O We of Little Faith: Highlights from Nonreligious Survey

Bird: Results Are In

My Survey of Nonreligious Parents parents concludes this week, and I want to, once more, thank everyone who was involved in the project. I managed to get close to 1,100 responses, and the results have been fascinating. I'm most grateful for all of those who took the time to explain their answers. I learned so much more when I let you tell me about your experiences in your own words. First, the basics: Most of the respondents (about 75 percent) were women and between the ages of 26 and 45, and most had children under the age of 12. Most respondents had either one or two kids and, reflecting a lack of diversity in the non-religious population as a whole, respondents were overwhelming white — 95 percent — a figure that, in my survey, included both Latinos and non-Latinos. I'm proud to say that respondents hailed from all 50 states, plus Guam and many countries outside the United States.

As far as labels, most people said they thought of themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics or freethinkers. And, as far as belief in a higher power, 73 percent said they did not believe in the existence of a higher power, with another 18 percent saying they did not know whether a higher power exists. Interestingly, 7 percent of those surveyed said they believed in the existence of a higher power, showing — once again — that "nonreligious" does not equate to "non-believing."

Among the highlights:

• Although 57 percent of those surveyed said they viewed religion "negatively, with exceptions," 90 percent wanted their children to make up their own minds and adopt their own religious or non-religious identities — a figure that speaks to the importance of non-indoctrination in secular families. As such, the most common difficulty parents reported was not knowing how to be honest with their children about religion without indoctrinating them; 33 percent of respondents said they had struggled or continued to struggle with this.

• It was clear from the survey that being non-religious doesn't mean removing yourself from religious populations. On the contrary. Eight-six percent of respondents said they had close family members who were either somewhat or very religious, and 93 percent said they had religious friends.

• While 63 percent of the parents surveyed said they had never pretended to be religious (by attending church services or praying at family dinners, etc.), 60 percent said they had avoided talking about their religious beliefs or had refused to answer questions about their beliefs to avoid discomfort or shame.

• Being a nonreligious parent, even a quietly nonreligious parent, isn't always easy, the survey showed. Many parents (56 percent) said they had felt criticized by family and friends for raising their children in nonreligious households, 41 percent said they felt a need to edit themselves or hide parts of their identity from people they love, 39 percent said they had to deal with religious influences in their kids' schools, and 34 percent feared family members would say something insensitive to harm their children. Furthermore, almost 40 percent of parents said they feared that, simply by raising their children in nonreligious households, they had put their children at risk of being left out, ostracized or hurt by their peers.

In other words, it isn't just me.