You Wouldn’t Believe How Fast Americans Are Losing Their Religion — But the Fundamentalists Have a Plan
“Sometime last year, the US quietly passed a milestone demographers had long been predicting: for the first time in its history, this country is no longer majority Protestant . Fewer than 50 percent of Americans now identify as Protestant Christians of any denomination.
This change has come on surprisingly recently, and from a historical perspective, with breathtaking speed. As recently as 1993, almost two-thirds of Americans identified as Protestants , a number that had remained stable for the several preceding decades. But sometime in the 1990s, the ground started to shift, and it’s been sliding ever since. Whether it’s the “mainline” Protestant denominations like Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Presbyterians, or the independent evangelical, charismatic and fundamentalist sects, the decline is happening across the board. The rise of so-called megachurches , like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California or Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle, represents not growth, but consolidation.
What’s happening to these vanishing Protestants? For the most part, they’re not converting to any other religion, but rather are walking away from religion entirely. They’re becoming “nones ,” as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts it. It seems likely that this is the same secularizing trend being observed in Europe, as people of advanced, peaceful democracies find religion increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives.
The spokespeople of the religious right have noticed this trend as well, but it’s clear they have very little idea what to do about it. In a column from 2005 , Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that “theological liberalism” is at fault for Christianity’s decline, and that the only thing they need to do to reverse it is to make “a bold commitment to biblical authority.” Far from it, the evidence is clear that churches clinging to antiquated dogma are part of the problem, as young people turn away from their strident decrees  about gays and women.
But the footsoldiers of fundamentalism haven’t been entirely idle these past few decades. As their power declines in America and Europe, they’re increasingly moving abroad, to developing countries not as far along the secularization curve, where they often find a more receptive audience.
The first example is Uganda, where the most despicable kind of American culture warriors have run amok with horrifying results. Since 2009, the country’s parliament has been debating an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” which among other things would establish a crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” punishable by life imprisonment or death.
What’s less well known is that three American evangelical preachers, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, visited the country a month before the bill was introduced , giving talks about how “the gay movement is an evil institution” which seeks to prey on children, destroy “the moral fiber of the people,” and abolish marriage and the family and replace it with “a culture of sexual promiscuity.” Lively boasted that their campaign was “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda,” and later admitted to meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to help draft the bill, although he professed ignorance of the death penalty provision. Other American evangelicals, including Kevin Swanson  and Lou Engle , have also expressed their support for the so-called Kill the Gays bill.
It’s not just LGBT people in Uganda who’ve been harmed by the spread of aggressive evangelicalism. American megachurch pastor Rick Warren has a Ugandan protege, a pastor named Martin Ssempa, who has preached aggressively against contraception (in one bizarre public stunt, he burned condoms in the name of Jesus). Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had formerly been a staunch advocate of the so-called ABC program  (consisting of abstinence, monogamy and condom use) which successfully reduced HIV infection rates in Uganda; but thanks in part to Ssempa’s influence and access, the government was persuaded to stop free condom distribution, and as a result, new HIV infections spiked again . (Ssempa, too, has called for the imprisonment of gay people. President Museveni also has ties to the Washington, D.C.-based fundamentalist group “the Family ,” which has called him their “key man ” in Africa.)
American evangelicals have spread their poisonous influence to other African countries as well. A report by Political Research Associates, “Globalizing the Culture Wars ,” chronicles in detail how American religious-right groups, especially the theologically conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, have worked together with their counterparts in Africa to foment homophobia and oppose feminism and gender equality. Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, three major English-speaking African nations, have seen the brunt of this effort. As the report says:
In Africa, IRD and other U.S. conservatives present mainline denominations’ commitments to human rights as imperialistic attempts to manipulate Africans into accepting homosexuality — which they characterize as a purely western phenomenon… As a direct result of this campaign, homophobia is on the rise in Africa — from increased incidents of violence to antigay legislation that carries the death penalty.
In part, religious conservatives are doing this as a power play against religious liberals in their own countries. Most of the mainline Protestant churches in America and Europe, particularly the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, have rival left-wing and right-wing branches, and the conservatives want to enlist the African branch of those churches to help them oppose and undercut liberal efforts for social justice. (Conservative Anglicans in America want African Anglicans to help them defeat liberal Anglican proposals to let gay people serve as clergy.) But it’s the African people who bear the collateral damage of this cultural proxy war.
