The Chasm of Humanism: A Heuristic Response

Bruce Cathey

The recent demographic surge of the irreligious Nones presents a quandary to organized humanism. On the one hand, it constitutes a floodtide of defections away from traditional religion, thus easing, among other things, the chronic challenge facing humanists and atheists to counter discrimination against unbelief in the modern world. On the other hand, the newcomer Nones are increasingly indifferent to and unmotivated by religious controversy, such that remarkably few of these Nones, even the outright unbelievers, are becoming affiliated with organized movements of unbelief. Although our numbers are growing, our organizational base is stagnating or relatively declining. I propose herein an adaptive resource that might partially address this epidemic problem.

In “Humanism’s Chasm” (FI, February/March 2019), Tom Flynn notes that these days, an increasing number of the new Nones are not coming from the Sturm und Drang of traditional deconversion. Consequently, there is thus being created a substantial intellectual enclave of religiously indifferent people who have little engagement or motivation to offer our cause. (This trend ties in with a more general recent growing trend of public apathy toward and rejection of institutional hegemony in several societal domains—but that’s another issue, for a different forum.) Unfortunately, much current research projects that unbelief, which has much lower fertility rates than the leading world religions, will lose ground again to Christianity and especially Islam, through at least mid-century1. This trend has to be reversed if unbelief is to remain a fully viable option for future generations. And although the current widespread misunderstandings of atheism, and massive societal distrust of atheists and other unbelievers2, may be substantially reduced within that enclave, the growing isolation of atheism and humanism vis-à-vis the relentlessly enlarging religious majorities beyond will make even harder the erosion of such misunderstandings and distrust within the larger society. Will this result in an intellectual/social/cultural ghetto of unbelievers?

In contrast, there are still huge numbers of wavering religionists, and thus potential “deconverts” to our cause(s)—from Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, to mention only the most obvious sourceswho are not being reached by, or not responding to, our “evangelizing” efforts. Indeed, some researchers are finding that the rates of deconversion are slowing globally3. Why are we not reaching those potential deconverts? Evidently, we still need to push deconversion—but of which target groups?

Basically, the humanist movement has traditionally failed to address effectively the known mechanisms whereby people actually deconvert in droves. We are thus apparently targeting a wrong niche of potential unbelievers (among others, the hyporeligious Millennials, who will deconvert or remain nonreligious with, without, or despite our intervention), and failing to identify and effectively target those potential deconverts who might likely affiliate with organized humanism or freethought and thus grow the numbers of activists actually promoting the movement.

Note that a religious convert is moving toward something invitingly different and usually (for him or her) new4, so it’s a rather different process. In contrast, the deconvert can be reinforced in moving away from religion and then introduced to our way of thinking rather sooner in “conversion” to humanism/freethought/unbelief. In further contrast, a large number of the new Nones do not experience a major trauma in starting to disbelieve religious claims—“non-belief has simply become another choice in the spiritual marketplace”5—so that one may not need generous time to process the new doubts before embarking on a quest for something better.

We are hemorrhaging potential deconverts by our non-nuanced ignoring of or indifference to these different processes; one investigator6 finds that about 60 percent of those considering deconversion do not realistically achieve that goal within three years. Those losses appear to be people who find the challenges of deconversion more costly but who might, if appropriately facilitated in that goal, ultimately deconvert with determined effort and become more engaged organizationally7. Let us therefore look at traditional deconversion (that is, what usually happened before the current waves of newly indifferent Nones) and see how we are missing out.

Deconversion Staged. Doubt

Now, the process of apostasy or deconversion from religion has repeatedly been found to involve multiple factors8 and several stages9. Most of these investigations or accounts agree that the process is initially far more a revolt against Christianity, other religions, or religion in general, than a consequence of introduction to new avenues or ways of thinking or believing (as in conversion to new religious movements or cults)10. This is Lee’s stage 2 of doubt: “the sense of confident assurance that comes from religious faith begins to melt away as the believer’s doubts grow, typically despite intense efforts to suppress them.” This stage we could reinforce by an appropriate resource. But this stage is not the time to introduce them to our (humanist) way of thinking11; rather, at this stage we must bolster the revolt.

