Atheism and its retention rate in individuals

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In 2012, a Georgetown University study was published indicating that about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist household in the United States remain atheists as adults.[1]

In 2012, a Georgetown University study was published indicating that in the United States only about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist household remain atheists as adults.[2] According to Dr. Mark Gray, "of those raised as atheists, 30% are now affiliated with a Protestant denomination, 10% are Catholic, 2% are Jewish, 1% are Mormon, and 1% are Pagan."[3] See also: Atheism and children and Desecularization and aging populations

Theodore Beale wrote about the Pew Research Forum's examination data involving individuals raised as atheists:

...the example of various former atheists such as C.S. Lewis and Anthony Flew indicates that atheism is nothing more than a transitive state for many individuals...

The retention rate is even worse for the full blown atheist population. 60% of those raised atheist abandon atheism; 0.5% of the population was raised atheist and 0.3% of it left atheism. And while 1.4% of the population became atheist, the fact that nearly all of the nation is not atheist means that the non-atheist population has a retention rate of 98.6%, which is nearly 2.5 times better than the atheist retention rate of 40%. Therefore, the perceived rapid growth of atheism is nothing more than an artifact of the atheist population's statistical insignificance. Even the dying Episcopalian church has a better retention rate than atheism...[4]

See also:

Shortage of successful secular institutions to cause higher retention

See also: Atheism and loneliness

Evangelical atheists have not developed strong institutions to raise the low retention rate of people raised in atheist households.

The atheist Guy Stagg wrote in The Telegraph:

It shows that, although secularists have realised that they cannot simply be defined by opposition to religion, nevertheless they have little to offer in its place. Crucially the secular tradition has no successful institutions to preserve and spread its principles.

This is something that few secularists admit: atheism is quite lonely. Not just existentially, but socially as well. Secularism does not offer the sense of fellowship you find in religion. Watching old Christopher Hitchens debates on YouTube with a like-minded sceptic is entertaining, but I doubt it's as nourishing as Sunday Mass.[5]

Sunday Assembly atheist church movement

See also: Atheism is a religion and Atheists and church attendance

The Sunday Assembly atheist church movement was founded in 2013 by the secular humanists and comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones.[6] In 2014, it was reported that there was a schism in the movement as far as whether or not they should use the word "atheist" in their movement and/or whether they should just cater to atheists.[6]

Periods of life people adopt atheism and leave atheism

In the United States, the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism.[7] Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years.[8]

In 2012, a study by the General Social Survey of the social science research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that belief in God rises with age, even in atheistic nations [9] (For more information, please see: Atheism and immaturity).

Theodore Beale declared: "...the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but an emotional one. (This is why most self-identified atheists are angry, bitter, and immature. The anger, bitterness, and immaturity are usually the cause of the atheism, they are not, as many Christians erroneously suppose, the effects.)[10]

The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes: "It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish-emotional reactions toward the idea of God."[11]

A notable example of a person raised in an atheistic household who later became a Christian is William J. Murray. Mr. Murray is the son of the late atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair who founded the organization American Atheists. In 1982, William J. Murray founded the Religious Freedom Coalition.

Abandonment of atheism in atheistic communist countries

Growth of Christianity in China

Yang Fenggang of Purdue University expects China to have largest Christian population in the world by 2030.[12]

See also: Growth of Christianity in China and Growth of evangelical Christianity in irreligious regions and Atheism and communism

Historically, atheism has generally been an integral part of communist ideology (see: Atheism and communism).

In atheistic, Communist China, Christianity is experiencing explosive growth.[13][14]

On November 1, 2014, an article in The Economist entitled Cracks in the atheist edifice declared:

Officials are untroubled by the clash between the city’s famously freewheeling capitalism and the Communist Party’s ideology, yet still see religion and its symbols as affronts to the party’s atheism...

Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China’s Christian population the largest in the world. Mr. Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire.[15]

Collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union

See also: Collapse of atheism in the former Soviet Union

A Soviet propaganda poster disseminated in the Bezbozhnik (Atheist) magazine depicting Jesus being dumped from a wheelbarrow by an industrial worker as well as a smashed church bell; the text advocates Industrialisation Day as an alternative replacement to the Christian Transfiguration Day. see: Militant atheism

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[16]

On July 3, 2005, the New York Times reported concerning many countries in the former Soviet Union: "A return to religion in Romania and the region's other formerly Communist countries has in many places outrun the speed at which the church can screen and train clergy..."[17]

In 2003, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard published a paper by Assaf Moghadam entitled A Global Resurgence of Religion? which declared:

As the indications leave little doubt, Russia is showing clear signs of a religious resurgence. In fact, all seven criteria by which change in religious behavior and values are measured here confirmed that Russia is experiencing what could be called a religious revival. Since 1970, the nonreligious/atheist population has been on steady decline, from 52% in 1970 to 33% in 2000. Further, the percentage of this population is projected to decrease even further, possibly reaching the 20% mark in 2025. Between 1990 and 1997, belief in God has risen from 35% to a whopping 60%, while belief in the importance of God has climbed to 43% in 1997, up from 25% in 1990. More people have been raised religious in Russia in 1997 (20%) than at the beginning of the decade (18%), and 8.39% more Russians believed religion to be important toward the end of the 1990s, when compared to 1990. “Comfort in Religion” has also sharply increased within this time period, from less than 27% to over 46%. Finally, more and more Russians attend church services more regularly in 1997 than they did in 1990.

In the three Eastern European countries that were included in the WVS survey on belief in God, a drastic rise could be witnessed of respondents who answered this question in the affirmative. In Hungary, the percentage of believers in God jumped from 44% to 58% from 1981 to 1990, even prior to the collapse of the former Soviet Union. In Belarus, the number of people who believe in God nearly doubled over the course of the 1990s, from 36% to 68%, while in Latvia this figure almost quadrupled, from 18% to 67% in the same time period. Similar trends held true when it came to the importance of God, where there was a sharp rise in all three countries.[18]

Resurgence of global religiousity, decline of global atheism and retention rates of atheists

Eric Kaufmann, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, using a wealth of demographic studies, argues that there will be a significant decline of global atheism in the 21st century which will impact the Western World.[19][20][21][22]

See also: Atheist movement

Global atheism has been in decline since 2000 due to various causes including: the abandonment of atheism in communist countries, the low retention rate of individuals raised in atheist households, the low fertility rate of atheists, the aging of secular Europe and the unattractiveness of the atheist worldview making it difficult for atheists to gain converts in many areas (see: Decline of atheism).[23][24]

The British academic Eric Kaufmann told a secular audience in Australia: "The trends that are happening worldwide inevitably in an age of globalization are going to affect us."[25] For example, given the low retention rate of individuals raised as atheists, the growth of global religiosity combined with the immigration of religious conservatives to more secular nations, the retention rate of individuals remaining atheists could further decline as they will be exposed to more and more religious ideas. Eric Kaufmann wrote of Europe, "The proportion of conservative Christians has been rising, however: some estimate that the trajectory of conservative Christian growth has outpaced that of Islam in Europe. (Jenkins 2007: 75)."[26]

Global cultural/ideological convergence and desecularization

See: Global cultural/ideological convergence and desecularization

Unattractiveness of atheism

See also: Unattractiveness of atheism and Rebuttals to atheist arguments

The American Christian Todd Strandberg said of atheism: "The ranks of atheists have always been small... The key problem with atheism is that it lacks a strong 'selling point'".[27] See also: Atheism and apathy

Throughout mankind's history, most people have found atheism to be uninteresting and ungratifying (See: Atheism and inspiration).

Furthermore, while atheism lacks any proof and evidence that it is true, Christianity offers a wealth of evidence confirming its veracity (see: Evidence for Christianity).

Atheist factions and infighting. Atheists and meetings

See also: Atheist factions and Atheist movement and Atheism and loneliness

One of the factors which keep people within a particular ideology or religion is fellowship with like-minded individuals and the support of those individuals. In addition, a common code of ethics in order to better resolve conflicts.

There are factions within atheism and significant contention between those factions (see: Atheist factions).

Few atheists attend atheist meetings, atheist conferences or "atheist churches" (see: Atheism and apathy and Atheist movement and Atheism and loneliness).

Atheists have no agreed upon morality (see: Atheism and morality).

Atheists as a population filled with many socially challenged individuals


Atheism vs. Christian revival

See also: Atheism vs. Christian revival and Christian apologetics

Reverend Dwight Longenecker wrote: "In the late eighteenth century atheism, rationalism and Freemasonry seemed to have taken over Europe. By the mid to late nineteenth century religious revival had swept through Europe and Christianity was surging forward."[28]

In the United States, there were a series of Christian revivals/awakenings between 1730 and the 1970s (see: First Great Awakening and Second Great Awakening and Third Great Awakening and Fourth Great Awakening and Jesus Movement).

