Is sorting mysterious to Jesse Bering?

By Razib Khan | November 14, 2011 12:15 pm

In a rambling column at Slate on (ir)religious intermarriage Jesse Berring observes:

Still, I concede that the irreducible alchemy of romance makes my cold logic rather difficult to apply to individual marriages. There are more things to a person—and to a relationship, one hopes—than religious beliefs. But since atheistic bachelors and bachelorettes are very rare specimens (there are no exact statistics available, but just 1.6 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies as “atheist”), deciding just how important it is to find a godless mate is indeed a real issue.

There are two small issues, and a big one. First, the 1.6 percent figure is a low one because the term “atheist” is somewhat taboo. Atheist as defined by those who don’t believe in God (as opposed to those who admit to being atheists) is closer to 5%. Second, the main issue with “atheist dating” is the sex ratio problem, though that’s more modest in younger age cohorts today than older ones.

But the broader point is that it’s totally ridiculous to assume that mating is random within the population. Jews are ~3% of the American population, but Jewish-Jewish pairings are not 0.03 × 0.03. I’m sure Bering saw that “religious nones” (of which 1/3 are de facto atheists) have a 50% probability of being with someone of the same lack of beliefs, despite being 15% of the population.

Overall I think it’s right that people should align reasonably well on big metaphysical questions for increased probability of amity. If possible. I don’t think metaphysics (or lack thereof) really matters much day to day, but it does start to matter when there’s a discordance. I just don’t get why Bering ends up writing stuff that’s plainly meant to provoke when there are serious and interesting questions which he is really addressing.

MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Religion

Comments (13)

  1. marcel

    Your comment about the sex ratio problem looks interesting: however, clicking on it currently generates a 404 error.

  2. ackbark

    Have you ever read Bering in Mind? He’ll take an interesting topic and milk in the most ungodly, hideous way.

    Like a National Geographic article wrapped around a nugget of fact, rather than photos.

  3. Kirk

    A man in Cairo is probably going to marry a woman in Cairo and both are most likely native Egyptians. Men/Women, Men/Men or Women/Women in coffee shops in Portland, Madison and Austin have a damn good chance of connecting with another Atheist (or anarchist or pagan…) much like any two snails in my garden will get together with each other and not a snail from Portugal.

  4. pconroy


    I’m an Atheist, which I don’t mind publicly admitting, except I play it down in work situations – if my boss is very religious for instance – as sometimes people can get upset by this.

    My first wife was a Polish Atheist, the second a French Atheist and the third an American Atheist. The first was raised Atheist and cryptically Catholic as a child, the second nominally Catholic as a child, the third strictly Catholic as a child, and flirted with Buddhism as a younger adult, before becoming Atheist.

    As a user of dating sites, I discovered a long time ago that for optimal matching, it was better for me to exclude all religiously affiliated girls, then the remainder “miraculously” happened to match my interests, abilities much better… though not necessarily politics.

  5. Tomasz R.

    Is it bad when an atheist man marries a believer woman? If she believes in being submissive to her husband and sees some attractive “bad boy” features in his atheism? I suppose the worst combination is a bossy religious man + enlightened liberal woman: that spells conflict.

  6. In practice, there are lots of ways to smooth over the differences with a bit of compromise. Religion’s salience is not the same to every person; and different parts of religion matter to different people. Giving up some recognition of Christmas is much harder than giving up weekly attendance at religious ceremonies, for example.

  7. Darkseid

    yeah, he’s a horrible troll of a science “writer.” definitely my least favorite on the web

  8. April Brown

    Practically, in terms of relationships, the definition for ‘aetheist’ should really be broadened to include those who don’t think a diety is relevant, even if it does exist. That accounts for all the people who mark down a religion on the census but aren’t religious. That’s basically the same thing as aetheist when being married and raising kids, etc.

  9. Spike Gomes


    That’s why you gotta love okcupid’s system of not only marking one’s religion on the profile but one’s level of adherence to it.

    For me a level of adherence that says “laughing about it” is far more important than “atheist” matching. I don’t want to date someone like the Skepchick anymore than I want to date Michelle Bachmann.

  10. Charles Nydorf

    The primary meaning of ‘godless’ is ‘wicked or unprincipled’. It should not be used as a synonym for ‘atheistic.’

  11. Chris T

    People here actually read Slate? I gave up on the site due to the quality of the articles and commenters a while ago.

  12. omar

    As others have stated, the true number of people who don’t care enough about religion to have it come in the way of everyday happiness is actually huge. Fanatics who are absolutely sure that Allah will smite them if they dont make their spouse do X or Y is much smaller. Vocal atheists who really really hate the notion of doing anything “religious” should not marry a vocal religious person who really really believes in doing everything his or her religion orders; all other combinations are possible on a case by case basis..
    About believer wives and their need submit, I have seen cases in Pakistan where the injunction to submit to the husband was interpreted to mean that a religious wife will not drink alcohol with him and will not approve of his drinking, but will go so far as to bring glasses and ice for drinking alcohol. Humans are adaptable. Even religious people adapt. So do atheists.
    America, with relentless instruction to “be true to yourself” is a relatively less hypocritical/accomodating society, but even here some compromise may be seen. In most “traditional” societies, compromise and mild hypocrisy are a way of life. An interesting side note: youngsters who grow up in religious households in the US are sometimes far more intolerant in practice than their parents. Something about an American education teaches them that if X is true, then you must live by X. That is NOT the message in Pakistan. X is true, but life is more important, at least until the wahabis and true believers take over.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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