Darkness

We don’t usually see them at the stage of doubt, or even at Lee’s stage 3, that of darkness: “the person’s former faith has collapsed, but they do not yet have anything to replace it with. … When someone becomes an atheist, it usually happens alone,” Lee writes. “People have to wrest themselves out of the grip of religion all on their own, teaching themselves critical thinking, rediscovering the arguments that so many others have found persuasive, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps with no help or tools except their own inquiring mind.” This we can change. An effective strategy or resource for inducing mass deconversion should bring in or freely cite like-minded experienced sympathetic deconverts at this stage—whether in person or in writing—who can calmly but firmly help the new doubters through this period of Sturm und Drang. But since each waverer will have a different set of besetting issues, that help should be filtered for quick-reference access.

Neophyte Need for Literature Filtration

A major factor in inducing deconversion or apostasy has traditionally been the reading of reliable modernist or even antireligious or antitheological literature. (Admittedly, the Bible itself is still one of the foremost publications that often starts to trigger unbelief.) The waverer or doubter has had to seek this out for him- or herself, and the evidence is that most, even in the age of the internet, do a terribly poor job of this12.

  • The overwhelming bulk of freethought/humanist/unbelief publications today—books, journals, articles, conference papers, etc.—tend to present current ongoing and new issues of unbelief, such that these media are typically much more effective for the already deconverted and somewhat (too much) experienced unbeliever; the primary consumers are thus relatively longstanding deconverts. As early as the 1870s, G. W. Foote (subsequently an eminent British freethought editor) was voicing this concern13. Such publications generally do not constitute quick-reference guides of the sort that the neophyte requires for freethought filtration of the sort hinted at herein.

Further, the numerous extant freethought/humanist/unbelief websites do a remarkably poor job of facilitating the search process for the neophyte.

  • The sprawl of humanist, atheist, and various other freethought-perspective websites has become phenomenal. Many sites seem implicitly to be governed by an anarchic premise that the user should be free to seek what he or she wants without any guidance—as if the average neophyte deconvert or waverer (untrained in literature searching) had any inkling of what is to be found out there in cyberspace, how to go about seeking it, how to recognize potential or actual hits, and what to do with them (that is, how to evaluate them) when found. It is as though it were inappropriate to be doing focused research on a topic, as opposed to mere aimless browsing in a tsunami of unbelief.
  • Consider the Internet Infidels site14. One of the finest and most accessed such sites, it nonetheless has:
    • (1) no keyword index of titles or subjects;
    • (2) no thesaurus of preferred search terms up front;
    • (3) no cross-references from less-preferred or less-common search terms;
    • (4) no suggestions on how to search for desired topics;
    • (5) often, no discussion of why, ordinarily, new materials have to be developed and published on a topic, implying that the welter of older works have been extensively explored and all found unsuitable, let alone what older materials were in fact sifted through;
    • (6) seldom, any indication of length, or content, other than the full text (abstract, chapter or section headings [with links?], etc.);
    • (7) no indicators of what went into the vetting process, such as the number of holding locations for books, pamphlets, and the like; the number of, or particular, reviews received (and what kinds of reviews?), reviews by Internet Infidel members; number, quality, or utility of cited references; number and quality of citations subsequently received (such as number of links from other websites, or professional citations as determined in Google Scholar, Web of Science, Microsoft Academic, SCOPUS, or whatever accepted resource; known reputation or professional affiliation of author);
    • (8) a too-simplistic and non-nuanced hierarchical structure of the Secular Web database. To repeat, this is one of the best such sites!

Incidentally, many of the above-noted deficiencies are standardly or regularly addressed in most of the databases from which I have drawn the ideas for the presentation herein.

