Atheists Can Go to Heaven…. But They Can’t Get Elected!

The Pew Foundation published the results of a survey last year that I only became aware of following the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times last week. It would appear that a majority of Americans are tolerant on the criterion for getting into heaven. A survey of over 2,900 American adults revealed that the majority of Christians thought that other faiths could lead to eternal life.

But here’s a surprise… almost half (56%) thought that those of no religious faith and even atheists (42%) could also go to heaven so long as they were good people. One blogger quipped they would be needed in heaven as someone has to scrub the floors.

So in the US, the religious majority are apparently much more tolerant than usually assumed. Shame that doesn’t apply to politics. Atheists were at the bottom of the list of candidates that people said they would  vote for even though the candidate was “a generally well-qualified person for president.” Hmm sound familiar?


Filed under atheism, Research

18 responses to “Atheists Can Go to Heaven…. But They Can’t Get Elected!

  1. gajananan

    Hellow Bruce

    Nice to know about you and your blogs!

  2. brucehood

    Welcome Gajan,
    You are my first visitor from Thailand!

  3. Hey Bruce…stopping by again. Still checking out your site. Just read your comment on fastidious’ blog regarding AI. You know, I have site meter on my blog as well, and I have to say that I have a LOT of visitors clicking on multiple pages and some of them are staying for long periods of time. So, at least some of the AI traffic is stopping to read, even if they don’t comment. Comment people, comment! 🙂

  4. This doesn’t really surprise me. Cynicism goes strongly against the grain for most Americans, and I would personally say that belief in God is generally perceived as more ‘hopeful’ and optimistic than atheism.

    (Speaking as a Yank) the label atheism seems to be taken up by too many Americans who simply either have a personal axe to grind about religion or are looking for a fast-track to being considered intellectual. I think this breeds distrust in believers that the atheist’s integrity is compromised because of a personal issue rather than a broad-minded, fully-developed choice.

    Also, an atheist in charge of a country founded on ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Under God’ would seem too incongruous for most people. I’m kind of at a loss myself as to how an atheist president would reconcile themselves to this situation.

    Personally speaking, I’d prefer a president who took absolutely no stance on religion or God, and simply protected people’s rights to practice and believe as they wish. But that still leaves the issue of ‘God’ in the law.

    Beyond me, I’m afraid.

    • Chris

      Dear Katie,
      What does “Under God” have to do with anything? Do you thing Tom Jefferson or James Madison wrote it down? Sorry honey, it was I like Ike Eisenhour, when he changed the pledge. Oddly enough the Pledge was written by a minister who didn’t want it to say anything about god or allah or appollo.

  5. I agree with Katie. Americans tend to vote for the candidate who appears hopeful and optimistic. Like Mary Poppins, we like to take our medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

  6. brucehood

    I can understand not voting for the atheist as there is good evidence that they are the oppressed minority in the US, but its not because they are atheists… its because they are the minority. See Paul Bloom talking about this.

    My real surprise is acceptance that heaven is not a members only club!

  7. Excellent vlog – thank you Bruce.

    I think there is a vicious circle going in the States with believers and atheists, and personally I think the ball is in atheism’s court. My reason is because atheists are ‘free’ of religious sanction, meaning they are not God-fearing. I think Will’s reductionist comment (at about 8mins) is key to the fact that atheists are really in a better position to improve their own social standing.

    As for what is fair, I think it’s foolish to look for this in politics. The 2008 US election had many elements of compromise and chance, even as it was a in many ways triumph. Atheism currently has its “cross to bear”, and should focus on getting past the minority issue rather than raising it ad nauseam.

    As a relatively impartial person, I think atheism has yet to define itself clearly in the States as something *without* religion. I see a much more developed and multi-faceted atheism in Britain (you’re a great example, Bruce) and Europe than in America.

    While I like the DHH for their incisive wit and intelligence, they don’t have a touch on my love for Carl Sagan or Arthur C Clarke. They were men who created a world entirely for me, rather than defining themselves on the flaws of another.

  8. Bluemoon

    I am really surprised at the number of people who thought heaven was not an exclusive domain!!! Many religions dictate that only those of their own religion who follow the “rules” will get into whatever they describe as heaven and that includes religions without a specific deity. Perhaps the people questioned are displaying their own confusion about an organised religion and who’s organisation is “correct” and that fundamentally they are expressing their belief or hope that they will live on after death. I suspect a proportion of atheists believe they live on after death either in a form of reincarnation or something similar.

    I do agree about your expression of “supersense” though Bruce, a much more acceptable and palatable way of describing why we feel the way we do.

    Katie who are the DHH? Am I missing something important?

  9. DHH = Dawkins Hitchens Harris

    I don’t know how widely it’s used – I saw it on a forum and use it all the time now 😉

  10. brucehood

    Heh what’s wrong with Dennett? Shouldn’t it be DDHH?

    Did you see I managed to get him over for my conference? Did you see? did ya?

  11. I see what you did there! That’s a win for the DD then. Is that open to the public/ticket purchase?

    See, Dennett doesn’t fit the pensive/pissed-off character of the DHH. I don’t want to draw any more Santa Claus comparisons than are obvious, but he is a bit too cheerful (jolly) to join the group. He may be deconstructing human arrogance and fantasy, but he does it with a smile.

    He’s the Santa who brings you the gift of disillusionment! (sorry, this is probably really disrespectful)

  12. Arno

    “Also, an atheist in charge of a country founded on ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Under God’ would seem too incongruous for most people.”

    Ah, but is it? “In God We Trust” only appeared on the dollar bills during the Communist witch hunts in the fourties and fifties, and “Under God” is not something found on the original pledge.
    The USA was, ironically, founded by people who wanted to get away from all the constraints of the particular type of religion they had experienced in Europe.
    I almost want to ask what went wrong – they started off so promising…

  13. Good point, Arno. Unfortunately I think most Americans (even agnostics) would not immediately support a complete separation of church and state. Not without a good deal of PR work for secular government. Just my opinion, and would be only too pleased to be wrong!

    Hey, I ask that last question all the time. Though the whole destruction of indigenous people/culture wasn’t really a brilliant start.

  14. The greatest tension in the United States is not between the religious and the secular, but between the liberal and the conservative.

  15. brucehood

    I think you’re correct Hardesty. Religion is a convenient banner to yield when one wants to take sides on political issues. Still, I doubt I will see a non-religious presidential candidate in my lifetime.

  16. blackcatthursday

    My goodness!! I am ordering your book!! And this site is going to be a lovely time sink for me.

    To Arno – If you want to know what went wrong you should read Susan Jacoby’s “FreeThinkers A History of American Secularism”.

  17. brucehood

    Dear blackcatthursday,
    thank you so much..that’s very kind.

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