Flash: many Americans are morons

August 20, 2010 • 10:27 am

. . . at least 18%, according to a Pew Research Center poll. You’ve probably heard this, but nearly one in five Americans think that Obama is a Muslim.  34% correctly give his professed religion, Christian (I still think he’s an atheist), 43% don’t know, and 4% chose “another faith” or didn’t answer.  Fully 34% of conservative Republicans and 24% of liberal/moderate Republicans thought that Obama is Muslim, in contrast with 6% of liberal Democrats and 12% of conservative/moderate Democrats.

Curiously, despite increasing public verification of Obama’s religion (and birthplace), the percentage of Americans who say he’s a Muslim has increased from March, 2008, when it was 12%.  And the percentage of people guessing Christian is down 13 points from the 47% in March, 2008.

We can write off the 18% as fools, since anybody who’s been alive for a year should know the incontrovertible evidence that Obama’s not a Muslim, but the 43% disturb me a bit, too.  Who hasn’t heard of the Jeremiah Wright affair? And if you did, how could you not take in that Obama was attending a Christian church?

More bad news (nothing new, actually):  61% of those surveyed (a sample of 3003) agree that it’s important for members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs, while only 34% disagree.

The only good news:  the proportion of Americans who say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters has risen from 43% in 1996 to 52% in 2010, while those who think that churches should express their views “on day-to-day social and political questions” has dropped from 54% to 43%. This may be a sign that the grip of faith is weakening in America, something I think is inevitable as we grow up.

48 thoughts on “Flash: many Americans are morons

  1. At least we now have a number on how many faitheists there are: 15% of Atheists/Agnostics think it’s important for members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs. Belief in belief at work…

    1. Thanks, interesting observation. If only 15 % are faitheist, and likely less accommodationist, the question becomes:

      – Why do they have clout? (Their message is inherently weak, because it is focused on position in an issue instead of the essence.) Are people that PC/afraid of big, bad religion?

      1. Because the religious majority like what they have to say. After all most faitheists and accommodationists spend a large part of there time sucking up to the theists by shaking their fingers at us.

  2. An important figure seems to be missing form the poll. How many Americans know who Barack Obama is?

    But seriously, as an outsider, I cannot say I am surprised by this. Call me old-fashioned, but the state of the media in this country is appealing and of course owing to the fact that any informative, educational purpose was sacrificed to economic interests long time ago…

  3. My wife had a couple of semi-humorous alternate takes on this.

    The 43% who didn’t know Obama’s religion — hey, maybe that means 43% of Americans don’t think the president’s religion is important!

    The 18% who think that Obama is a Muslim — well great, that paves the way for an actual Muslim president in the future, since it’s at least getting 1 in 5 Americans used to the idea!

  4. “This may be a sign that the grip of faith is weakening in America, something I think is inevitable as we grow up”…even if this comment would be truth, which is questionable, at least, will never reach the 18 % you csll morons.

  5. I am very sorry Dr Coyne, but I think you are guilty of a little wishful thinking.
    Specifically on the atheist bit.

    1. Of course Obama isn’t a believer. Only a complete moron would take up religion in adulthood without previous brainwashing at a young age. Obama had an irreligious upbringing, and he is not a moron. Therefore he is an atheist. QED.

      1. And if he is an atheist, then he’s a craven liar who’s making the problem of American religious obsession worse.

        1. He’s a politician. Of course he’s going to lie. He’d never have even come close to winning the Democrat ticket if he’d said “I’m an atheist” on national TV.

          1. I realize that, obviously. But I don’t accept that the ubiquity of that unethical behavior means we should stop pointing it out.

  6. My guess is that many of these morons may know that Obama attended Wright’s church, but they probably think that he is a closeted Muslim.

    1. Maybe they think that Reverend Wright ran a Muslim church? With these people, it wouldn’t actually surprise me.

  7. According to Wikipedia’s article on Barrack Obama Sr.–the President’s father, though raised as a Muslim, Obama’s father became an atheist at an early age. Would this be worse to the Faux Newsies and the Religious Right than if his father had been a practicing Muslim?

  8. If you are correct that he is atheist, then all those people who say that he is a Christian are just as wrong as those who say that he is a Moslem.

    1. The rather large difference being, as I am sure you must know, is that Obama professes to be christian and has for years regularly attended a christian church. All of which has been publicized long before he was president.

      So what was your point? Do you think Jerry Coyne is being stupid, or are you being stupid?

  9. None of this surprises me. I have thought for the last 20+ years that the majority of Americans are morons. I know it is anecdotal, but just go talk to many of them; and I live in one of the best educated states. I had an adjunct professor tell me last week: “My son just booked a flight on a cheap airline that I had never heard about – Jet Blue”.

    One could go talk to 1000 people and probably get 800 unbelievable quotes that could be compiled into a book with the title of “What the F*%$k Are They Thinking?”

    1. To be fair, there’s an important difference between ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance means something is not known, stupidity means something cannot be learned (to use some simplified working definitions for the time being).

      Never having heard of Jet Blue before would be an example of simple ignorance, possible explanations for this instance include a person who has rarely, if ever, travelled outside of the United States.

