Friday, February 13, 2009

Things Asexuals Like: Atheism

I miss the “Things Asexuals Like” series…so I’m going to revive it with atheism!

In a poll on AVEN that 104 people took, 52% said they didn't believe in God, as compared to about 12% of the general population. When Anthony Bogaert studied asexuals, he found we were more religious than the general population. But, AVEN tells a different story. Maybe that's yet another thing that people on internet forums tend to share, like youth or an enjoyment of anime. Or not? I'm not sure. It's worth exploring.

It might be relevant to say I'm not an atheist. However, I do understand atheism and find it logical. As a kid, I didn’t really believe in God, but at some point during my teenage years, I started to think that the existence of a higher power made sense. I’m Jewish, and we probably have the vaguest idea of God imaginable. 2,000 years ago, it was avant-garde to say “There is one God” and leave it at that, but that does leave my beliefs about God relatively unformed. I’m a big religion nerd and love to study all types of religions. My favorites are probably “indigenous” or “folk” religions, like the kind Native Americans or Africans practiced before monotheism was foisted upon them. Apparently, I really do think the spirits of the dead exist and grow stronger, since I’ve found myself asking them to make the bus come faster. But I have to say, like my interests in sex, my interests in religion are mostly in my head. I think Reform Jews are way too subdued, and I admire other groups that perform epic dances, wear snakes on their heads, and bob around in muddy rivers. While I find such practices fascinating, I can’t imagine myself getting swept up in them. I may believe in God, but I don’t love God, and while I’m passionate about the study of religion, I don’t think I’m passionate about God hirself. Then again, how many Jews are? That's not part of our religion like it is in Christianity.

Like I mentioned, I can’t say with any certainty why asexuals seem more likely to be atheist. Maybe it’s because a belief in God is just as illogical as romantic love is. However, I do think God is somewhat logical. I mean, there’s so many things in the universe that we don’t understand and never will—what’s one more? Or maybe it’s just because, as I’ve said before, people who are “alternative” in some way tend to be alternative in other ways, as well. I'm not sure what else to say except for hey, we kinda like atheism.

18 comments:

Cree said...

I have actually started formally studying Judaism in order to convert. In a lecture the other night the rabbi (a liberal woman rabbi) said a Jew can be with God or against God but not without God. Apparently Jews love to debate and discuss God. I thought that was interesting.

pretzelboy said...

In some theological circles, to avoid the problem of gender with English reflexives, they've invented a new one: Godself. I have a friend in seminary who is required to use this term in papers and sermons.

Queers United said...

It's an interesting poll. I'd say if you are a sexual, heterosexual, white person who fits in perfectly in society, you likely don't find the dire need to soul search since everything works out just fine. I think it is when someone is different that they critique the current system, this may be why asexuals and gays are more likely to be atheist, agnostic, spiritual, and reject the notions of religion held by most of society. It's early, I just woke up, does that make any sense, or am I speaking jibberish?

Isaac said...

I don't think that AVEN is a good sample in order to test this hypothesis. As you said, it is biased as internet recruited, so the atheism ratio should be compared atheism ratio among internet forums users. Moreover, religious asexuals are more likely to be out of AVEN if they haven't questioned their sexuality, for instance, taking it as a gift of God.
A point in common with atheism is the prejudices that one must be attracted to at least one sex and must believe in at least one god. In many people's mind, asexuality is as unconceivable as atheism.

birdnerd said...

Once again (I may have commented on this subject before; I can't recall), I'd like to nitpick and caution against conflating "things asexuals like" with "things self-selected AVEN members like." Polls on internet message boards = tons of lurking variables. Just sayin'.

birdnerd said...

Yeah, I guess that caveat is kind of in place already. Feel free to ignore or block that last comment or whatever. I retract it.

Ryn said...

Perhaps some people who are religious feel less need to identify themselves as asexual? I grew up in a conservative Christian church where pre-marital sex was considered sinful, and it was very easy to be asexual there. Since sexual behavior was so strictly limited, I didn't feel that there was something unusual about the fact that I wasn't interested in sex at all. It wasn't until I left that church and went to college that I realized how different I was from everyone else, even though I've always been about as aromantic and asexual as it gets. I'm still a Christian, although I'm a lot more liberal than I was back then, and I find that the more accepting and open my church is about sexual behavior, the more I feel the need to identify as asexual.

rainbowamoeba said...