The literature of unbelief in recent years has been a torrent of publication, but the neophyte or waverer is accordingly (indeed, unknowingly!) “informationally overloaded” and less and less knowledgeable about how (and why) to search for, identify, evaluate, and utilize such material. The seeker is increasingly swamped at a time of desperate need for (filtered) zooming-in on heuristic new ideas. Additionally, altogether too many of the new publications or websites seem either unaware or dismissive of the older literature that has extensively covered very much the same ground15. Rather than simply indiscriminately producing more and more excess of such literature, citing little or not at all what has already been produced, we might well focus also on a mechanism or resource for filtering what is already out there and making the filtered results immediately accessible to neophyte (and also more-experienced) inquirers. (And we must note at the outset that such a resource should have support for continuous updating, for this need is not one that will ever go away, at least not in our lifetimes.)

  • Bibliographic databases16 in general are information filtration systems—for the literatures of dozens of academic, professional, activist, governmental, popular, and other domains. These now-longstanding resources are in fact among the resources whose use in such domains significantly develops competent professionals from neophytes. It is proposed here that deconversion of highly committed but wavering religionists could be facilitated by an analogous resource. For some years, I have been conceptualizing, and potentially populating with thousands of citations I have gathered, a structured freethought/humanism/unbelief database that would be precisely such a filtration system of relevant accessible credible professional/activist evidence for unbelief. It is geared to the stages of (development of) unbelief; it is geared to the sequential presentation of humanism/freethought/unbelief; and it is being modernized by the addition of hundreds of confirming or validating social/behavioral scientific and humanities-related professional and academic studies accessible to the educated layperson. It should be well worth our while to launch such a plausible empirically vetted humanist literature inventory resource (the facts are largely with us).
  • To my knowledge, no product of this sort with this focus has (in publication) previously been proposed, designed, or implemented in this domain.

Loss of Doubters

For many who didn’t get this far, it may be too late to reach out to them now. We lose far too many doubters to ideological (religious) inertia; socio-economic/political/cultural (etc.) pull factors; internet overload of useless or damaging apologetic religious drivel17; and our own failure to mount a resource that would filter for them a vast literature of modern unbelief that extensively and reliably addresses hundreds of dubious religious claims with the facts of reality. We lose too many waverers to the lack of (supposedly findable) information that they are desperately seeking, including some deconverts who—for lack of access to, or lack of knowledge of how to access, the same literature of unbelief—reconvert. Vargas explores numerous factors that weigh for and against the probable current loss of potential deconverts, and (again) estimates that perhaps 60 percent of those who consider disaffiliation do not actually leave. This must be changed. The resource suggested herein thus far addresses principally only one of Vargas’s four factors (religious skepticism) but could provide buttressing support for others (political factors, life stressor events, and to some extent sociodemographic aspects) as well.

  • Several unbeliever types have been identified18. For our purposes, we should want deconverts most likely to become intellectual atheists/agnostics, activist atheists/agnostics, and antitheists, those most amenable to the organizational message of humanism/freethought. Our messages regarding unbelief should be tailored accordingly.
  • Incidentally, reconversion is not just a problem of inconsequential people. Several major nineteenth-century freethinkers (indeed, leaders) moved away from unbelief19. For a modern example, see Wikipedia’s “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism.”20 In most cases, so far as we have determined, these persons shelved, selectively dismissed or ignored, or wrote off most or all the earlier reasons that factored in their deconversion without encountering or addressing further contemporaneous freethought directed against the positions that they were again (or newly) taking up. And in most cases the reconvert or backslider wrought some-to-extensive damage to the gains of freethought and unbelief.

This state of affairs has to be changed, and radically so, if unbelief is to contend in the projected world of changing religious affiliation 2010–205021. We must introduce new doubters to our way of thinking at an appropriate stage of deconversion, and with more cognitively realistic and promising approaches, but this may perhaps best be done by a mechanism or resource that does not especially necessitate our initial direct contact with them. Further, we need a resource that will counter the well-recognized tendency of highly knowledgeable seekers to use motivated reasoning to exclude uncomfortable facts22.