      Similarly, the 34% who think Barak Obama is a christian cannot be written off as stupid the same way the 18% who think he’s a muslim can be. If you are a person who doesn’t often think much about the president’s religion (i.e. you have better things to worry about), you might think for a few seconds, remember the Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle, remember that Obama had his hand on a bible when he spoke the presidential vows, and conclude that he’s probably a christian. Additionally, the majority of people you’ve met who do spend much time thinking about the president’s religion, his background, and his beliefs are almost entirely tea-partiers or similar lunatics, who have concluded, in the face of the evidence, that Obama is a muslim (and wasn’t born in the USA, and plans to murder your grandmother, etc.).

      Given the choice between accepting that Obama is likely a christian, and changing your mind and assuming he’s a muslim, anybody not suffering from brain damage will probably come down firmly on the side of “he’s christian” and then move on to something more interesting to talk about.

      I think at this point I should mention that there is a small minority of people who have spent some time thinking about Obama’s religion (or potential lack thereof) and are not idiots. This minority includes people like Dr. Coyne, apparently, and I do not wish to suggest any point of congruence between such thinkers and the drooling nincompoops of the far-right-wing.

      1. …possible explanations for this instance include a person who has rarely, if ever, travelled outside of the United States.

        Since Jet Blue connects together dozens of cities in the US and some Caribbean islands, then this is not an argument.

        If you are a person who doesn’t often think much about the president’s religion (i.e. you have better things to worry about)…

        Much of ignorance is due to not wanting to learn, which puts it in the realm of stupidity. Electing a POTUS is a responsibility of all US citizens. Ignorance of “43% don’t know” is pure stupidity.

        Some ignorance/stupidity is also due to knowing but rejecting knowledge, such as the tea party maroons.

    2. George Carlin: “Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!”

  10. It’s too bad they didn’t ask what people think his religion is and what he claims his religion is. Then we would know if people are not paying attention or think he’s pretending for political reasons.

    1. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”, attributed to Seneca and still as operative as ever.

  11. Perhaps ballot forms should include a few simple multiple choice questions about the candidates and a certain number of the asnwers would have to be correct for the ballot to be valid.

  12. Actually 20 % of any nation are morons:

    Polls conducted by Gallup in the 1990s have found that 16% of Germans, 18% of Americans and 19% of Britons hold that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

    In other news, ~ 50 % of any nation’s population are below average intelligence. Scary!

    At a guess it comes down to ignorance and popular belief, even in societies with efficient education. If so, these numbers will never change.

    The only good news: the proportion of Americans who say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters has risen

    But there is also the fact that ~ 70 % believe that religion is losing its influence on american life.

    This may or may not be positive. Most people (~ 50 %) thinks it bad. But it may prepare saner people for the idea that religion losing influence is not “a near death experience” (or correlated with the end of history) as the fundies will have it.

  13. [many Americans are morons]

    Says it all (7 million people listen hypnotically to Dr Laura)

    I also believe that Obama is at least agnostic, and doesn’t really care about God, other that political life basic requirements. It would be interesting to see a list of the books he has read in the last 10 years.

  14. How were they able to find any liberal/moderate Republicans for this survey? I thought that they were all burned at the stake.

  15. One of the guys I work with was only convinced that President Obama was not a Muslim because of some statement where the president made some offhand comment to being a Christian, which proves that he’s not a Muslim because “Muslims can’t say that.” Not that this guy has likely ever even met any actual Muslims.

    For the record, he also listens to Kent Hovind.

    1. Muslims are allowed to lie and deny their religion if it will serve god’s purpose. It’s Christians who aren’t allowed to deny their faith. Lies and deception are fine in Islam.

      1. Yeah, I pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers were very devoted Muslims yet prior to that terrible day did numerous things that were against the tenets of their faith.

        Besides that, the whole “can’t lie about it” (for any religion) strikes me as pretty similar to the urban legend that undercover cops can’t lie about that during sting operations. I’m quite certain that there have been plenty of Christians who’ve lied about their faith and rationalized that it was for the greater good.

        The greater good! (Sorry, been watching Hot Fuzz 😉

  16. In more than one talk over the last several years, Lawrence Krauss has stated that approximately 50% of Amuricuns incorrectly answer the question (from an AAAS questionnaire?), “True or false, the Earth goes around the sun and takes a year to do it.” Does anyone know the latest stats on that question?

  17. I’d say the chance that Obama is genuinely religious is near zero. His mother was an atheist, he spent time in an Islamic school and then went to Chicago where Christianity dominates. This is the sort of upbringing which almost never results in true belief. Just having parents of different beliefs is a major factor in atheism, actually living in countries with different religions and having an atheist mother makes it pretty certain that he believes in no gods.

  18. I see that as “at least 18% of respondents are bigoted idiots”. They’re the type that like to call Obama “Kenyan” and “muslim” and wish that he were just so they can hate him all the more.

  19. It isn’t the 18% of idiots that worries me (there are idiots the world over – flipping heck, I myself may well be one!) – it is the poeple for whom they vote! If they merely pay lip service to the ideas of ‘faith’ that is one thing – when they starting getting all ‘end of days’ & have power I start getting very worried.

    1. Yeah, we’ve unfortunately reached the point where it’s possible to have a self-fulfilling prophecy about the end of the world.

  20. I guess I’m one of the 18% of the morons? Oops! must be because I actually read and study up on people running for office. Makes me quite stupid I guess.

    In his own words from his book, the president makes it extremely clear where his loyalties lie! “ Quote from Obama’s book: Audacity of Hope: ‘I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction..'”

    The man’s religion aside, his loyalties are clear and they are in fact extremely pro Muslim. Or could it be that as in his entire presidency so far, his own words in his own book are also just a bald faced lie?

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