option now.

  8. ""Godless" isn't one that ever occurs to me to use - perhaps because it has embedded in it the implication that we're missing something."
    -- So painless dentistry is a bad thing, implying we're missing out?

    I see Godless in the same way as a republic is kingless. Pullman nailed it.

  9. I'm apparently one of the few that self identified as "bright". Perhaps it was because in addition to being atheistic, I'm also sufficiently asocial to fail to realize bright's stigma? On the other hand, I may have misunderstood the question; although being bright and being atheistic may correlate, I would not expect them to be considered even vaguely synonymous.

  10. Could you unpack the thing about stigma for me please? I missed out on the whole rise and fall of the term Bright, never came across it until the other day. That's probably because I'm new to the blogosphere, I just used to sit, think and write all on my lonesome.

  11. I feel that your survey was incomplete Jen, without an acknowledgement of the newness of the identity Bright. How many of those who took the survey were aware of it before doing so?

    The identity Pastafarian is similarly new and seems to have gained, as you suggest, a "cult" following amongst the young. But who, in serious conversation or debate could call themselves a Pastafarian without opening themselves to ridicule - or maybe that's the point! (I personally find that following highly amusing.)

    Anyhow, for you to say "everyone hates the term Bright equally" is not only somewhat disingenuous but also unfounded. You're evidently not one of its supporters but I defy either you or any of your readers to indicate which of the other identities doesn't have either negative or quasi-intellectual connotations associated with it (whether intended or not). People may not personally want to use the term but that doesn't mean they hate it.

    More that 50,000 worldwide have declared their willingess to self-identify as Brights and the number is still growing. The word, in its new usage, is increasingly prevalent in the media doing what it does best, acting as an umbrella term that clearly identifies those who don't do supernatural or mystical (some atheists will do those) and providing a clear separation between them and those, the Supers (Supernaturalists), who will do either or both!

  12. ".... an umbrella term that clearly identifies those who don't do supernatural or mystical (some atheists will do those) and providing a clear separation between them and those, the Supers (Supernaturalists), who will do either or both!"

    I guess I'm a Naturalist, then, as I believe that "the supernatural" is a null category; whatever happens, by definition is part of the natural world. If, for example, certain individuals really can levitate or predict the future from tea-leaves (which I don't believe, but let's pretend), then this is also part of the natural world. There are things that happen, and things that don't happen, that's all.

    Am I then a Bright? Quite apart from the smug sound of it, I would find it inconvenient because I spend half my life in another language that hasn't adopted it. Besides, I keep flashing on some French Catholic leaning over the battlements and saying, Go away, you silly briggit.