Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Accessing closed communities

After presenting my research project, something a member of the class said to me got me thinking about a potential problem. She indicated that coming out as an atheist might a privileged position, ie, that you need a solid support structure, or be well off yourself, to coming out. And some of the responses indicate that a few people felt that same way, that they cannot be open and out about who they are, because they have to rely on religious people to get by, and they cannot risk losing that support structure. This got me thinking about how I could reach out to the atheists that are not "out" and here those stories. As with all research involving things that people may be afraid or embarrassed to share, it is 100% safe to assume that the number you get for those that report having those feelings/experiences that can caring social stigma with it is low, and the real number is higher. When investigating cases of rape or other sexual assault, for example, it is commonly understood that because of bullshit social stigma placed on those who are raped and sexually assaulted, crimes go unreported, and those who are victims such assaults do not talk about it. The same basic phenomena I think may go on when trying to get accurate results for the number of atheists, and understanding their stories. When pondering this question of how to reach out to those that may be unable or unwilling to come forward, I realized I had, in my first conception of how the study might be conducted, made an assumption that would hinder my efforts to get as many closeted atheists as possible to talk to me.

One of my concerns with the survey was getting Christians to answer honestly and fully to a research project conducted by an atheist. In considering this issue, I settled on the solution of, in the really closed religious communities, getting a respected member of the church who was sympathetic to my goals to conduct the study for me. Religious people can sometimes be more honest and open about crisis' they have had with their faith, when they have acted poorly, or with concerns they have had with others surrounding their faith when discussing those issues with another member of their particular church. Further, I would, in this case, avoid the issue being preached at as an atheist, or getting prepackaged answers about the glory of god that would taint the results. However, in considering this issue, I realized that I would also completely cut off access to atheists whose stories I would be most interested in hearing, those who are in the closet and a member of a closed conservative religious community. In thinking about this issue, the small error in the results I would get from doing the survey myself would be insignificant compared to the ability to get access to closeted atheists in those communities, and hear their stories and understand what challenges and issues they face in hiding their disbelief.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some Christian Survey results

(Sorry I have not posted here for over a week. I have been going through the results, but have been working on putting them into my PowerPoint slide for the presentation I have to give in class tomorrow for the research proposal. This will change though after tomorrow...know onto your regularly scheduled post)

To approach this question from different angles, I also created a Christian survey to try and gauge how they viewed the coming out experience. Two different people can have radically different views and understanding of an event without realizing it, so I thought it important not just to see how one side viewed the experience, but to see how both sides viewed the experience. For this survey, my resources to contact and get Christians responders was not as great, so I asked a few friends of mine to send the survey to people they felt would be interested and willing to talk it. They obliged, and I got 7 responses from that survey. Here are some results:

I asked them what a person could do to go to hell. I listed several things, like being gay, being of a different religion, breaking the ten commandments, and provided them with a box to select "other" if I left something out. The answers were confined to two of the responses though. Six people said that if you did not accept Jesus, you were going to hell, and one person said that if you did not believe in god you were going to hell. One person put in the comment field:
The only way to Heaven is through Jesus, and if one does not accept His gift of salvation and does not repent of sins, then they have a ticket to hell.
Another said
The Bible states in the Old and New Testaments that there can be no remission of sins with the shedding of blood (Cf. Heb 9:21-23). In the Old Covenant, this stipulation was fulfilled in the sacrificies on the Day of Atonment (cf. Lev 19), but it is Christ, the Lamb of God, who forever fulfills the Law with one sacrifice (Cf. Heb 10: 11-15, Matt 26:28). According to my understanding of Scripture, it is this blood of Christ that forgives sins, since it is Christ who has fulfilled the Law; any other sacrifice now would render Christ's act mundane and pointless. But to be forgiven by this blood, we must offer ourselves to Christ (Cf. Rom 12:1-2). It is not so much a single prayer to pray or a service to attend; rather, it seems to me it's a lifelong commitment to be filled by the Holy Spirit and to follow Christ as his disciple.
I also asked how the religious person initially felt about the news. I gave them options of sad, happy, disappointed, shocked, angry, pleased, uncomfortable, worried, trusted, helpful, and concerned. 3 people reported feeling sad about the news, 1 person was shocked, 2 people reported being worried, 1 person felt trusted and one more person felt concerned. I did specifically look at the person's survey who reported feeling trusted, and that person also reported feeling worried.