Africa isn’t the only place the American religious right is trying to exert influence. Pat Robertson’s legal group, American Center for Law and Justice, has branches in Russia, France, Pakistan, Israel and elsewhere, and recently opened a branch office in Brazil . If its American counterpart is any clue, the BCLJ will devote its time mainly to fighting against the expansion of rights for gay and lesbian people and advocating laws that give Christianity special privileges. With a booming evangelical population and its rapidly increasing economic and cultural power , Brazil is a natural place for the religious right to take root, if secular humanists and progressives aren’t ready to counter them.
And when they seize the reins of government here in the U.S., religious conservatives haven’t hesitated to spread their views through hard power as well as soft. The most consequential example is the Mexico City policy , also known as the global gag rule. This rule, which was first enacted by Ronald Reagan and since then has been repeatedly reinstated by Republican presidents and canceled by Democratic presidents, states that any group which takes money from American aid agencies can’t perform abortions, refer women to other groups that provide them, or even lobby for more permissive abortion laws in whatever countries it operates in.
Since the U.S. has always been one of the largest supporters of international family-planning efforts, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), this puts recipients in an unenviable dilemma: to accept American money, they’d have to turn away women in desperate need of abortion, but if they turned the money down, they’d lose the capacity to serve many more women who need contraception, STD treatment, vaccination, and prenatal care. As Michelle Goldberg writes in her book The Means of Reproduction, the global gag rule has forced the closure of family-planning clinics in Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere, depriving women of access to basic health services like Pap smears.
The point of all this is that stopping the religious right is a global issue.  The harm they do in America isn’t trivial, but they do far greater harm in developing countries where constitutional protections aren’t as strong, and where American money exerts an outsized influence. If we can’t stop them here, there are people all over the world who will suffer much worse repercussions.
The more optimistic way of viewing this is that, when we defeat them at home, we weaken them abroad as well. When they lose elections in the U.S., they can’t control foreign aid money to restrict women’s right to choose. When we expose them as bullying, homophobic bigots, when we chip away at their following, we deny them the flow of donations they use to spread prejudice in developing nations. For better or worse, what happens in America resonates throughout the world. That’s why standing against the religious right is a moral imperative: not just for the sake of people in the First World, but for the sake of people everywhere in the world.”
From: Vancouver Sun via Atheistmedia
By: Volkan Topalli
The U.S. study found that through “purposeful distortion or genuine ignorance,” hardcore criminals often co-opt religious doctrine to justify or further their crimes.
The findings could have important implications, the researchers say, for how faith-based services are administered within the corrections system.
Prison ministries shouldn’t just be about presenting religious doctrine because some inmates might take religious teachings to excuse their behaviour, lead author Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University, said in an interview Monday.
“People have to understand that presenting religious doctrine to people isn’t enough to change their behaviour,” he said. “(Faith-based services) have to be systematic and about behaviour change — religion has to be a vehicle, rather than the goal.”
The research of Topalli and his colleagues was published this month in the journal Theoretical Criminology in an article titled With God on My Side: The Paradoxical Relationship Between Religious Belief and Criminality Among Hardcore Street Offenders.
N.B.: A very clear distinction
By: Victor Stenger
“(This essay is based on my 2012 book, God and the Folly of Faith (Prometheus Books).
Religious apologists, spiritualist gurus, and accommodating atheists have been bombarding us with assertions that science and religion have no reason not to get along. This may be politically convenient, but it’s simply untrue. Science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable, and they always will be.
Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in the light of contrary evidence. No one disputes that religion is based on faith. Some authors claim that science is also based on faith. They argue that science takes it on faith that the world is rational and that nature can be ordered in an intelligible way.
However, science makes no such assumption on faith. It analyzes observations by applying certain methodological rules and formulates models to describe those observations. It justifies that process by its practical success, not by any logical deduction derived from dubious metaphysical assumptions. We must distinguish faith from trust. Science has earned our trust by its proven success. Religion has destroyed our trust by its repeated failure.
Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.
Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies — the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside the body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations made of the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments.
By contrast, all major religions teach that humans possess an additional “inner” sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world — a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. If it does not involve the transcendent, it is not religion.
No doubt science has its limits. However, that fact that science is limited doesn’t mean that religion or any alternative system of thought can or does provide insight into what lies beyond those limits. For example, science cannot yet show precisely how the universe and life originated naturally, although many plausible scenarios exist. But the fact that science does not at present have a definitive answer to this question does not mean that ancient creation myths such as those in Genesis have any substance, any chance of eventually being verified.
Most of the scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science as they are currently practiced exclude supernatural causes. However, if we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.
