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Readers: Over One-Third Atheist/Agnostic/Secular

February 20, 2013 Featured, Religion 21 Comments

The headline could’ve been “nearly two-thirds religious” but that wouldn’t surprise anyone.

ABOVE: Summary of the results show religious at 65% and non-religfious at 35%.
ABOVE: Summary of the results show religious at 65% and non-religious at 34%.

Here are the detailed poll results in the order the answers were presented (see original post):

Q: I identify myself as a:

  • Christian-Protestant 37 [18.23%]
  • Christian-Catholic 67 [33%]
  • Christian-Morman 1 [0.49%]
  • Christian-Jehovah’s Witness 1 [0.49%]
  • Christian-Other 6 [2.96%]
  • Jewish 8 [3.94%]
  • Buddhist 1 [0.49%]
  • Muslim 3 [1.48%]
  • Hindu 1 [0.49%]
  • Other 4 [1.97%]
  • Unaffiliated-Atheist 44 [21.67%]
  • Unaffiliated-Agnostic 16 [7.88%]
  • Unaffiliated-Secular 9 [4.43%]
  • Unaffiliated-Religious 4 [1.97%]
  • Don’t Know/Rather Not Say 1 [0.49%]

No surprise that “Christian-Catholic” was the top answer but “Unaffiliated-Atheist” as the second answer may be a shock some. If we combine atheist/agnostic/secular the total is 69 — two more than the 67 that selected Catholic. Still, those who identify with a religion/belief were nearly two-thirds of those who voted.

ABOVE: Interior of Tower Grove Abbey, former “German Evangelical Saint Lukas Church of St. Louis” turned performance space
ABOVE: Interior of Tower Grove Abbey, the former “German Evangelical Saint Lukas Church of St. Louis”, turned performance space. Click image to view website.

Tower Grove Abbey is a shared space used by Stray Dog Theater, SDT’s Arts in Mind education project , and Tower Grove East Neighborhood Association. South City Church used to meet in the Abbey but they have a new meeting space now for their services.

I’d like to see an additional use in this and other former churches:

Not many sermons include the message that we are all going to die and there is no afterlife.

But the Sunday Assembly is no ordinary church service.

Launched last month, as a gathering for non-believers, it is, in the words of master of ceremonies Sanderson Jones, “part foot-stomping show, part atheist church, all celebration of life”. (BBC News)

Atheist church? Well, not exactly — none of that talk of a creator.

According to the Independent, about 200 worshippers showed up to the service, held on Jan. 6. The congregation focused on the theme of “Beginnings,” deliberating over ways that success can be achieved by letting go of past failures and avoiding “mental booby traps.” Instead of a sermon, the church invited Andy Stanton, a popular children’s book author, to talk about overcoming the odds and achieving success; and instead of praying together, those gathered were encouraged at one point to close their eyes and meditate on their fears of inadequacy and failure. With Jones taking the stage as MC, the congregation was also treated to some stand-up comedy. A rendition of Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back In Anger” was even sung during the gathering. (Huffington Post)

It’ll be interesting to see if this once a month experiment in positive energy for those of us who don’t buy into the idea of a creator will succeed. Comedy and uplifting stories on a Sunday morning sounds good to me. And no, atheism is not a religion.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "21 comments" on this Article:

  1. eric2342 says:

    From your previous post: 16% of Americans are non-religious. For demographic reasons, the percentage is probably lower among city residents. And yet here it is 34%… the gap is a little disappointing.

  2. RyleyinSTL says:

    Not surprised to see Atheist over 1/3, particularly on this blog, where I’d assume most readers are educated and progressive. Atheists pragmatic approach to local issues is a key component for STL to change it’s narrative from “triumph of tradition” to “triumph over tradition.” Time spent repenting, praying and worshiping by others can be productive time for Atheists. Shedding the dark mark of this city as being a stronghold in the bible belt would go along way in attracting more residents.

    • Jason Stokes says:

      Some of the religious people I know are some of the most productive at creating real change in the city. Rather than dismissing people of religious as wasting time repenting, praying, and worshiping, why not come visit my church some day and see firsthand the impact that a religious congregation can have on the city.

      It’s Lafayette Park United Methodist, in Lafayette Square. All are welcome.

