A study from the Barna Group has turned up some interesting info on the numbers, lifestyles and self-perceptions of American atheists and agnostics, and how they contrast with those of active Christians. The most striking findings are:
- The numbers of the explicitly faithless are steadily increasing in each generation, from 6% among those over 61 to 19% among those 18-22.
- Their numbers within each generation have been rather stable from 1992 to 2007. Faithless young whippersnappers become faithless old geezers. It’s not youth versus age as such but continuing social transformation that we’re seeing.
- Their most striking feature is that they are disconnected. They say they adapt easily to change, which suggests that for them the ties that bind don’t bind. They are less likely to vote or join one of the major parties, or to engage in community or charitable activities. And their charitable contributions—even for non-religious causes—are far lower. Such trends are of course in line with the liberal and modern abolition of informal local connections like the family, and transcendent loyalties like religion, in favor of rationalized and wholly this-worldly public institutions like markets and bureaucracies.
- They are substantially less likely than the religious to say they are “at peace” or convinced they are right about things in life, but are nonetheless confident of their position and its superiority. Three-quarters say they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life, and most (56%) agree that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Those tendencies are in line with the liberal tendency to rule by claiming not to rule.