If someone’s inner sense were to warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, which then occurred on schedule, we would have evidence for this extrasensory source of knowledge. Claims of “divine prophecies” have been made throughout history, but not one has been conclusively confirmed.
So far we see no evidence that the feelings people experience when they perceive themselves to be in touch with the supernatural correspond to anything outside their heads, and have no reason to rely on those feelings when they occur. However, if such evidence or reason should show up, then scientists will have to consider it whether they like it or not.
We cannot sweep under the rug the many serious problems brought about by the scientific revolution and the exponential burst in humanity’s ability to exploit Earth’s resources made possible by the accompanying technology. There would be no problems with overpopulation, pollution, global warming, or the threat of nuclear holocaust if science had not made them possible. The growing distrust of science found now in America can be understood by observing the disgraceful examples of scientists employed by oil, food, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies who have contributed to the unnecessary deaths of millions by allowing products to be marketed that these scientists knew full well were unsafe.
But does anyone want to return to the pre-scientific age when human life was nasty, brutish, and short? Even fire was once a new technology.
Unsafe products are more than overshadowed by miracle drugs, foods, and technologies that have made all our lives immeasurably better than those of humans in the not-too-distant past. At least in developed countries, women now rarely die in childbirth and most children grow to adulthood. This was not the case even just a few generations ago. Unlike our ancestors, we lead long, fulfilling lives largely free of pain and drudgery. The aged are so numerous that they are becoming a social problem. All this is the result of scientific developments.
We can solve the problems brought about by the misuse of science only by better use of science and more rational behavior on the part of scientists, politicians, corporations, and citizens in all walks of life. And religion, as it is currently practiced, with its continued focus on closed thinking and ancient mythology, is not doing much to support the goal of a better, safer world. In fact, religion is hindering our attempts to attain that goal.
Today science and religion find themselves in serious conflict. Even moderate believers do not fully accept Darwinian evolution. Although they claim to see no conflict between their faith and evolution, they insist that God still controlled the development of life so humans would evolve, which is not at all what the theory of evolution says. Evolution, as understood by science, has no room for God. Anti-evolution fundamentalists are absolutely right about that.
In another example, greedy corporate interests and unscrupulous politicians are exploiting the antiscience attitudes embedded in popular religion to suppress scientific results on issues of global importance, such as the overpopulation and environmental degradation, that threaten the generations of humanity that will follow ours.
Those who rely on observation and reason to provide an understanding of the world must stop viewing as harmless those who rely instead on superstition and the mythologies in ancient texts passed down from the childhood of our species. For the sake of the future of humanity, we must fight to expunge the fantasies of faith from human thinking.
Religious faith would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about religion. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life. It produces a frame of mind in which concepts are formulated with deep passion but without the slightest attention paid to the evidence that bears on the concept. Nowhere is this more evident than in America today where the large majority of the public hold on to a whole set of beliefs despite the total lack of evidence to support these beliefs and, indeed, strong evidence that denies them. Magical thinking and blind faith are the worst mental system we can apply under these circumstances. They allow the most outrageous lies to be accepted as facts.
From its very beginning, religion has been a tool used by those in power to retain that power and keep the masses in line. This continues today as religious groups are manipulated to work against believers’ own best interests in health and economic well-being in order to cast doubt on well-established scientific findings. This would not be possible except for the diametrically opposed world-views of science and religion. Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. We can only hope religion will change its commitment to nonsense.”
By: Staks Rosch
“On Feb. 11, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI), announced his retirement. He is the first pope in 600 years to resign from the position. The reactions have been mostly that of surprise. Even Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the top Vatican official in the United States was completely stunned.
As an atheist, I’m a little stunned too. I’m surprised that Ratzinger was so willing to give up the power of the pope. I thought they would have to pry that scepter from his cold dead hand.
In hindsight, I’m not all that surprised. This pope has been a bit of a disaster for the Catholic Church. While it was pretty well known that Catholic priests have been sexually assaulting minors for a long time, the scandal really erupted during Ratzinger’s reign. Plus, his involvement in covering up these crimes prior to pope-hood and his continued obstruction of justice around the world as pope has been devastating. If that wasn’t enough, his lame attempts to blame atheism, gays, and the media didn’t help his legacy.
The Pope has been particularly vocal in his attacks on atheists. His comical attempt to reach out to atheists called, the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” was a complete failure. Then he had the audacity to associate modern atheism with the Nazis. And just a few months ago during the Winter Solstice season, the Pope tweeted that atheists deny human dignity. How’s that for spreading good will?