      • RyleyinSTL says:

        While I’m sure your invitation is genuine, a place of worship to a God is hardly an appropriate venue for an Atheist to be. I would consider it disrespectful to show up to a United Methodist ceremony when one views it to be misguided/illogical.

        • Jason Stokes says:

          Why attend a ceremony? Come to The Bridge – which helps to serve the homeless. Attend a community event. Come get a brown bag meal (as we give to the homeless.) See Bridge Bread being baked (which gives jobs to the homeless). Check out our housing program by volunteering at HomeFirst – which seeks to provide low cost housing for people transitioning to life off the streets.

          Yes, a church brings these people together, but the actions are open to all. Sadly, most of the progressive urbanists I know spend more time pontificating and putting together fun events about “what could be,” rather than doing some real work.

          One other thing, I’ve never considered or perceived St. Louis to be part of the Bible Belt. Texas, Oklahoma, etc., yes, but St. Louis, never.

          • Until recently I was a member of the board of the 501(c)3 not for profit The Bridge, great work. I wasn’t the only atheist on the board. I also did some work with Bridge Bread. Theists don’t have a monopoly on helping in the community.

          • RyleyinSTL says:

            The charity that religious groups provide is important. I’d just rather that this work was done without the God overtones. The Salvation Army is a good example of the pitfalls of religious charity. Remove the handcuffs of the pulpit and even more can be done.

          • moe says:

            This shows how either disconnected you are or your lack of knowledge of charitable/religious organizations. To lump them all together shows great disrespect. There are in fact, many, many more religious organizations that do charity work with out the pontificating then those that do. Try to volunteer first, then come back here.

    • Fozzie says:

      While I am not religious at all, the fact remains that faith-based organizations are holding many neighborhoods together.

      • RyleyinSTL says:

        Or imprisoning them…

        • mark says:

          RyleyingSTL, that is a very insensitive statement. When I was in India, I was respectful of many Hindu beliefs that I didn’t necessarily agree with. If I am a Christian, I would not say to an atheist that their organization is “imprisoning neighbourhoods.” I would instead actively engage in a healthy and peaceful dialogue. Please apologize. We are all free to have faith if we want to. To those who do not have this gift, please be respectful.

          • RyleyinSTL says:

            “Atheist” isn’t a Religion and therefore is incapable of imprisoning anyone.

            A religious based organization providing charity with platitudes of creationism (directly or indirectly) and, attempting to sell itself as wholly selfless, is disingenuous. Yes, a Religion can facilitate a community to come together/strengthen/develop in some ways, but it does so within/around a theological construct whether followers understand this or not. Decisions are ultimately made by those with faith and, as you might expect, this faith plays a major roll in the decisions of the faithful. The charity that does the most good is one that makes choices based on things we all have in common, like laws and science…just ask anyone who has needed to use select planned parenthood services.

          • Stacey says:

            First, more people have faith in common than law. Also, faith does bring people together and does marvels for communities. Just look at what Mother Teresa has done. Have you ever been in Calcutta? I have. I saw the changes myself. The Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) in North City have done more than all the charities in this city put together. Those nuns live like the poor. They do not have air-condition, they take cold showers, and they don’t have cars so that they experience what living like the poor is all about. I went there to volunteer and I’ve seen it for myself. They help drug addicts, unwanted children, and the poorest of the poor who come to them. They live in a crime ridden North STL neighborhood and I’ve seen that neighborhood change completely. The power of their prayers does more than you think. They’re not afraid to walk the streets and not one of those nuns have been touched. It’s faith that strengthens these women to do what they do, not just some “humanistic” feeling. Mother Teresa was once told by a journalist that if she didn’t pray so much she could help more people. She responded by saying that if it wasn’t for her prayer she would never have begun doing what she did. According to her, it was because of her faith in Jesus Christ that she was able to do what she did.

            Just because you don’t believe, you have no right to judge what we do. We don’t serve the poor because we want to show everyone how good we are but we do it because we see there are people who are not loved. We want to be there for them so that they can also receive love.

          • moe says:

            An interesting read is the letters of Mother T. She actually was a depressed person full of doubt but channeled that doubt into doing good. Another good read: Today’s opinion piece in the Post-Dispatch….about why the next Pope should be a nun.

          • stacey says:

            Yes Moe, I’ve read MT’s writings. It was precisely faith that helped her to channel that doubt into doing good. She was a very courageous woman.