Economic duress in secular countries and atheist retention rates

Currently, many European nations and other developed nations are struggling with high debt loads and their economic future is uncertain.[29] Historical data indicates that many people turn to religious faith during times of economic duress.[30][31] Many countries in secular Europe and elsewhere with high debt loads could see an erosion of individuals remaining atheists in coming years.[32]

Atheists doubting the validity of atheism

See: Atheists doubting the validity of atheism and Atheism, agnosticism and flip-flopping

Retention rate of atheists compared to Jehovah's Witnesses

See also: Retention rate of American atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses

As noted above, in 2012, a Georgetown University study was published indicating that only about 30 percent of those who grow up in an atheist household in the United States remain atheists as adults.[33]

On the other hand, the Jehovah's Witnesses religion in the United States has a retention rate of 37 percent.[34]

For additional information, please see:

Retention rate of American atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses

Retention rate of atheist cults

See also: Atheist cults and Atheist indoctrination

The historian Philip Jenkins wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Cults had no great power to brainwash, as indicated by their embarrassingly poor retention rates. Most recruits stuck around for a year or two before drifting away, either gravitating to a new group or returning to normal life. This revolving-door effect makes solid statistics hard to come by, but the work of scholars such as J. Gordon Melton suggests that all sects combined were influencing a few hundred thousand people at any given time.[35]

Historically, there have been a handful of prominent atheists, communist atheist leaders and atheistic movements/ideologies which have had a cult-like following and some died out quickly while others have been more enduring (see: Atheist cults).

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is a founder of the New Atheism movement.

The New Atheism movement, which has waned in recent years, was called a cult by the agnostic, journalist Bryan Appleyard in a 2012 article in the New Statesman in which he describes the abusive behavior of New Atheists.[36] Although the New Atheism movement does not perfectly fit the various characteristics of a cult, it does fit some of the characteristics.[37]

Most of the allegations around New Atheism being a cult have been due to the behavior of Richard Dawkins and his fans (see: Richard Dawkins' cult of personality).

The New Atheism movement started in 2004 and then saw a very large decline due to the death of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins' Elevatorgate scandal in 2011. Post 2011, Richard Dawkins' cult of personality saw a large decline (see: Richard Dawkins' loss of influence).

See also

External links


  1. Nazworth, Nap (July 11, 2012). "Study: atheists have lowest 'retention rate' compared to religious groups".
  2. Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups
  3. Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups
  4. Another atheist myth
  5. Secularists on Thought for the Day will expose the loneliness of atheism, Guy Stagg, The Telegraph, Last updated: April 3rd, 2012
  6. 6.0 6.1 Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  7. Belief in God rises with age, even in atheist nations
  8. Answering an atheist's question
  9. [1]
  10. Cracks in the atheist edifice, The Economist, November 1, 2014
  13. Cracks in the atheist edifice, The Economist, November 1, 2014
  14. Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  16. Moghadam, Assaf (August 2003). A Global Resurgence of Religion?, p. 26. Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. Retrieved from ResearchGate network on May 29, 2015.
  17. Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann, Belfer Center, Harvard University/Birkbeck College, University of London
  18. Eric Kaufmann: Shall The Religious Inherit The Earth?
  19. Eric Kaufmann's Atheist Demographic series
  20. Eric Kaufmann: Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  21. Global data upend usual picture of Christianity trends
  22. Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann, Belfer Center, Harvard University/Birkbeck College, University of London
  23. Shall the religious inherit the earth - Festival of Dangerous Ideas - Eric Kaufmann
  24. The future of European Darwinism and atheism is bleak
  25. Atheism: The cult of death
  26. The Facts: Atheism is Dying Out, by Rev. Dwight Longenecker, April 8, 2015
  27. External debt of countries around the world
  28. Social unrest in Europe altering its religious landscape
  29. Does atheism thrive on economic prosperity? Does religion prosper when people are desperate and ignorant?
  30. An Interview With Mary Eberstadt On Her New Book “How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization”
  31. Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups
  32. Study: Atheists Have Lowest 'Retention Rate' Compared to Religious Groups
  33. How We Became Obsessed With Cults by Philip Jenkins, Wall Street Journal
  34. The God wars by Bryan Appleyard, New Statesman
  35. How cultish is the New Atheism?