Faithlessness in Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Photo: Emily Dickinson

According to statistics, faithlessness in America is a growing trend. The numbers are beginning to show that unbelief is on the rise and there are closed church buildings to demonstrate that reality. “Crises of Faith by the Numbers (and Dashes)” (my first article for the local hub of the Religion News Service, is up and in it I take a look at the statistical evidence of growing disbelief in the world, particularly the rise of the “nones” in surveys by Gallup and Pew. What I do differently, however, is evaluate these numbers in light of the work of Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson. Needless to say, I really had fun writing this one. Here it is:

A few years ago I did a “literary tour” of New England with an eagerness to see the homestead of Emily Dickinson. Depending on whom you ask, the highly beleaguered 19th century poet could be a skeptic, atheist or agnostic. While she never appears to dismiss the idea of God entirely, if she was being surveyed by The Pew Forum or Gallup today, she would likely check the “nones” category (“none/atheist/agnostic”).

Recent surveys indicate that the feelings encoded in Emily’s skeptical dashes and periods are now plotted with statistical certainty in America’s zeitgeist.

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