            About today’s opinion piece in the PD, whoever wrote that has no understanding of theology or religion for that matter. Religion in my opinion is a system of beliefs and practices and not simply an attitude towards life. When you look at Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and so many others, you can see that religious practices are not simply about attitudes. Attitudes can change, beliefs stay the same. A nun can’t be Pope because women can’t be Popes because Popes are successors of St. Peter and St. Peter was a man. Does that discriminate against women? Not necessarily because the Blessed Virgin Mary, a woman, has primary place in Catholicism. According to Catholic beliefs, she was the most perfect human being to ever exist. Doesn’t seem discriminating to me. Could Catholic theology change with regards to allowing women as Popes? You can argue against it all you want but the answer is no. It hasn’t happened in 2000 years and it won’t ever happen. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s just not going to happen. Hindus will always bathe themselves in the Ganges River. Do you agree with them doing that? Perhaps not. But they will continue doing no matter if you like it or not. Again, a religion is a system of beliefs and practices and not simply attitudes towards life.

          • moe says:

            I will simply say: and yet Mormons realized that poligamy was/is wrong. A woman can be Pope. Now the odds maybe against her right now, but to say in 100 or 1000 years it will never happen is selling women and the Church short. even the Catholic Church changes…why after 2000 years, they’ve managed to enter the 18th century.

  3. mark says:

    Being an atheist, agnostic, or secular are completely different from each other. It is offensive to group them together. Please do not do this as many secularists/humanists are quite offended when they are grouped with atheists. An apology would be highly accepted. I have an M.A. in Religious Studies. Please be more sensitive in the future.

    Also, it is actually a surprise to see that Catholics are still so numerous. It looks like it’s more than 1 out of every 3. That must say something about the vitality of the Catholic faith in the area. It’s also a fact that religious groups help communities. Just look at the turnaround at the Fox Park neighbourhood because of St. Francis de Sales Church in South City. The parish has won numerous awards from the neighbourhood because of it’s efforts in revitalizing it. I think that churches, mosques, and temples everywhere in St. Louis bring people together and create healthier neighbourhoods. Also the amount of work that Catholic Charities and other religious groups do in the city is beyond imagination. My grandfather came to this city as an immigrant and asked a Catholic charity for a loan. They gave him money without asking for interest. When he finally gave it all back several years later, the president of the charity was surprised: “Normally we don’t expect immigrants to give it all back. You’re one of the first to do so.”

    Now if more organization had that spirit of charity, our city would be a better place.

    • eric2342 says:

      “That must say something about the vitality of the Catholic faith in the area.”

      Or simply that Catholics tend to live in urban areas and Protestants in suburban/rural areas.

      • mark says:

        That isn’t true at all as there are many Catholic villages in Missouri and Illinois. I lived north of Boston for 5 years. Boston’s population of Catholics is higher than St. Louis’s but in my opinion the Catholics give much more to charities here. I’ve looked at the numbers myself. Out of all the dioceses in the USA, the Archdiocese of St. Louis was second in the amount of money it gave to the poor. Only the Archdiocese of New York, as can be expected, surpassed it.

        • Moe says:

          Catholics in the St. Louis region rank first or in the top tier in a number of ways: per sq. mile, amount of $$$ given as a whole, as a person, education value, etc. St. Louis is a solidly Catholic area. Unfortunately I think it also makes the Archbishop one of the top power brokers….and that isn’t necessarily a good think.

  4. JZ71 says:

    I’m surprised by some of the vitriol, but not by the passion, of some of the comments here. I’m not all that religious myself, but I do respect the good that many religious groups do. We need to (and should) respect every person’s individual beliefs AS LONG AS they do the same (and that’s the crux of “problem”)! Many religions believe that proselytizing is an inherent part of “their” religion, and that “need” to impose “their” beliefs on others, especially the unwilling and the “unenlightened”, is what rubs so many people the wrong way (and causes many wars, both big and small).

    The influence of the Catholic church in St. Louis isn’t much different than the influence of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City or the Southern Baptist church in Louisville. The real issue isn’t the specific religion but the fact that one religion is so pervasive – if you’re not a “part” or a “member” of some parish, you’re very much an outsider, and that extends beyond the church community, to the larger community, influencing even secular politics. Whether that’s a “good” or “bad” thing depends very much on you majority or minority affiliation . . . .


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