Trends surrounding Christians' views on homosexuality, the prevalence of "nones" among Democrats and the key difference between Christianity and every other faith have been explored since the release of this week's Religious Landscape Study.
But there are also some other intriguing and seemingly bizarre trends and findings surrounding atheists who were surveyed for the Pew Research Center report titled, "U.S. Becoming Less Religious."
Small proportions of atheists — individuals who generally profess to reject a higher power — say that religion is "very" or "somewhat" important to them (7 percent), that they are absolutely or fairly certain in the "existence of God or a universal spirit" (5 percent), that they believe in heaven and hell (5 percent and 3 percent, respectively) and that the Bible should be read literally (1 percent).
While all of these proportions have decreased since the last wave of the study in 2007, the findings still might cause some head-scratching, considering that the expectation, based on a proclaimed embrace of non-belief, is that these proportions would all be at or around 0 percent.
But Gregory A. Smith, associate director of research for the Pew Research Center, told TheBlaze that what is being observed here are differences when it comes to how individuals answer questions surrounding religious identity and religious beliefs.
"In our first report, we focused mostly on religious identity. We asked people, 'What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?'" Smith said.
In response to that question, Pew learned that 3.1 percent were self-identified atheists, with 4 percent calling themselves agnostics — indications of these individuals' religious identities.
"This new report discusses separate questions about beliefs. As you’d expect, there is considerable overlap in the question about identity and the questions about belief" Smith explained. "Those who identify as atheist or agnostic are, in fact, much less likely than others to express belief in heaven. But the correlation isn’t perfect."
He continued, "There are a few people who describe themselves as 'atheists' or 'agnostics' when asked about their religious identity who then subsequently say they believe in heaven."
Smith said that the dynamic isn't just at play among atheists, as there are self-identified Christians, Muslims and other religious individuals, too, who embrace labels, but don't believe in heaven.
"But here, again, there’s less than a one-to-one correspondence between religious identity on the one hand and religious beliefs and practices on the other," he said. "In short, people’s religious identities and beliefs and practices don’t always go together in a way we might expect."
Just as some Catholics don't necessarily agree with Catholic teaching, there are some atheists, too, who might express belief in heaven.
Read the study in its entirety here.
As TheBlaze previously reported, the first part of the Religious Landscape Study, which was released in May, found a rise in the proportion of Americans who are not affiliated with a specific religion, with a substantial decline in the overall proportion of self-identified Christians.
Despite the results, the United States remains a majority Christian country, with 70.6 percent falling under the Bible-based umbrella in 2014. This is a decrease of eight percentage points, though, from 2007 when the study found that 78.4 percent of the nation embraced Christianity.
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