Our Labels versus Our Beliefs

The post below represents results from my Religious Labels survey. If you have not yet taken it, please do (first, because these results will not make sense to you otherwise, and second, because I need more data)…

I have broken down the responses to Question #1 (which was — When someone asks, “What religion are you?” How do you reply?) into three groups (“Believer,” “Unbeliever,” “Between Believer”). I’m sure everyone will not agree with how I sorted the responses, but I did so to be able to compare answers from various “types” of responses (if anyone has suggestions for improvements, please let me know). The groups are as follows:

Believers — Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Orthodox Christian, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian, Non-Denominational, Mormon/Latter-day Saints, Muslim-Sunni, Muslim-Shi’a, Muslim-Other, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist/Confucian, Buddhist, Jewish, Jain, Baha’I, Scientologist, Pagan, Deist, Wiccan, Unitarian Universalist, Other Religion.

Unbelievers — Atheists, Humanist, “No Religion”

Between Believers — Agnostic, Spiritual, Pantheist

(for those who answered “other” to question #1, their answers have either been put into the category that most closely matches it, or if no match exists, they have been excluded from these particular results)

Each question is broken down to reflect the answers given by members of these three groups, and a brief commentary follows each set. I hope it is as interesting to you as it has been to me…

2. Why do you use that description (from question #1)?

 

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

It accurately describes my beliefs.

63.6%

74.2%

75.0%

It is how I was raised.

10.5%

1.2%

0.0%

I am not familiar with the beliefs of other religions.

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

It is a convenient response.

8.1%

8.1%

16.7%

I don’t know, I never really thought about it.

1.2%

0.9%

0.0%

Other (please specify)

16.6%

15.5%

8.3%

Right off, we see something interesting — and to be honest, something that I’d “felt” but never seen quantified in anyway. Although the number of respondents is still rather low (617), we see a pretty significant difference in how #2 was answered. People that can be described as “believers” recognize the limitations of a label and that it may not reflect what they actually believe. Less than 65% of respondents indicate that they take their religious label because “it accurately describes their beliefs” — that means more than 35% take it for other reasons.

I also find it remarkable that so far not a single person who as taken this survey said they do so because they are “not familiar with the beliefs of other religions.” I thought this would be a somewhat common response… hmm…

3. Do you typically add any modifiers to your response, such as one of the following?

 

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Fundamentalist

0.4%

0.3%

2.1%

Evangelical

5.3%

0.6%

0.0%

Conservative

1.2%

0.3%

0.0%

Moderate

1.2%

0.0%

2.1%

Liberal

2.4%

2.5%

2.1%

Reform

1.6%

0.0%

0.0%

I do not use any modifiers.

66.0%

78.0%

77.1%

Other (please specify)

21.9%

18.3%

16.7%

It surprised me that more folks (among the “believer”) group did not use the standard modifiers. This is a trend reflected throughout the survey, the “standard” answers were quite often rejected and the “other” category was very popular.

4. Based on the tenets of the description that you chose, how accurately do your beliefs match that label?

 

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Very Accurately, I believe in all the tenets.

42.9%

18.0%

8.3%

Somewhat Accurately, I believe in most, but not all the tenets.

25.9%

4.7%

14.6%

Somewhat Inaccurately, I believe in some of the tenets.

7.7%

0.3%

2.1%

Very Inaccurately, I use the label but do not believe most of the tenets.

2.8%

0.3%

2.1%

I Don’t Know

5.3%

0.6%

6.3%

There are no “tenets” behind the choice I made.

15.4%

76.1%

66.7%

Okay, a few things about this question I find interesting, all of them having to do with the “believer” group. First, over 15% of respondents in that group indicate there are no tenets to their faith. It seems that a pretty significant number of people with a belief in God are outside of not just standard religions, but all religions. Second, over 10% of respondents admit their label is inaccurate to what they believe, and over 5% don’t know if it’s accurate or not. It doesn’t surprise me that this is the case, what surprises me is that folks have the courage to admit it. Don’t get me wrong, I think admitting it is a good thing, because if nothing else, it means that people are at least thinking about their labels and how they match/do not match their beliefs — and the limitations of such labels.