I'm wondering if the proportion of atheists on AVEN compared to the general population couldn't be due to the fact that the considered populations are not the same. What I mean is that 12% of the "general population" probably refers to the US population, while AVEN users are from all over the world - and for instance, from Europe, where in some countries the proportion of religious people is very much inferior to what can be observed in the US.

Also, I had a class on polls and quantitative studies last semester and it seems to me (but I could be wrong of course) that the 104 people who took the poll are probably not very representative of the 17,000 or so AVEN members. Maybe people who do believe in God didn't take the poll because the very idea of a poll about religious faith bothered them ("Of course I believe in God! How can there be people who don't?") for instance. Maybe only people who really care very much one way or another took the poll and other people for whom their religious beliefs aren't a big deal didn't.

Still, I like the idea that "people who are “alternative” in some way tend to be alternative in other ways, as well". I don't really know what to call myself when it comes to religious beliefs - I don't belong to any established religion because I don't like the idea of my beliefs having to follow a rather strict dogma (I am uncomfortable with people who simply say things like "it's wrong to be gay" or whatever because their religion says so, but who never actually think about the issue and make up their own opinion about it) but I do believe in some superior power that I find it easier to call God when I want to call it something. I thought I was an atheist for a long time though, and I know many atheists, and I probably feel more comfortable around them in general than around religious people - because I always have the feeling that religious people will be somehow disappointed or sorry for me when they realize I don't have the same beliefs as they. That's probably because all religious people I know are awesome and do great things in the name of their beliefs, so I tend to look up to them and feel bad that my own beliefs don't really incite me to do anything special for others.

Maybe asexual people are more open to other people being atheists (even when they are religious themselves) because, like you said, they are already part of an alternative culture and it makes them accepting of other alternative cultures?

Anyway - I'm glad that "Things Asexuals Like" is back :-)

Kim said...

I think the best description of Jews that I've ever heard was as "agnostics with holidays."

willendork said...

I'd be curious where your 12% statistic came from... I remember reading somewhere (seems like it was a relatively reliable source, but that didn't help me remember WHICH source) that it varies quite a bit by country. For instance, while 12% might be true in the U.S., in other 'comparable' countries, like Britain the belief/ nonbelief ratio is more like 50/50. Maybe part of what 'skews' AVEN is also the international nature of the Web? Just a thought.

Ily said...

Thanks for all the comments! Apparently, it's very hard to get numbers on atheism. The 12%(-15%) refers to the world's population. I got this number, of course, from a Wikipedia article called "demographics of athiesm". I remember reading a recently published study about how many Americans believe in God. I don't remember the exact number, but it was definitely more than 90%.

It's true that drawing conclusions from AVEN is problematic. But, my point with "Things Asexuals Like" is just to, hopefully, encourage some sort of culture surrounding asexuality. I'd like to think we have more in common than just a lack of sexual attraction. I know some of these conclusions are a little forced, but I like being able to talk about a more diverse set of topics with you all than just sexuality itself.

I agree 100% that certain religious or cultural environments are more or less amenable to different sexual expressions. My experience was similar to yours, Ryn, although it was cultural (most of my friends came from cultures where sex wasn't discussed a lot) rather than religious.

Judaism is unique because there's people who call themselves "cultural Jews" or "secular Jews" who aren't religious, but they still identify with Judaism as a culture. I think those are the agnostics with holidays that you're talking about, Kim. But I think most people who see Judaism as their religion, and not just their culture, do believe in some version of God. Welcome to the 3% club, Cree! ;-) I like your rabbi's description, it's pretty accurate of my own views.

gatto said...