Why would we not want to make direct contact with new doubters at such earlier stages of deconversion? Well, unbelief in general, and atheism in particular, is in the twenty-first century still heavily stigmatized, still heavily misunderstood because of widespread slanderous religious propaganda and fictitious social cognitive misperception, and other concerns23, and we don’t need to associate doubting religion with stigmatization. We do need to associate incipient doubt with:

  1. the widespread modernity that most religious thought tries to ignore or explain away with religious apologetics or falsely insist that religion had a fundamental role in bringing about;
  2. the social, economic, and cultural behavior of Christians and Christianity in inducing widespread disaffection within the faith24;
  3. (iii) the epidemicity of doubt seen with all dominant religions in history and globally today;
  4. (iv) the leading role that leaders in all aspects of modernity—science, academia, professions, politics, economic development, activism, etc.—have played in bringing about the current trends in withdrawal from institutional religion.25

Further, we must recognize that the better idea is to induce them to come to us (early), not—in missionary fashion—to impose ourselves on them.

Buttressing Doubters’ Issues at Stages 2–3

Following up with Lee’s model of deconversion, to buttress the new waverer, a first concern should be to introduce waverers to the idea that it is indeed proper:

  • to doubt, and to elaborate reasons for doubting;
  • to realize that doubting the claims of religion(s) is epidemic (rather than deviant) in the twenty-first century;26
  • to examine the other side’s claims against their own beliefs (if initially only to better know what they are contending against);
  • to admit where their own case is weakest (and where many earlier explorers have provided the answers that they will thus be seeking). At this stage, we could introduce them to our relevant literature of unbelief by the kind of resource that I am proposing herein. At Lee’s third stage, darkness, we might then gradually introduce ourselves and our (humanist) belief options and strategies, truncating the duration of the deconvert’s third stage even more dramatically than Lee claims. Indeed, at Lee’s fourth stage of deconversion, that of illumination, we can and should provide them with much more of this resource, or a higher level of same.

Illumination

Those who actually take up a new worldview mostly discover that worldview and/or adherents thereof at a rather later stage27. We see this in virtually every meeting, conference, or congress of humanism or unbelief that we attend: there’s always somebody there for the first time, a recent (or even older) deconvert who hardly knew that we existed, let alone that we were findable and approachable. (And as for the past quarter-millennium of literature of unbelief, often they still either don’t know of its existence, or they have no idea how [or why!] to access and utilize it.) The resource that I have proposed has the potential to assist many in achieving that stage of illumination much sooner.

So how many potential deconverts are we talking about? Well, considering only a replacement cohort of newly minted unbelievers—who would have (or know where to find) little or, most likely, no substantive secularist reading material to follow up on and be able to counter their religious colleagues’ outdated or irrelevant arguments for continuing to believe—we have, say:

  • 1.1 billion unbelievers globally, according to a 2015 Pew Forum estimate28; let us reduce this by eliminating many of the “spiritual but not religious” and other such “half-unbelievers” and start with some 730,000,000;
  • for a replacement cohort (two generations [!] = forty years)29, we replace with 2.5 percent per year (= 100 percent/40); thus
  • 730,000,000 x 0.025 = 18,250,000 per year ÷ 365 days/year = 50,000 deconverts per day globally;
  • and this doesn’t even consider the larger market of experienced unbelievers who might profit from some sort of refresher or reference inventory, topically organized, of published works of humanism/freethought or supporting materials.

We may also wish to target (less vigorously?) the wavering unbelievers who tend to (re-)convert, including (1) the many (perhaps 30–40 percent or so) growing up in (perhaps nominal) unbelief but converting to some religion in adult life, and (2) others in the 20 percent or so of unbelievers who eventually switch back into religion. These hemorrhages of the unbeliever population must likewise be reduced if we are to maintain and grow our numbers competitively.

Finally, we have reason to believe that many believers not considering deconversion may also find useful a site heuristic for exploring realistically and representatively what we unbelievers actually believe or disbelieve or claim we believe.

Recruitment of the New Unbelieving Nones for Organized Unbelief

Let us now take at face value Tom Flynn’s conservative estimate of about 7.567 million ( 7.6 million) current American atheists, freethinkers, or secular humanists. Most of these also have little experience in identifying, searching, finding data, and evaluating same on given problems or issues of freethought or secular humanism. If they just randomly encounter a religious issue or controversy, they’re not oriented to investigating it in any detail, unlike even their elders. Of course, just unsystematically browsing the internet for such information frequently goes nowhere, and most freethought/humanist collections of unbelief information usually have (1) no organizational theme or methodology; (2) no topically organized, preferably hierarchically structured, or even alphabetical index of key ideas or topics (keywords) that occur; (3) no thesaurus of major terms (or concepts) used, to provide entrée to the topics presented; (4) no cross-references or “see also” entries. A structured database of current filtered information about a substantial variety of these issues should have various such features and could generate far more efficient and motivated engagement with even selected sought issues than currently occurs.