5. Have you ever changed your label?

 

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Yes

47.8%

65.5%

77.1%

No

52.2%

34.5%

22.9%

Not surprisingly, “unbelievers” and “between-believers” have shifted their positions far more often then believers.

6. Have you ever considered changing your label?

 

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Yes

49.8%

58.1%

66.7%

No

50.2%

41.9%

33.3%

7. Do you think it is important to understand the tenets represented by a label before using it?

Answer Options

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Very Important

64.8%

72.4%

60.4%

Somewhat Important

25.5%

20.2%

29.2%

Somewhat Unimportant

6.1%

3.1%

4.2%

Very Unimportant

3.6%

4.3%

6.3%

It is interesting that folks for whom labels seem to be the most important are “unbelievers.” It is interesting too that 10% of “believers” think labels are either somewhat or very unimportant — almost an identical match (statistically) to those who said their labels did not match their beliefs (see question #4).

8. When meeting someone for the first time, does it make you feel more comfortable to find out they use the same label or have the same views on religion as you do?

Answer Options

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Yes

20.2%

23.6%

16.7%

A little

23.5%

30.4%

25.0%

Not really

28.7%

25.2%

33.3%

Not at all

27.5%

20.8%

25.0%

This one really did surprise me. I thought that “believers” would be far more comforted by meeting like-minded folks… nope, it’s the “unbelievers”!

9. How certain/uncertain are you of the existence of God?

Answer Options

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

100% certain that God exists.

66.4%

0.6%

4.2%

Lower than 100%, but very sure God exists.

12.1%

0.3%

8.3%

Higher than 50%, but not much higher. I am inclined to believe God exists.

4.9%

0.3%

10.4%

Exactly 50%, there are equal chances that God does or does not exist.

2.4%

1.9%

8.3%

Less than 50%, but not much lower. I suspect God does not exist.

4.5%

1.6%

16.7%

Almost 0%, I believe that the existence of God is very improbable, but it cannot be proven.

5.7%

66.1%

37.5%

0%, I am certain that God does not exist.

2.0%

28.0%

6.3%

Other (please specify)

2.0%

1.2%

6.3%

Although comparing those who are 100% certain of themselves (“believers” 66% versus “unbelievers” 28%) shows that the believers are far more confident, I am still rather surprised that so many “unbelievers” would take what seems to me a dogmatic position. As I’ve written before on this blog, to assert with 100% certainty that something does not exist is to take something akin to a faith-based position… and why would unbelievers do that?

10. In the context of religion, has this survey changed the way you think about labels?

Answer Options

Believer

Unbeliever

Between Believer

Nope

87.9%

92.9%

93.8%

Maybe a little

11.7%

6.2%

6.3%

Yes, quite a bit.

0.4%

0.9%

0.0%

The response to this answer gives me some small gratification because I do think there is a significant mismatch between the labels that people wear and what they really believe. Religious labels are often taken lightly but the religions behind them and the texts those religions are based on say some pretty firm things about who the “good guys” and who the “bad guys” are in this world… and that is the sort of thing that worries me…

Again, these results are fairly preliminary. I won’t try to draw too many conclusions until I have reached my magic 1000…

To all those who have participated, again, thanks!

23 Responses

  1. i’m confused how a between-believer can have fundamentalist views…do i not understand fundamentalism? can you explain, Ty?

  2. That is an excellent question, but if there is one thing i’ve learned is that people’s beliefs — and the way they express them — are extremely personalized…

  3. right, that’s very true, but i still don’t understand…fundamental unsurity? or maybe that’s a great concept…like Socrates. the basis for all my theories is that is know nothing truely about them. i like that, haha, change my answer!

  4. I posted a link to the survey from my forum.

    Just curious – do you plan to run any statistical analysis on the data?

  5. “As I’ve written before on this blog, to assert with 100% certainty that something does not exist is to take something akin to a faith-based position… and why would unbelievers do that?”

    I can’t remember how I answered but feel it’s legitimate to have a 100% disbelief in a deity if one considers them to be of purely human origin. It’s not so much saying there is proof that Gods don’t exist, more that we know where the idea comes from and, being fictional, there is no more need to disprove their existence than there is to disprove the existence of Sherlock Holmes.

    That’s my take on that response and not intended to inflame anything!