I’ll be happy to see this pope’s reign come to an end. Hopefully, the new pope will be someone who is more progressive-minded and will be less hateful toward atheists and gays. It would really be something if the next pope was actually a woman, but the likelihood of that is about on par with Christopher Hitchens being anointed to sainthood.”
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From: Think Progress
By: Tara Culp-Ressler
“U.S. teen birth rates have dropped to a record low, down nearly 50 percent since 1991, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. There was only a slight decline in the number of teens having sex, suggesting that more adolescents are preventing pregnancy by practicing safer sex.
Experts caution that since the new study didn’t investigate teen behavior, they can’t say exactly what caused the drop in teenage pregnancies — but they suspect some encouraging trends in contraceptive use played a role. Laura Lindberg, a senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute,told NBC News that teens are increasingly opting to use more effective forms of birth control as soon as they become sexually active, and the adolescents who use birth control during their first sexual experiences are more likely to use it down the road.
And Lindberg explained that several new policies — including guidelines encouraging doctors to prescribe long-lasting forms of contraception, new Obamacare rulesremoving cost barriers to birth control, and guidelines easing some of the hurdles to obtaining a birth control prescription — have helped ensure that teens now have better access to the best forms of birth control:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidelines on contraception, and now recommends long-acting birth control methods such as IUDs, which are devices implanted in the uterus, and hormonal birth control drug implants, as the first-line contraceptives offered to teens. “The reason that is important is failure rates are much lower,” Lindberg said. [...]
The Obama administration rules now require health insurers to provide birth control care for free, without even a co-pay.
Another important change — fewer doctors now require teenagers to get full pelvic exams before they will prescribe birth control. New federal guidelines say a woman doesn’t need such an exam before she’s 21, even if she is sexually active.
“We think that’s lowered what we call the psychic barrier to getting prescription contraception methods,” Lindberg said. “For teenaged girls that first (exam) can be frightening.”
But there’s even more the U.S. could do to make contraception more readily available to the young women who need it. The United States currently uses an antiquated system of tying birth control prescriptions to annual gynecological check-ups, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that the U.S. put an end to that practice and make birth control available over the counter — whichmost countries around the world already do.
And increasing access to all types of birth control, including emergency contraception, could also make a difference. The Department of Health and Human Services still requires women under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription for Plan B, even though health officials have come out in opposition to the unnecessary federal policy. Particularly since a right-wing smear campaign has falsely construed emergency contraception as an abortifacient, the stigma surrounding Plan B can make it difficult for young adults to access that type of birth control — but, as a pilot program in New York City demonstrates, making Plan B available to teens can drastically lower unplanned pregnancies.
From: Pew Forum
“On Feb. 1, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed new rules that would exempt certain religious organizations, including houses of worship, schools and hospitals, from a new mandate to offer free contraception services to women employees. The new regulations would instead require the nonprofits’ health-insurance providers to offer and pay for contraceptive services. The new proposal is the latest step in a controversy that first arose in 2010, with the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The contraception mandate has been the subject of much debate and the object of many lawsuits (read more about public opinion on the birth control insurance mandate). To help explain what today’s announcement might mean for the debate, the Pew Forum asked Professors Ira C. Lupu and Robert Tuttle of The George Washington University Law School to discuss the new rules and the possible outcome of the legal challenges to them.
1. Briefly explain the roots of controversy. How did we get where we are today?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires employers to offer employees health insurance that provides some preventative medical services free of charge. Part of this mandate includes reproductive health services, such as birth control, sterilization and emergency contraception.
Under regulations drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies in 2011, the contraception mandate would not apply to churches or other religious organizations – if their primary purpose is to inculcate religious values and if they primarily serve and primarily employ people of their faith tradition. Under the 2011 rules, houses of worship were clearly exempt, but other religiously affiliated organizations were not exempt because they have purposes other than promoting religion (such as providing education or health care) and they usually serve and employ people of many faiths. HHS gave these groups an extra year to comply with the mandate – meaning that they would have to offer their employees insurance providing the pregnancy prevention services by August 2013.
Many religiously affiliated organizations criticized the new mandate, and some sued the government in federal court. The opponents argued that the requirement violates the guarantees of religious freedom contained in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) of 1993, which bars the government from substantially burdening religious exercise without having a compelling interest for doing so.