As has been mentioned, the demographics of internet users do not reflect the demographics of humanity. While it's very easy for us to think of the internet as ubiquitous, there are a lot of people who don't use it. It might not be fair to call internet access a luxury, but it does cost money, and while i doesn't take a great deal of affluence to afford (I'm pretty poor, actually), even people who can afford it might not make it a priority (above, say, television). Some people might not think the internet has anything to offer them. Young people are more likely to use the internet, and young people are more likely to be atheist. Educated people are almost certainly more likely to use it (particularly for participation on forums, which requires at least a minimal level of literacy); atheism correlates with educational achievement, and both atheism and educational achievement must correlate with inquisitiveness and intellectualism. Among intellectuals, even theists are not likely to be what we would call "fundamentalists". I think you will find far less fundamentalism in faiths where the clergy have a high degree of education. Likewise, among fundamentalist clergy, there are not very many who have, say, divinity degrees (or sometimes even high school diplomas). No surprise, as you don't need schooling to learn con artistry and rabble rousing. It's certainly no surprise to me that there are so many liberal Jews; they put a value on education, and I think it's quite natural that in a mostly Christian country like mine, even very religious members of a minority (and often persecuted) faith would be in favor of separation of church and state. In fact, separation of church and state, in the past, was a much more popular idea with evangelical Christian. From what I understand, the thinking was that politics was such a dirty business, entangling the church in it would foul the church. I don't think politics has become any cleaner in the last 100 years, but the attitude of most (though by no means all) evangelicals seems to have changed with regard to state-church separation. But, then, Pat Robertson used to be in the African diamonds business, so maybe nothing is too dirty for him.

Anyway, I know your post was about atheism, and not state-church separation, so maybe that's a bit of a tangent.

I think a lot of the AVEN membership is autistic or schizoid, or have a lot of the traits. It seems to me that regardless of diagnoses, a great portion of the AVEN regulars share many traits, chiefly preoccupation with reflection on their own inner lives.... I think that tends to quite often lead to disdain for social convention and mores. A lot of people there are even resentful of mass culture (I would say I am; I don't own a television). I am deeply curious about culture, and it can be amusing to satisfy that curiosity, at times, but that amusement often turns to despair if I focus on it for long. But, then, I'm a misanthropologist. A misanthropologist apologist, you might say. But, yeah, the kind of thinking I do tends to turn me off from religion (and other things like consumerism and nationalism and all sorts of group thinking pretty much) at both an emotional and intellectual level. I do, however, have a soft spot for Zen.

Anyway, here's an article you might like:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070924/pollitt

Regards. :)

Ily said...

Yep Gatto, this is definitely just idle speculation-- nothing scientific. I agree that if the AVEN population wasn't somewhat inward-looking, we probably wouldn't have found AVEN in the first place. I'd love to know how many asexuals are actually on the autistic spectrum-- maybe we'll get hard data on that someday.

Teresa said...

I find this topic hugely interesting. My realization that I'm asexual came within a week or two of my realization that I'm a humanist/non-deist, and although I know correlation does not equal causation and all that, I really wonder if they might have been related. Or maybe it was just easier to come out to myself as both at once, as long as I was rewriting all my self-definitions anyway...

roseblood said...

Ily, you may be interested to know that in addition to 'cultural Jews', in some places there are often 'cultural Christians' as well; people who identify with a religion because it's part of their family's heritage, even if that family hasn't had 'believing' members for several generations. Perhaps surprisingly, even Richard Dawkins has explicitly put himself in this category. It's another major complication in assessing religiosity and one which seems to occur with both Roman Catholicism and in countries with a state Church, e.g. Sweden and Britain, where people will often enjoy hymns and carols they grew up with in school, on TV etcetera (here in Britain even most state schools are required by law to gently push the agenda of the national Church), get married, buried and even baptise their babies in the Church despite having little or no belief in its basic tenets, and people will call themselves Christians in polls etc. despite being deists or even 'weak atheists' by belief.

Ily said...

Thanks roseblood, that's very true. I'm not sure why I said "Judaism is unique..." because I know there's few religions that have a monopoly on any one thing.

Isaac said...

Hey, roseblood, that's exactly what happens in Spain with respect to Roman Chatolicism.

Anonymous said...

In response to your last comment, Ily: Judaism is unique in that it wasn't a religion to begin with, but a culture connected with their G-d in a way Christians and people of other faiths today are not. And it still is a culture, as evidenced with "secular Jews" and the like. Religion, if you think about it, really is man-made.

I myself identify as a Christian "culturally" based on my upbringing and "religiously" based on my belief (or what I think to think of as my knowledge) of G-d and his spirit's existence.