  6. Please include a breakout of the sample size of each of the categories. I know from your email that you need more in some of the Christian categories, but actual n would be good to know.

    It also would help understand some of these preliminary results.

    Thanks.

  7. I was interested to see that 18% of nonbelievers answered Very Accurately to number 4. I gave that answer due to my concurrence with the Secular Humanist Declaration (http://tinyurl.com/k5enn).

    I think it would be very cool to know with what other tenets nonbelievers adhere/believe/concur.

    This would go a long way towards a better understanding of moral codes that unbelievers do follow as opposed to the unfortunately common belief that we follow no moral compass.

    Thanks again for this great study!

  8. Do you have the percentage breakdown posted somewhere for the response to the first question of you survey?

  9. I think John ‘s point is interesting…I get that all the time too.

    Just in class (RN, peds rotation..) talking about Piaget/Erikson..and how religious beliefs, all or nothing thinking, cause and effect application begin in the school age child and how prayer, religious teachings help form the childs morals….well, as far as my instructor was concerned.

    So, question, like John asked/stated, what do people say their morals/values/whatever makes you feel good/act in a kind fashion toward planet/people/whatever..where does it come from if you don’t have a book or ‘god’ that tells you how to behave?

    I know my answer, but what to do other alternate non-believers (or what did you call them?) believe?

    x
    ps. I asked a friend to pass the survey along to people she knows from church.

  10. I think you need to be more clear in your cross-referencing.

    For example: when you say “It is interesting too that 10% of “believers” think labels are either somewhat or very unimportant — almost an identical match to those who said their labels did not match their beliefs.” are you just making a statistical inference from the results or actually saying that the SAME people who said their label does not match their belief ALSO said that labels are unimportant?

    Your repeated claims of people being “willing to admit” a response belies presumption on your part. Frankly, it comes off as if you are accusing those who respond differently of lying.

  11. The comment I leave is very much the same as I make on the survey.

    When asked by other Christians what ‘kind’ of Christian I am, I say ‘I am His’, pure and simple. Sometimes I have mercy on them…lol…and tell them that my cultural background is Anglo-Irish Protestant thought that is not now my faith, and they seem instantly calmed, now that I cam be placed and boxed accordingly. On your survey I described myself as Christian – Non Denominational.

    I am sad to notice the polarisation and boxing among Christians, at least on the huge American forum I participate in. It has been an education. Here labels are usually used to box and divide ‘us’ from ‘them’, with various permutations occupying the us or them slots.

    I also found it difficult to answer the ‘tenants of faith’ section, because I follow a Person, not tenants. But I realise in most people’s eyes that just sounds obtuse.

    Very thought provoking…..best wishes with your survey. It is timely.

  12. I thought it seemed pretty reasonable that unbelievers would be more comfortable meeting someone and finding out they’re an unbeliever, too than your average believer would be — unbelievers in the US, at least. I think it’s a relief when I meet someone that is also an unbeliever because that means I don’t have to worry about that person thinking I have horns, insisting on ruining a possible friendship by preaching to me, and/or straying away from me in the future out of fear that I’m going to do something immoral because I ‘have no moral basis’. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I imagine that many of us have had similar experiences.

  13. Comments on the blog post:
    #2 One may also conclude that the unbeliver group are more aware of their position. 10.5% of believers answer “It is how I was raised.” compared to 1.2% in the unbeliver group, which closely resembles the difference among those answering “It accurately describes my beliefs.”

    #3 Observation: for some labels modifiers are nonsensical. “Atheist” is the most prominent example.

    #7 I would not take this to mean the label itself is the central thing. The question asks about the tenets of a label so I would say unbeliver seems value the ideologies of the labels. Personaly I would have hoped rigid thought-boxes would be valued less, which is more of the case in the between belivers statistic.

    #8 I initialy guessed unbelivers would have the most even diversity. But I think Thomas M. is on to something.

  14. Socket: I think that in this survey “God” is meant as any entity which exists through supernatural means and have the capacity to at least create our universe (The common definition from our three major religions), is that correct, Koska?

    John: If my memory serves me correctly I answered “Somewhat Unimportant” on number 7. The reason is that when it comes to moral it is not something I choose in the direct sense, it’s more like being part of the moral zeigheist. It’s of course usefull to summarize our current moral knowledge, but puting it as tenets reminds me to well of the unevolved religious stoneage tenets.

    blahblahblah: In spite of the possibility I’m not who you addressed your question to, I’ll can continue what I said to John.

