The New York Times ran a piece about the David Mabus affair (tl;dr version: he’s a mentally-ill troll who’d been sending death threats to people for years, and was finally arrested after enough people complained to the police).
Over the years, someone writing as David Mabus made himself known to scientists and avowed atheists across North America in thousands of threatening e-mails and violently profane messages on Twitter.
The phrase “avowed atheists” annoyed me, because I see it a lot. I even twatted about it:
The phrase “avowed atheist” still annoys me, though. When’s the last time someone was an “avowed Baptist”?
Then I realized that with an entire browserful of Internet at my disposal, I could answer that question.
So I ran a Google search on a bunch of phrases of the form “avowed X” and noted how many hits Google found. It turns out that “avowed Baptist” turns up 298 times, and “avowed LDS” comes up 241 times.
But of course that doesn’t tell you much, since there are far more Baptists than Mormons. So I figured I’d calculate an “avowedness factor” by dividing the number of Google hits for “avowed X” by the number of X in the US:
The population numbers come from the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 results where available. For others, I relied on adherents.com’s table of the Top Twenty Religions in the United States, which in turn sites the 2001 ARIS survey.
Finally, I put the whole thing into a spreadsheet that you can go play with.
As you can see, “avowed atheist” eclipses all the other terms. The only others that even register above the noise are associated terms like “agnostic”, “humanist” and “deist”, as well as some of the less popular terms like “scientologist”, “New Age”, “Pagan”, and “Muslim”. (Note that I was just searching for the specific phrase “avowed X“, so the totals include things like “such-and-such is an avowed Scientologist document”, and don’t necessarily refer to people.)
(In the spreadsheet, I also threw in some non-religious terms, like “Democrat”, “feminist”, and “racist”, just for comparison’s sake. But I couldn’t find — or couldn’t be bothered to look up — the size of those populations.
Richard Lederer has written about monogamous words, words that (almost) always appear next to another word: “amok” always goes with “run”, “turpitude” always goes with “moral”, and so on.
From the chart above, I’d say that “avowed” and “atheist” may not be monogamous, but they’re certainly in a serious relationship; and when they have a one-night stand with some other verb, they probably have great make-up sex afterward.