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How many U.S. adults believe in God.
Differences between Atheists & others.
Active discrimination against Atheists.

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1 How many Americans believe in the existence of God?

Between 1953 and 1965, Gallop polls regularly found that 98% of U.S. adults answered "yes" to the simple question: "Do you believe in God?"

Starting in 1967, Gallup revised the question to ask: "Do you believe in [either a] God or a universal spirit?" (We are not entirely certain what a universal spirit is. We suspect that some of those questioned were not sure either). Again, the response was 98% positive.

But in 2011, this belief at least partially collapsed when the percent who answered "yes" dropped to 92%. Those who answered "No" rose from 1 to 7%!

A separate Gallup poll held in mid-2007, asked a the question slightly differently to differentiate between belief in God and belief in a "universal spirit."

The results were:

  • 78% of Americans believed in the existence of a personal God, while

  • 14% believed in a universal spirit.

  • Only 7% said that they don't believe in either, which is a common definition of an "Atheist."

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In what fundamental way do Atheists and non-Atheists differ?:

It appears that many Americans have a much higher regard for those individuals who believe in a deity or deities of some sort, then for Atheists who are lacking a belief in any deity, or who actively deny such any deity exists.

It seems to matter little to most people what God and/or Goddesses are believed in. A person can be a:

  • Polytheist, believing in multiple deities, as do followers of Hinduism;

  • Monotheist, believing in a single deity, as do followers of Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and some other religions;

  • Duotheist or bitheist, believing in two deities or in one deity with two aspects as do Wiccans, or believing in one all-good deity and one all-evil deity as do Zoroastrians;

  • Trinitarian, believing in a single godhead of three persons, as do almost all Christians; . They regard themselves as monotheists, but some others view them as polytheists.

  • Henotheist, believing in multiple deities of which one is above all the others, as did ancient Hebrews; or a

  • Deist, a believer in a deity who created the universe and gave it laws, kick-started it, left, and hasn't been closely involved with humans since.

They are generally accepted as non-Atheists as long as they believe in the existence of some sort of deity with supernatural powers and probably one who also created the universe.

There is a degree of irrationality in the denigration of Atheists.

Many thousands of Gods and Goddesses have been worshipped in the past but are now abandoned. Many thousands of other deities are being worshiped in the present. For example, among the three most popular religions in North America:

  • Almost all Christians recognize the Trinity -- a single God composed of three persons -- while denying the existence of the other thousands of deities.

  • Religious Jews generally worship Yahweh and believe that the thousands of other Gods and Goddesses are figments of people's imagination.

  • Muslims, like Jews, believe in a single, indivisible God, who is referred to as Allah in Arabic and which translates to "God" in English. They teach that Allah is a unity and cannot be divided. He has neither a a partner nor a son. To Muslims, there are no other Gods or Goddesses in existence. To teach that another deity exists is a heresy; it is the ultimate blasphemy.

An Atheist takes an almost identical position to followers of Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Atheists also have:

  • Either no belief in those thousands of Gods and Goddesses, or

  • Actively disbelieve in their existence.

Within the Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist, freethinking communities, those who have no belief in any deities usually described simply as "Atheists."those who actively disbelieve in any deity are often referred to as "strong Atheists."

When comparing an Atheist with the a follower of one of the three largest religions in the U.S., Atheists differ by only one deity among the many thousands of Gods and Goddesses. The difference is less than 0.05%. That is, if a Christian does not believe in 2,000 deities, a strong Atheist does not believe in 2,001. Yet, this miniscule difference is often sufficient to make Atheists the victims of hatred, scorn, and discrimination -- sight unseen.

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2011-MAY: In the U.S., which groups of adults have the highest percentage of Atheists?

A Gallup poll conducted on 2011-MAY-05 to 08 found that an average of 92% of adults in the U.S. believe in either God or a universal spirit. They differed:

  • By gender: 94% of women; 90% of men.

  • By age: 84% of young adults aged 18 to 29; 94% of those 30 and older.

  • By educational attainment: 92% with high school or less; 93% with some college; 94% for college graduates; 87% among post grads.

  • By location: 96% in the South; 92% in the West; 91% in the Midwest; 86% in the East.

  • By political orientation: 98% among Conservatives' 91% among moderates; 85% among liberals.

  • By party affiliation: 98% among Republicans, 90% among Democrats, 89% among Independents. 2

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Active discrimination against Atheists:

There is a widespread opinion that a person needs to believe in some higher power and an afterlife -- either hope for an eternal reward in Heaven or fear of an eternal torture in Hell -- in order to behave morally and  honorably. These beliefs seem to be the cause of a widespread public opinion that Atheists must behave immorally, are poor citizens, are personally rebelling against God, and/or actually believe in a god but are lying to others.

Atheists are widely despised across the U.S. There is a general consensus that no Atheist could ever be elected to any important political post in the country.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. This is an Atheism symbol developed by Richard Dawkins.
  2. Frank Newport, "More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God," Gallup, 2011-JUN-03, at:
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Copyright © 2007 to 2018, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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