    Let me first just point out that no one should get their moral simply by instruction from a book or god. Whould that be the case they should be considered immoral, as it suggests no logic reflection have been taken.

    I think the two most important things for judging on morality is suffering and *direct* harm. I’m stressing “direct” here to exclude possible thought crime definitions. The other is logical coherence. Many accepted moral codes are in fact nonsensical because they are not coherent with facts of the world.

    I would also like to introduce the hypothisis that some moral statement may vary and still be acceptable. As an example, the degree a goverment may monitor its citizens. However, overall the moral is evolving.

    Sophie: The way you put it, and also based on what I wrote to blahblahblah; what person did you say you follow? and if you mean eir moral standing, why do they need a specific person attached to them?

  15. i’d like to point out that morals are only lines drawn in the sand on a hypothetical beach. it’s the actions that really matter and they may be vastly different than your projected actions. only upon reflection have we upheld or broken our morals. now the question, how many people believe there are evil people or would you have to have the knowledge of that person’s life and situation to understand their actions?

  16. jesse: yeah that’s true, but only isn’t that obvious? As a comparison the outcome of a sprint race can only be determined after it have taken place..

    There are no evil persons. We sometimes use the term but what we then mean is the outcome of past actions from the given person. To say that someone is evil in the absolute sense is to ignore the possibility that e could improve eir moral.

  17. Roger, to you and me perhaps this is obvious and i just wanted to point out the concept of projection of moral actions vs. actual actions. i think you over estimate this as common knowledge. i think you’ll find those who speak of a strict moral code are frequently tested to break those morals and those who deny that the morals were broken are the same who support the belief of a God who punishes for sins. in other words…”never say never”.

  18. One thing I’ve learned after reading and discussing how “believers” view morality, it’s not so much they approach their holy texts as cook-books for recipes of moral behavior, but it’s that they feel morality is “grounded” by “god”… that somewhere there IS an objective, indisputable right and wrong scale and that it exists because god exists… and that is why they think atheists “have no morals” — because they are ungrounded…

    I would just like to point out that the believers also say it is impossible to know the mind of god, and that would imply an inability to know exactly right and wrong (100% objectively)… so i really don’t see how their position is any different than the atheists…

  19. jesse: I’m afraid I’m a bit confused.. I don’t quite see the difference. The only thing I see is whether you look at something before or after the event takes place. Would you care to clarify?

    I will make the assumtion that the kind of moral codes you refer to are religious moral statements, more precisly examples of sins. This would be an example of incoherent moral principe. A sin is more or less a victimless crime. Of course there will be temptation to break such a rule, it is not derivered from the nature of humans.

  20. You have put Buddhists in the ‘Believers’ box. Technically, Buddhists are encouraged to ‘not believe’. Of course, most if not all Buddhists will have beliefs, just as most if not all non-believers will have beliefs, but the encouragement and the path (in all forms of Buddhism) is to ultimately see through the delusions of life which manifest themselves often as beliefs. If there is any tenet (certainty??) in Buddhism it is that ‘all things are uncertain’ this is due to the observation of the impermanent nature of ‘all things’. I hope this helps with your classification.

  21. I think that to look at morals as the outcome of actions rather than the intended outcome of actions is problematic. If the outcome of our actions are unintended then they are either a mistake or an accident, and we can surely be forgiven our mistakes and accidents as a matter of course?

  22. Unbelievers are going to think it accurately describes their belief in this realm because there isn’t much required for unbelief. If I don’t believe in leprachauns then that’s all there is to it. If I do believe in leprachauns then I need to get into all sorts of details like do they really wear green suits, do they hoard gold, are they evil or good, etc.

    Why should that surprise you?

    There is lots of depths to my actual beliefs but that isn’t described by the label “igtheist”. Merely tells you what I think of theist beliefs.

  23. […] The next milestone came in the form of a web-survey that TIW hosted. The survey probed how folks wear their religious labels and it was linked to by a number of bloggers. The results were linked to by several more. Although picking through the results can be bit tedious, they remain interesting: Our Labels versus Our Beliefs. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: