How can the United States be what some have noticed, “the first secular nation,” at the same time that it is “hyper-religious” in the eyes of others, notably European visitors? Pollsters are creatively busy as they listen to and observe these populations. Do the old definitions hold? Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund caught many an eye with her scholarly papers and media appearances. Ecklund’s “Atheists and Agnostics Negotiate Religion and Family” in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion gave her space to develop her case, and an important one it is. Her Science vs. Religion is a recent notable and well-noted book in this field.
What I take from her work is a caution lest citizens fall into the trap of over defining. The hyper-theistic make up a larger number than the hyper-atheistic, but both speak with similar incaution, for example between quarterback snaps in the theistic case and in most utterances of “the new atheists” on the other. Ecklund finds that one in five polled or interviewed atheist scientists with children “involve their children with religious institutions.”