Religious belief in America has been studied from every angle in enormous detail. That makes it possible to get beyond misleading statements like “Southern Baptists believe…” to find out what individual Southern Baptists say they actually believe, and in what percentages, and with what intensities.
It’s like the difference between red/blue political maps and John Nelson’s perspective-rattling purple map.
But researchers have barely begun to measure seculars in the same way. Even when we’re not lumped into the pointless “Nones” category, surveys seldom drill down to get at the details of what we hold true, much less the intensities and attitudes that accompany those opinions. The Hunsberger/Altemeyer study is one of the few exceptions, though with an n that small, it’s more of a sounding than anything. A good sounding, but still limited (as they acknowledge).
A crucial part of my current book is drawing out the hidden diversity in labels, and I’ve struggled to match the available detail on the religious side with similar data on the secular side. Now a recent study by Christopher Silver at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga comes to the rescue with a much larger n (1,153) and exactly the kind of drill-down typology I was looking for. It nicely overthrows the common misconception that nonbelievers come in just one flavor — Dawkolate.
More on those flavors later.