I found this interesting. I next asked the question, "Is that person going to hell." After asking before that if a person does not accept Jesus or believe in god, then they are going to hell, you would expect everybody to answer yes, they will be going to hell. However, of the 5 people that has had an atheist come out to them, only 1 of the 5 were willing to answer that yes, that person was going to hell. The remaining 4 answered maybe. I think there might be two reasons for this response. The 4 people that answered maybe might believe or hope that the person makes a death bed conversation, and that saves their soul. The other thing that might be going on here is that they do feel uncomfortable with the idea of hell, and that their friend, who they know to be a good person, would be going there just for not believing. Even though a few questions early they were able to answer, when not referring to a specific person, that if a person did not believe in god or accept Jesus they were going to hell. In fact, I think the next question that I asked revealed the cognitive problems these people were having. Because they still believe that atheist go to hell, but they seem to have a hard time believing or accepting that this specific person would go to hell. Here are the four free responses to the question "If you believe that person is going to hell, please explain your emotions regarding that fact."

  1. I do not truly know their heart and relationship with Christ, and I would pray if they do not have a relationship that God would move on their heart.
  2. It is utterly terrible. The worst thing, but see we all deserve Hell, but only those who accept Christ will be in Heaven. An atheist wouldn't want to be in Heaven. But the terrible thing is, in Hell they will know that God exist, yet they will be able to do nothing about it. Terrible reality.
  3. It's tough! I don't want to wish hell on another person, and if I were in charge of the whole universe, I probably would abolish hell to resolve that tension.
  4. Deeply saddened, as well as confused as what to do or say.

Finally, for now, I thought it was interesting that everybody who took the survey thinks that they deserve hell (along with everybody else in the world) but all of them answered that they would not be going to hell, because they accepted Jesus as their savior. One thing that I wanted to follow up on, but I axed those questions for brevity sake, was how they feel about the fact that they will spend forever heaven, but their friends and loved ones, who are good people, but do not believe in god, will spend forever in hell. I am curious if their is any guilt associated with that, similar to survivors guilt.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More information than you could want

So, I discovered that I could provide to you the results of the survey all at once, which you can get by clicking this link. I will give on the results of the Christian survey a little later. I will of course be going through and doing my best to analysis the data, but if anyone is really impatient out there, be my guest and go through the data. I went through the survey just to make sure there was nothing really personal revealed, ie, names or addresses. And remember when looking over the responses there was logic built into the survey, so at a couple of pages it looks like a bunch of people skipped the questions. In fact some just skipped over those pages because of the logic, not because they skipped the question.

Please comment below or email me at importantandsmart@gmail.com (my blog email address) if you have any additional comments on the survey, or wish to point out something interesting.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Survey period over

Last night at 11:45 pm eastern time the survey period ended for each survey. I have seven responses for my survey directed at Christians, and 193 completed surveys for the one directed at atheists. As this is simply a pilot study, the huge disparity in the results is not a problem. I collected all the results from the Christian survey by asking a few friends to send it out to a few people they knew to take it. The survey directed at atheist's I asked the fine folks at the Atheist Community of Austin to publish a link to the survey on the AE blog. Over the coming weeks I will publish a few blog posts when I run across something interesting in analyzing the results, though the primary goal for me in this survey is to see what I left out, and what I need to change in crafting the survey. So, be looking shortly for the first post reflecting on the results.