Flynn writes that “When unbelief is just one aspect of your identity rather than central to it, and when you have never knowingly experienced social disapproval on grounds of your life stance, you may see few benefits from aligning yourself with a life stance–centered movement.”30 Is this true for cohorts in Scandinavia, especially Norway, which has the largest national humanist organization in the world? Is it true in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, or other European countries with surging populations of Nones? Is it true in any rapidly secularizing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America? Is this analogously true for cohorts previously experiencing racial, gender, sexual-preference, age, or other discrimination? If thus widely true, what are the common characteristics here, and what can we do about it specifically to safeguard the base of organized unbelief?

Because of the publicly visible losses in the churches and related institutions, traditional religions and denominations are becoming more aggressive, more ingenious, and even somewhat scientific in devising mechanisms to attempt to hold onto or even augment their remaining flocks. We need to explore their methods for dealing with the incipient doubter or waverer. We are not properly digesting and responding to these newer defense mechanisms against modern doubt. It may also be of interest to examine how religiously oriented clinical professionals in behavioral and social sciences, such as social work and psychology, deal with their religiously wavering clients.31

The resource I am suggesting herein can accommodate such concerns. It is a question of building into the hierarchical topical scheme a section on the newer religious propaganda and approaches to retention of potential membership losses. Remember, our organized religious opponents depend heavily on membership and attendance data for their continued raison d’être, so to counter their future thrusts we must remain aware of how they are now attempting to stall or reverse the floodtide of new disbelief.

Conclusion

The epidemic growth of the Nones in recent years that, paradoxically, threatens the future organizational viability of unbelief (and thus the options to control the future of unbelief) can be addressed by a resource proposed herein that assists the religious waverer/doubter or deconvert to weather the storms of intellectual doubt and darkness and to grant him or her the illumination that comes with freedom from faith and religion. This resource would be a bibliographic database of humanism/freethought/unbelief (and so on) that will offer a searchable inventory of publications classified in a developmental scheme (based on known stages of deconversion and ultimate achievement of an illuminating new worldview of humanism and freethought); guided browsing of filtered offerings: descriptions and evaluations and/or vetting of cited works; and other features. The benefits of such a resource for organized unbelief could be significant, in that it could be fashioned to target strongly committed but wavering religionists particularly likely to subsequently engage to become activist humanists.

 


