Poll Analysis: Your Religion(s)

On the Diversity of Freak Philosophies

by Kai MacTane

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Not all of our polls will turn out to be worth doing a full analysis of — the current one, on pets, isn’t likely to be nearly as revealing. (Though I’m not unaware that we could all still be surprised by that one; it’s only Tuesday, after all.) And this whole article assumes that people are being honest: that they’re answering the questions honestly, and that they aren’t voting twice. And it’s obvious that only 64 people is far too small a sample to make firm generalizations from, even if we could be sure that the polling methodology was valid. But with those caveats held firmly in mind, here are a few things to notice about last week’s poll results:

First of all, with 65 votes cast there were 139 distinct options selected, meaning that each person chose, on average, 2.138 items. Given that most people who chose “atheist/agnostic/materialist” are unlikely to have also selected anything else, this points to a lot of people choosing three or more boxes as representing their belief.

So freaks — or at least, the particular freaks who answered this poll, who we’re assuming are a fairly representative sample — have a broad variety of belief. Within each individual. While this isn’t too surprising a result (how often have you heard self-descriptions like “Druidic Witch with some Hindu influence” or “Jewnitarian”?), the level to which it’s displayed here is higher than I personally was expecting.

Second, Wicca is one of the Neopagan options that was least often selected, tied with Asátru at 7 times. The 8 votes for Celtic reconstructionism are on a par with these; then there are 1½ times as many votes for Discordianism, and a whopping 29 people who said they do some “other” type of Paganism. (Indeed, that’s the single highest vote-getter, with 44.6% of the total.)

If the options had been exclusive, this would point to a whole lot of Pagans of some hard-to-describe variety. As it stands, I’d bet that nearly everyone who selected Wicca, Asátru, Druidry or Discordianism also selected the “other non-Wiccan” option, to represent the less “doctrinaire” aspects of their personal belief. But this assumption still leaves 7 people who voted “other non-Wiccan” and didn’t select any other Neopagan options.

Third, rather unsurprisingly, the Abrahamic religions are sparsely represented. Somewhat surprisingly, though, there were as many Jews as Christians, despite Christianity’s overwhelming numerical majority in practically every English-speaking area. It’s tempting to wonder whether this mirrors the result noticed by Margot Adler in her 1985 survey of Neopagans, where she found that Judaism was overrepresented by a factor of 2 in the birth religions of her respondents. Are Jews really that much more likely to step outside the mainstream, and if so, why? (Or maybe they’re just that much more likely to respond to voluntary surveys... but again, if so, why?)

As a further note on the relative paucity of Abrahamic religion among freaks, I note that the “atheist/agnostic/materialist” responses alone outnumber all three of the Jewish/Christian/Muslim responses put together. Indeed, at nearly a full quarter of all responses, this category may represent the largest single and cohesive belief-system in this poll — while the skeptics are outnumbered by those who checked one of the “other” options, those higher numbers probably represent some very divergent worldviews. Finally, I’m pleasantly surprised by the single Muslim response, and feel vindicated in my decision to include that option.

Finally, it’s glaringly obvious that the two most-selected options were the “other” options. The clear winner was the “other Pagan” option, but trailing only slightly behind it, at 25 votes and 38.5% of the total, was the “just plain other” option. This may simply mean that there are a lot more practitioners of Shinto, shamansism, Sufism, Confucianism, et al. than I had expected — but I somehow suspect that what it really means is that freaks tend to have very difficult-to-describe belief systems.

Kai MacTane, the Freak Nation’s webmaster, has been a Celtic-oriented eclectic Pagan for 35 years and counting. He’s not a trained statistician, poll writer, survey-taker or other opinion-research professional, but likes to play the part of one on his web site.