July 17, 2024

Reaching the choir

Much discussion has focused on bringing women and minority groups into the secular fold.  Considering the gender gap in secular communities (these numbers are from America) this is a laudable goal.  Conversely, in religious communities there is an inverse relationship in the ratios of women and ethnic minorities. From Protestant communities where there are 8 percent more women than men to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Historically Black Churches where there are 20 percent more women than men. There is a real disparity in the secular community between gender and ethnic minorities and white males. In fact atheists equal the Mormon Church, a racially segregated community until the 1970s, in disproportionate ratios of whites to ethnic minorities with 86 percent white adherents to 14 percent ethnic minority adherents.

Why is there a gap between women and ethnic minority participation in the secular community? That’s the million dollar question.

Some charts with data collected by the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey…



Unfortunately often when these sorts of questions are asked; there are superficial answers that affirm the status quo rather than brainstorm solutions to the problem. To paraphrase some have speculated that women are less likely to be secular because they aren’t “intellectually active” enough. On the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities; I’ve sat in presentations where whites have asked black speakers why blacks are Christian because of slavery in the Bible. There is a bit of lazy thinking that comes with stereotyping and overgeneralizing going on. Especially by secularists who aren’t members of these groups, and lack the personal experiences or they haven’t taken the time and thought required to educate themselves to understand a different point of view.

One often neglected piece of data on the topic of secular diversity is income.


Christians still hold an eroding majority at 78 percent of the US population. About 30 percent of Protestants and Catholics, the largest sects of Christianity, live under the poverty line. In comparison atheists and agnostics are about 4 percent of the population, and about 20 percent of them live under the poverty line. If you look at the numbers for historically black churches the number jumps to 47 percent. Another church with a high level of minority participation are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Half of the JWs are black and latino and 42 percent of their members live beneath the poverty line.

It’s true that at about 40 percent college graduates atheists and agnostics are better educated than the average Protestant and far exceed churches with majority minority populations. Education is definitely a factor in religiosity. However the list of most educated adherents also reads like which groups have better access to education in this country by culture or income. Not just for women and minorities, but for everyone affected by poverty including whites. So you still can’t tease income out of the equation.

Religious institutions have traditions in place that support the poor. However, the support can often come with ideological beliefs that trap their adherents in the cycle of poverty. The Catholic Church’s stance forbidding birth control is a good example of this.

My experiences growing up in both the Catholic and the Southern Baptist Church doctrines limited my choices as a woman. I was told early and often that my role in life was to be subservient to a man. These doctrines condition women to accept patriarchal authority without question. Looking back on it now deciding who’s in charge of important decisions by genitals rather than critical thinking was not a good idea. Studies have shown that educated, empowered women make better life choices that fight the cycle of poverty.

Some organizations in the secular community are working to close the income gap by offering childcare and low cost and free admissions. Skepticon every year is supported by donations. It is an example of an organization that saw a need and stepped up to fill it. Low cost regional conferences like FreeOK help to alleviate problems caused by the cost of travel. Internet conferences like  FTBCon and internet resources like podcasts, blogs, and youtube help to close the income gap too.

One of the most interesting findings of the Pew Forum’s study is that the “Religiously Unaffiliated” is the fastest growing population of them all. The Catholic Church is losing the most to attrition, but they are staying even by immigration. Although Protestants still have the most adherents in the US especially in the South, it too is in decline. The young are where churches are losing the most adherents to us. If the trend continues most people will be unchurched. Secular organizations will hopefully rise to the occasion and welcome the newcomers.

One group that interests me that could use more focus is evangelicals. They are most often from the South. I live in the South, and was raised in a Southern Baptist Church. So I have had a front row seat to the havoc they wreak on public policy in education, reproductive rights, poverty and so on. Can they be reached? The answer sometimes is surprisingly yes. Matt Dillahunty and Beth Presswood of the Atheist Experience and Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist are examples of evangelicals gone rogue. Their media outreach has helped other evangelicals to see the light of reason.