Notes

  1. Ellis et al. 2017; Hackett et al. 2015.
  2. E.g., Edgell et al. 2016; Wright and Nichols 2014.
  3. E.g., Johnson 2014, p. 54.
  4. See the literature on new religious movements generally, also the Oxford Handbook on Religious Conversion (2014) generally.
  5. Fazzino 2014, p. 262.
  6. Vargas 2012, p. 202.
  7. Such deconversion is analogous to the “Paul Effect” (after St. Paul’s conversion experience) in Christianity. It does work.
  8. E.g., Barbour 1994; Streib 2014; Streib and Keller 2004.
  9. See, e.g., Fisher 2017; Lee n.d.; innumerable autobiographical accounts (see, for numerous links, Lee n.d.); Smith 2011; Google search (“deconversion stages,” accessed January 31, 2019); also, the cult deconversion literature.
  10. E.g., Fazzino 2014; Wright et al. 2011.
  11. The claim that “negative” freethought is missing out by failing to present a viable (rationalist/humanist/secularist) alternative at that stage is not borne out by the consensus of recent social/behavioral scientific findings regarding traditional deconversion. Apart from the phenomenal recent rise of the new Nones, who still constitute a substantial demographic minority, in most religious settings (at least in the United States), it is often still a major step to start disbelieving religious claims, and one must be given generous time to substantiate and process the new doubts before embarking on a quest for something better.
  12. See again, by implication, Vargas 2012.
  13. Foote 1876, p. 23–24.
  14. The Secular Web, https://infidels.org/.
  15. Why do we need several hundred new works on atheism and related issues in this century alone, many of which have few or no citations to related works?
  16. Wikipedia, “Bibliographic database,” 2018.
  17. One estimate, now several years old (source not recalled), is some 51,000,000 extant Christian websites!
  18. See, e.g., Silver et al. 2014.
  19. Larsen, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England (2006), devotes a chapter each to, e.g., Joseph Barker, Thomas Cooper, George Sexton, and several other major secularist reconverts, as well as others who moved to some other nonfreethought endeavor (Annie Besant plus two to three others to be named; see Larsen or a major review thereof, the latter group in an Appendix, pp. 254–87). But, advancing beyond Larsen, see also Nash’s illuminating review essay, “Reassessing the ‘Crisis of Faith’ in the Victorian Age,” 2011.
  20. Wikipedia, “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism,” 2018.
  21. See again Hackett et al. 2015.
  22. Epley and Gilovich 2016.
  23. E.g., Edgell et al. 2016; Gervais et al. 2011; Wright and Nichols 2014.
  24. This is actually Wright et al.’s (2011) top factor (number one in incidence).
  25. A great deal can be done (in “search engine optimization”) to attract visitors to a website. That’s also a different article.
  26. See, e.g., Gervais et al. 2011.
  27. Lee’s (n.d.) fourth stage; see also Wright et al. 2011.
  28. See again Hackett et al. 2015.
  29. This (conservative) figure somewhat concedes the Pew Research Forum findings that the fertility rate of the Nones is perhaps 1.5 per woman, whereas 2.1 per woman is the usual figure required for mere maintenance of a population.
  30. Flynn 2019, p. 6.
  31. See, e.g., the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity, APA, 2014.