Leading the opposition have been Roman Catholic organizations that oppose abortion and the use of artificial birth control. Some Protestant and Jewish groups that oppose abortion and the use of emergency contraceptives also have sued the government to stop the mandate. Some businesses owned and operated by religious people also have sued, arguing that their religious rights are being abridged. All of the opponents of the mandate contend that they should not be forced to pay for health insurance that provides services that conflict with their religious beliefs. Supporters of the mandate counter that a woman’s access to pregnancy prevention services should not depend on which employer they work for. Supporters also argue that hospitals, schools and other nonprofits, as well as businesses, have no right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
In February 2012, President Obama sought to resolve the controversy by proposing a compromise. With respect to religiously affiliated nonprofits that did not qualify for the full exemption, the president proposed that the groups would still need to provide insurance that covered women’s reproductive health, but they would not have to bear any of the financial cost of these services. Instead, in cases where a religious employer objected, the insurance companies that covered the relevant employees would have to bear all of these costs. The compromise did not change the obligations of for-profit businesses.
Many groups that had objected to the original regulations argued that the compromise did not change the situation. Religious organizations would still have to offer their employees insurance that included coverage of reproductive services, they said, and the insurance companies required to pay for these services would find another way to pass along the cost to employers. Furthermore, the details of the president’s proposal were still somewhat uncertain because they had not been fleshed out into regulatory language – until now.
2. Please explain the newly promulgated rules released today by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The newly proposed rules apply to those religious nonprofits, such as schools, hospitals and social service providers, that HHS did not intend to exempt under the original regulations. Under the new regulations, these religious nonprofits may purchase insurance plans for their workforce that do not offer contraception services. If they do so, their insurance provider will be required to enroll the nonprofit’s female employees in a separate policy that only provides contraceptive services. The insurer will be required to provide these services to employees at no cost. In addition, the insurer, rather than the nonprofit, will have to administer the policy and cover its entire cost. For religious nonprofits that self-insure, the proposed rules require that such organizations must select a third-party administrator that would provide contraceptive coverage to female employees.
3. Are the new rules likely to satisfy the nonprofit organizations that have filed suits in federal courts?
From the beginning of this controversy, religiously affiliated nonprofits have objected to being involved in any way in the provision of one or more of these kinds of services to their employees, whether or not the employer directly paid for the services. Some object to all medical forms of contraception; others object only to emergency contraception, which they view as abortion-inducing. But all object to being put in a role where they are helping their employees gain access to such services. In light of these objections, the new rules may not sufficiently relieve these organizations of what they see as “sinful complicity” in the provision of pregnancy prevention services.
4. What is the status of the lawsuits brought by business or for-profit entities against the original Affordable Care Act rules? Could the outcome of these cases affect the lawsuits brought by nonprofit entities?
As of this date, there have been at least a dozen lower court decisions in cases brought by for-profit businesses objecting to the mandate. Other such cases have recently been filed. In a few cases, lower courts have upheld the position of the United States that corporations and other business entities cannot “exercise religion,” the way individuals can. In addition, some courts have ruled that the contraception mandate does not substantially burden religious exercise, and violates neither RFRA nor the Free Exercise Clause.
However, in a larger number of cases, the lower courts have decided that businesses do have the right to bring such challenges and that the mandate does violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Courts in these cases have concluded that requiring businesses to cooperate in the provision of services that the employer views as sinful is a substantial burden, and that the government’s interest in imposing the mandate to provide services is not “compelling.”
The outcome of these cases could affect the cases brought by religious nonprofits. Of course, religiously affiliated nonprofits, organized in part for religious purposes, will not have to overcome any hurdles about whether they can challenge the regulations. But the nonprofits will have claims similar to those of for-profit businesses, even though, under the new rules, the nonprofits will not be bearing the cost of coverage of pregnancy prevention services in the way that for-profit businesses do. But both make the same basic claim: that they are being forced to facilitate what they believe to be sinful activity in direct violation of their religious rights under RFRA and the Constitution.
5. Do you think it is likely that this issue will be taken up by the Supreme Court?
Because the lower courts will inevitably disagree on a number of questions presented by these cases, the Supreme Court is likely to eventually accept one or more of them to resolve those conflicts. In particular, the high court will have to resolve whether for-profit businesses may assert the same claims of religious freedom as individuals and religious nonprofits. It also will need to determine whether the mandate is a substantial burden on the religious exercise of employers of any kind – whether for profit or nonprofit. Finally, if the justices determine that the mandate does constitute such a burden, the court still must decide whether it violates RFRA or the Constitution.