It is one area where me and Aron Ra are different. He doesn’t understand why believers believe because he never really had strong religious beliefs. There is a disconnect between unchurched and lifelong disbelievers and former believers that gives rise to generalizations just like with any group that is prone to being misunderstood. The secular community can always find new ways to welcome former believers, and that can only be improved with greater understanding.

Towards that goal, I have asked Tasa Proberts, former believer and musician for the GUTS megachurch In Oklahoma to chat with me and Shanon Nebo on The Nones about her deconversion from evangelical Christian to atheist. Part of what helped her deconvert is the outreach of The Atheist Experience. We’ll be joined by the Atheist Experience’s Russell Glasser and Jen Peeples. We will also have Recovering from Religion Tulsa facilitator Rhonda Dorle on. It should be interesting if you want insight into former believers to have a greater understanding of them, or if you are a former believer too and want to help, or if you are an evangelical looking for a way out.

[important]The show will be on Thursday December 19th on our youtube channel. I will also post a link to watch it here on the day of the show. Visit our facebook for updates.  You can also PM us there with story ideas or questions.[/important]

[notice] This is the link to watch the show directly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IExEG9dKzdg[/notice]

7 thoughts on “Reaching the choir

  1. Why is there a gap between women and ethnic minority participation in the secular community? That’s the million dollar question.

    Just an idea, but do women and ethnic minority members have more to gain by being conservative and holding to the most traditional values of the overall group? They are the ones whose conduct usually comes in for the most critical scrutiny. Perhaps they can use religion to validate their status as ‘good people’ deserving of respect and attention? Only, of course, because the majority still accept that church/good link as valid. Whereas if they come out as atheists the causes of suspicion towards them become cumulative.

    I think the other points about social support and education are also valid. Actually, there are so many factors reasonably tending to keep women and ethnic minorities religious it perhaps should hardly surprise us that they are. What about the hope of supernatural agency and/or a better afterlife when you’re relatively dis-empowered in reality? Or the guarantee of an empathetic friend in a rather hostile world?

    1. I think a big part of the reason they stay with the church is support. They are disproportionately poor, and many do not have the same opportunities as their better educated peers. Their peers are often better educated because of better economic opportunities from belonging to a different economic class. Vicious circle of exploitation.

  2. I want to clarify that I consider myself one of them. I had divorced parents and grew up desperately poor with my mother and in suburbia with my dad. I was on my own since I was 18.

    The more telling question is why more women and minorities don’t join the secular community.

  3. i only have experience with a Methodist church in a small town in Arizona. Pretty much the whole congregation was white and middle class, so I don’t think there was much need for support of a financial nature. What there was, though, was socializing. There was a potluck dinner almost every week, choir practice, a youth club, Sunday School of course, and I’m sure lot’s more that I’m forgetting about. I learned how to use chopsticks and how to square dance at church functions, and many of these had no religious component at all. Maybe our secular groups might benefit if they had more get-togethers that were purely social. That way, atheists with religious partners could come without causing friction.

  4. My impression (as a European) is that there are lots of secular (as opposed to atheist) groups for every thing you might want, there’s no need for religious or atheist groups to provide the socializing (though of course there’s nothing stopping them, either).

    My own mainstay came out of a bbs user group derived from a computer user group. The original computer is long gone, the bbs is long gone, the socializing remains. This evening, we might talk about photography, motorbikes, politics, cinema, possibly even computers. No church or atheist group was involved. (Though I get the impression that most of us are atheists.)

  5. It’s different for different people depending on what your social needs are. It’s all right if some non-believers want to fellowship or don’t. Not everybody wants fellowship or even activism but many do.

  6. Estos son realmente de hecho, impresionantes maravillas concernientes .

    Usted ha tocado algunos exigentes puntos aquí. Cualquier forma mantenerse wrinting .

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