Further Reading

  • Barbour, John D. Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994. (Studies in religion and culture) Cited by 132 (Google Scholar, August 30, 2018). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. [numerous reviews: EBSCOhost, ProQuest, JSTOR]. [Identifies four factors present in most deconversion experiences.]
  • Edgell, Penny, Douglas Hartmann, Evan Stewart, and Joseph Gerteis. “Atheists and Other Cultural Outsiders: Moral Boundaries and the Non-Religious in the United States.” Social Forces 95, issue 2 (December  2016): 607–38. Abstract; [86] References. Cited by 51 (Google Scholar, September 4, 2018). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sf/sow063.
  • Ellis, Lee, Anthony W. Hoskin, Edward Dutton, and Helmuth Nyborg. “The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence.” Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, issue 3 (September  2017): 224–42. Abstract; *[176] References. Cited by 11 (Google Scholar, March 26, 2019); 865 Downloads. http://helmuthnyborg.dk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Publ_2017_The-future-of-secularism.pdf.
  • Epley, Nicholas, and Thomas Gilovich. “The Mechanics of Motivated Reasoning.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 30, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 133–40. Cited by 42 (Google Scholar, March 28, 2019). EBSCOhost. DOI: http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.30.3.133.
  • Fazzino, Lori L. “Leaving the Church Behind: Applying a Deconversion Perspective to Evangelical Exit Narratives.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 29, issue 2 (May 2014): 249–66. Abstract; [45] References. Cited by 22 (Google Scholar, February 5, 2019). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2014.903664. [“Exiters emphasize breaking away from the constraints of hegemonic Christianity rather than turning to secularity” (Abstract).]
  • Fisher, Adam Robert. “A review and conceptual model of the research on doubt, disaffiliation, and related religious changes.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 9, issue 4 (2017): 358–67. Author abstract; *[107] References. Cited by 5 (Google Scholar, January 8, 2019). EBSCOhost, ProQuest, APA PsycNet. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/rel0000088. [There are many paths and variants thereof that can lead to deconversion, etc. Which of these can we exploit, and how?]
  • Flynn, Tom. “Humanism’s Chasm.” Free Inquiry 39, no. 2 (February/March 2019): 4–6.
  • Foote, G. W. Secular Work and Organisation. London, 1876. https://books.google.com/books?id=8sEwAQAAMAAJ.
  • Gervais, Will M. “Finding the Faithless: Perceived Atheist Prevalence Reduces Anti-Atheist Prejudice.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37, issue 4 (April 2011): 543–56. Abstract; [84] References. Cited by 103 (Google Scholar, November 14, 2018). ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167211399583.
  • Gervais, Will M., Azim F. Shariff, and Ara Norenzayan. “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust Is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101, no. 6 (December 2011): 1189–1206. Abstract; [87] References. Cited by 292 (Google Scholar, August 13, 2018). ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025882.
  • Hackett, Conrad, Marcin Stonawski, Michaela Potančoková, Brian J. Grim, and Skirbekk Vegard. “The future size of religiously affiliated and unaffiliated populations.” Demographic Research 32 (January-June 2015, Article 27): 829–41. Abstract [Background, Objective, Methods, Results; Conclusion]; [17] References. Cited by 25 (Google Scholar, August 30, 2018). ProQuest. [Expanded by a Pew Forum report by the same authors, “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050.” Pew Research Center, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, April 2, 2015. Cited by 51 (as Hackett et al.); Cited by 38 (as Pew Research Center) (Google Scholar, August 30, 2031). ProQuest. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/.] [Nineteen webpages; accessed November 10, 2016.]
  • Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity, edited by P. Scott Richards and Allen E. Bergin. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2014. Cited by 616 (Google Scholar, February 4, 2019). [numerous reviews: EBSCOhost, ProQuest.]
  • Johnson, Todd M. “Demographics of Religious Conversion.” Chap. 2 in Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by Lewis R. Rambo & Charles E. Farhadian. Oxford, New York, [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2014. [6] References. [This chapter online at Google Books.]
  • Larsen, Timothy. Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England. [Oxford, New York, etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2006. Cited by 84 (Google Scholar, October 29, 2018). [Numerous reviews: EBSCOhost, ProQuest, JSTOR.]
  • Lee, Adam. “Into the Clear Air.” Patheos, Daylight Atheism, (n.d.). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/into-the-clear-air/; [accessed November 15, 2016]. [An excellent examination of the four-stage process of becoming an atheist: exaltation, doubt, darkness, illumination. Includes a link to hundreds of testimonies to the process of apostasy/deconversion.]
  • Nash, David. “Reassessing the ‘Crisis of Faith’ in the Victorian Age: Eclecticism and the Spirit of Moral Inquiry.” Journal of Victorian Culture 16, issue 1 (2011): 65–82. Abstract; [41] bibliographical footnotes. Cited by 18 (Google Scholar, January 28, 2019). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13555502.2011.554676 [accessed May 14, 2018].
  • Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by Lewis R. Rambo & Charles E. Farhadian. Oxford, New York, [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2014. Cited by 63 (Google Scholar, January 31, 2019). [Numerous reviews: EBSCOhost, ProQuest]
