There are three key components that lead skeptical Americans to reject God's existence, according to new research on atheism and agnosticism: rejection of the Bible, a failure to trust local churches and a secular worldview that is reinforced through culture.
The Barna Group, a research firm that explores religious trends, included these findings in newly released report about religious skeptics, noting that 25 percent of all adults who do not attend church are considered atheists or agnostics.
Like religious individuals, these nonbelievers take into account a variety of factors that impact their theological worldview.
"Just as believers arrive at their belief in God by amassing a variety of information and experiences, skeptics piece together different inputs to draw their conclusions," the Barna Group noted.
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As for the first indicator — a rejection of the Bible — Barna reported that two-thirds of skeptics believe that the book is filled with stories that were written by humans and have the same authority as any other self-help book, with others not quite sure what to make of it, or who believe that there are at least some unique — though not God-ordained — stories in the text.
Skeptics also tend to have views of churches that would most certainly not be seen as favorable by faith leaders and congregations. They see houses of worship as places where people come together, but are not connected to one another in meaningful ways, according to Barna.
They also don't view churches as having a great impact on society and see them as standing for the wrong values on issues like gay marriage, abortion, war and on other social and political fronts, with trust issues also abounding.
And then there's the third issue that leads to non-belief: the cultural upholding of the aforementioned critiques.
"Many of these ideas are initiated, promoted and reinforced by celebrity personalities and media exposure," Barna noted. "There has arisen a new stratum of anti-religion celebrity apologists that includes Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Peter Singer, Woody Allen, Phillip Roth, Julia Sweeney and the late Christopher Hitchens."
While much has made made of the rise of the "nones" — those individuals who are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a faith, there are some important considerations to be made.
The "nones" account for 20 percent of the population, but the latter group is more theologically diverse than some critics might realize. Unaffiliated Americans might not attend church or adopt a label, but that doesn't mean they are atheists. In fact, both Barna and the Pew Research Center have found that only four percent of the population is atheist or agnostic.
And in Barna's latest research, the firm's creation of a "post-Christian" metric is highlighted. This is a tool that allows Barna to explore factors pertaining to faith and spirituality to see exactly where the public, as a whole, stands.
Based on 15 different factors involving church involvement, prayer and the Bible, Barna found that 38 percent of the population is post-Christian, meaning that the majority of the country is still impacted by faith.
"While self-described atheism and agnosticism may be on the rise in America, the post-Christian metric reminds observers that most Americans remain connected in some way with Christianity," Barna noted.
Skeptics are skewing younger, are more college educated and more likely to be women when compared to their peers back in 1993. Read more about their demographics here.
(H/T: Barna Group)
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