By: Staks Rosch
“Religion is still very important to many Americans and it will be a very long time before we will live in a world without religion. It might not ever happen. However, we are getting much closer to that world, and before we know it, religious belief will occupy the same place as fortunetellers in our society. We are at the dawn of a new reality in America in which people are starting to be more interested in actual reality than they are in ancient superstitions.
According to a 2012 Gallup-International poll (PDF), the number of “convinced atheists” in the United States has risen from 1 percent in 2005 to 5 percent in 2012. I want to point out here that we are not talking about some vague group of “nones,” or even people who shy away from the “A” label. That 5 percent doesn’t count those who only identify as agnostic or secular. It doesn’t count those who only use the Humanist or rationalist labels, either. We aren’t even talking about people who are just a little bit atheist; we are talking about “convinced atheists.” That’s 5 percent of the American public.
Let’s put this in context with some religious group identities. Muslims make up just .6 percent of the population in America. Although you wouldn’t know that by watching Fox News or by listening to many religious fundamentalists who insist that Sharia Law is going to take over the country any day now.
While Jewish groups have a strong lobby in Washington, they only make up 1.7 percent of the population in the nation. That’s it! Plus, there are still a lot of Jews who are secular and “convinced atheists.” So that number is probably inflated.
There are more “convinced atheists” in America than all the Muslims and Jews combined and doubled. But that’s not all. Not by a long shot. Atheism is still considered a dirty word in much of this country. So there are a lot of people who lack a belief in gods but don’t call themselves atheists.
The media loves the fact that according to the new Gallup tracking poll, the so-called “nones” only grew .3 percent from the previous year. Religious leaders are thrilled that the rise of the “nones” is slowing down. But the media reported it wrong. The “nones” are still rising! Looking at the context of how the other religious identities have risen or fallen, it becomes clear that this is a win for atheism. Protestants actually shrunk by .6 percent. Catholics can’t brag either. They fell .2 percent. Jews and Muslims stayed the same at the previously mentioned 1.7 percent and .6 percent, respectively.
In fact, aside from the Mormons, no religious group increased their numbers in 2012. But the religiously unaffiliated did grow! The story shouldn’t have been that the rise of the “nones” was slowing down, but rather that the religiously unaffiliated is still the fastest growing religious identity. More people are leaving religion than joining religion. Even in the most Bible-minded cities in the country, 48 percent of people are “resistant” to the Bible.
The religiously unaffiliated or “nones” make up about 19 percent of the American population. That’s nearly one in five Americans. I know, not all those people are “convinced atheists,” but the Pew Research Centerdoes break down those numbers a little bit and most of the “nones” don’t believe in any deities. So yeah,they’re atheists. Thirty-six percent of the “nones” are flat-out convinced atheists and agnostics. Thirty-nine percent consider themselves secular or not religious. In other words, they don’t like to use the “A-labels” but they still don’t believe in any deities. Only 23 percent of the religiously unaffiliated “nones” consider themselves to be unattached believers. That means that 77 percent of the “nones” don’t believe in deities. That’s about 14 percent of the American people and 0 percent of Congress.
While religious lawmakers continue to waste tax-payer money pushing laws that affirm “In God We Trust” as our national motto, it is their religious-based laws which continue to attack the rights of women, gays people and racial minorities that are most problematic. Those things aren’t helping religions grow one bit. On the contrary, they are making it easier for me to make my case that basing our laws on the Bible is silly and dangerous. It is much better to base our laws on secular values like human compassion, fairness and reason.
Religious apologists like to talk about a clash of world-views but there is no clash. There are people who live in reality and people who believe ancient stories on bad evidence and faith. When it comes to understanding the world we actually live in, there is no better tool than science. Stephen Hawking put it best:
“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”
As information becomes more available to the general public via the Internet, religion can no longer hide. When religious leaders make claims, people can now turn to Google and research those claims. You won’t find a religious leader claiming that there are no contradictions in the Bible anymore because a quick Google search can expose that as nonsense. That old line claiming that something can’t come from nothing is easily refuted with a YouTube search on Lawrence Krauss.
Whether religious believers like it or not, we are at the dawn of a new godless age in America. Religious leaders know it and they are afraid. The greater community of reason is organizing and we are starting to demand equal treatment and representation. It won’t be long before we actually get it, either. Religious believers can deface our billboards, but they cannot prevent the inevitable reality that our message is getting out there. People are starting to think critically about the beliefs they have been indoctrinated to believe and they are leaving their religions behind.