    [“Offers a comprehensive exploration of the (social and behavioral) dynamics of religious conversion, which for centuries has profoundly shaped societies, cultures, and individuals throughout the world” (publisher’s description), also covering selected specific major religions.]
  • Silver, Christopher F., Thomas J. Coleman, III, Ralph W. Hood, Jr., et al. “The six types of nonbelief: a qualitative and quantitative study of type and narrative.” Mental Health Religion & Culture 17, issue 10 (2014): 990–1001. Abstract; Charts; [28] References. Cited by 44 (Google Scholar, August 15, 2018). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2014.987743. [Highly technical in many parts. Identifies “Academic Atheists, Activist Atheist/Agnostics, Seeker Agnostics, Antitheists, Non-Theists, and the Ritual Atheists” (Abstract).]
  • Smith, Jesse M. “Becoming an Atheist in America: Constructing Identity and Meaning from the Rejection of Theism.” Sociology of Religion 72, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 215–37. Abstract; [39] References. Cited by 187 (Google Scholar, August 13, 2018). EBSCOhost, ProQuest, JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41288569. [Like Lee, supra, identifies four stages in the process of deconversion and subsequent identity construction.]
  • Streib, Heinz. “Deconversion.” Ch. 12 in Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion, edited by Lewis R. Rambo & Charles E. Farhadian. Oxford, New York, [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2014. Abstract; [ ] References. Cited by 42 (Google Scholar, September 11, 2018). Online version available at https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/download/1857116/2325729. [Presents four types of deconversion narratives: • pursuit of autonomy, • debarred from paradise, • finding a new frame of reference, • life-long quests–late revisions.]
  • Streib, Heinz, and Barbara Keller. “The Variety of Deconversion Experiences: Contours of a Concept in Respect to Empirical Research.” Archive for the Psychology of Religion / Archiv für Religionspycho-logie 26, no. 1 (2004): 181–200. Cited by 44 (Google Scholar, September 11, 2018). Abstract; [41] References. EBSCOhost, JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23910046. [accessed September 11, 2018] [Presents five commonalities of deconversion: • Loss of specific religious experience • Intellectual doubt, denial or disagreement with specific beliefs • Moral criticism • Emotional suffering • Disaffiliation from the community. (p. 191).]
  • Thiessen, Joel, and Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme. “Becoming a Religious None: Irreligious Socialization and Disaffiliation.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 56, issue 1 (March 2017): 64–82. Abstract; [67] References. Cited by 12 (Google Scholar, January 8, 2019). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jssr.12319. [“ … we can … expect irreligious socialization to gradually take the lead in explaining rising religious none figures” (abstract).]
  • Vargas, Nicholas. “Retrospective Accounts of Religious Disaffiliation in the United States: Stressors, Skepticism, and Political Factors.” Sociology of Religion 73, issue 2 (Summer 2012): 200–23. Abstract; Tables; *[63] References. Cited by 57 (Google Scholar, March 28, 2019). EBSCOhost, ProQuest, JSTOR. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srr044 or http://www.jstor.org/stable/41679694 [accessed February 4, 2018].
  • Wikipedia. “Bibliographic database.” Wikipedia, last edited December 3, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliographic_database [accessed January 29, 2019].
  • Wikipedia. “List of converts to Christianity from nontheism.” Wikipedia, last edited April 3, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity_from_nontheism [accessed July 1, 2018].
  • Wright, Bradley R. E., Dina Giovanelli, Emily G. Dolan, and Mark Evan Edwards. “Explaining Deconversion from Christianity: A Study of Online Narratives.” Journal of Religion & Society 13 (2011): 1–17. Author abstract; Graphs; [35] References. Cited by 25 (Google Scholar, January 8, 2019). EBSCOhost. http://brewright.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Wright-et-al-2011-Deconversion.pdf [accessed March 27, 2018]. [A highly commendable research report by Christian sociologists as to the actual empirical originating factors of doubt and unbelief, as opposed to most benighted Christian twaddle apologetic regarding rejection of God, sin, etc.]
  • Wright, Jennifer, and Ryan Nichols. “The Social Cost of Atheism: How Perceived Religiosity Influences Moral Appraisal.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 14, issue 1–2 (2014): 93–115. Author abstract; Tables; [42] References. Cited by 12 (Google Scholar, August 15, 2018). EBSCOhost, ProQuest. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685373-12342112 or https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56b23f391bbee0832a71e819/t/56d49c62f850827 e476548f1/1456774246313/the-social-cost-of-atheism.pdf.

Bruce Cathey

Bruce E. Cathey (MA, Sociology of Science), a bibliographer by orientation, has been dredging the massive literature of freethought, rationalism, humanism, and related perspectives for more than thirty years. He has done multilingual multidisciplinary research in more than 100 research, national, professional, special, microform, rare book, public, and other libraries in five countries and is experienced in a wide range of reference, bibliographical, journal/periodical, database, academic, grey literature, and citation metrics materials. He is a contributor to The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


The recent demographic surge of the irreligious Nones presents a quandary to organized humanism. On the one hand, it constitutes a floodtide of defections away from traditional religion, thus easing, among other things, the chronic challenge facing humanists and atheists to counter discrimination against unbelief in the modern world. On the other hand, the newcomer …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.