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The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

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The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Remember_Me » Fri Apr 13, 2012 1:59 pm

America's coming around.

Finally.

The number of disbelievers is growing, but they remain America's least trusted minority. Why?

How many atheists are there?

It depends on your definition of the term. Only between 1.5 and 4 percent of Americans admit to so-called "hard atheism," the conviction that no higher power exists. But a much larger share of the American public (19 percent) spurns organized religion in favor of a nondefined skepticism about faith. This group, sometimes collectively labeled the "Nones," is growing faster than any religious faith in the U.S. About two thirds of Nones say they are former believers; 24 percent are lapsed Catholics and 29 percent once identified with other Christian denominations. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, claims these Nones as members of his tribe. "If you don't have a belief in God, you're an atheist," he said. "It doesn't matter what you call yourself."

Why are so many people leaving religion?

It's primarily a backlash against the religious Right, say political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In their book, American Grace, they argue that the religious Right's politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. The dropouts were turned off by churches' Old Testament condemnation of homosexuals, premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. The Catholic Church's sex scandals also prompted millions to equate religion with moralistic hypocrisy. "While the Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics," Putnam and Campbell write, "the rest of the country has been moving in the opposite direction." As society becomes more secular, researchers say, doubters are more confident about identifying themselves as nonbelievers. "The collapse of institutional religion in the first 10 years of this century [has] freed so many people to say they don't really care," said author Diana Butler Bass.


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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby other i » Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:35 pm

My childen! I open my arms to you and give you a home. We accept you as you are and nothing is off limits in your daily intellectual exercises.

http://www.venganza.org/
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby jonnygothispen » Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:11 pm

As a recent convert to wholly Wheat division of the Pastafarian sect, I too open my noodly appendages to all who will receive my God.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Detritus » Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:20 pm

Clearly, we should give thanks to God for the rise of atheism. After all, if it weren't for Him, we wouldn't need atheism in the first place.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:45 pm

It's primarily a backlash against the religious Right, say political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In their book, American Grace, they argue that the religious Right's politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. The dropouts were turned off by churches' Old Testament condemnation of homosexuals, premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. The Catholic Church's sex scandals also prompted millions to equate religion with moralistic hypocrisy.


I sure would like to think that the reason people are rejecting religion is that it's demonstrably wrong, not because they don't like certain messages issuing from religious leaders (although there's certainly overlap there.) Europe has been becoming more secular for decades and I've never heard it explained away as a rejection of politics -- it's been a rejection of superstition in favor of reality. If you educate young people about the natural world, they're far less likely to accept views which cannot be reconciled with proven facts. This is obvious, and it's the reason why religious Conservatives are so insistent that their backwards beliefs be taught in schools at the expense of actual science.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby rabble » Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:54 pm

I would like to say that I am acquainted with three atheists. One of them is basically a trend follower who, if he follows the path of others I know with his character traits, will get religion within the next five or ten years after he's finished raising hell.

The other two say they're atheists but behave like my acquaintances who follow an earth-based spiritual path. Reverence and respect for nature, periods of solitude very similar to meditation, things like that. Comfortable in their own skins, good people to be around.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby snoqueen » Fri Apr 13, 2012 5:35 pm

Beyond atheism, I think there's another category. Atheists say there's no god, agnostics say we can't know if there's a god or not, and nonbelievers (the "other" category) say they don't believe in any of it. This isn't the same as specifically believing there's no god, which I think might be Wagstaff's position. It's categorically rejecting the whole question. You could be rejecting it on the grounds "god" is so unclearly or variously defined there's no point in drawing any conclusions. You could be rejecting it on the basis it's irrelevant to anything that matters, sort of an intellectual exercise. You could reject it on the basis you don't care, or you don't deal in that kind of speculation. You could have any reason that suits you. I think the nonbelievers in my own family would have said they don't deal in that kind of speculation, or didn't care. I can tell you they didn't spend much time on it, if any. The only thing I remember my grandmother saying about religion was "The lord helps those who help themselves" with a crisp edge to her voice.

Personally, I don't have the slightest idea what I think about other people's concepts of god -- that's their business. This isn't a dodge. I honestly think people arrive at beliefs that suit them for reasons private, public, and historical and if I have any relationship to what they think, it's to treat it as something they value and leave them space to practice their faith, within reason. I kinda like being a guest on different religious occasions, like going to a Catholic wedding or a Seder.

Non-religious but spiritual probably would be the survey category I'd end up in. I think there's more of reality than the time-space continuum we mostly participate in, and I believe in an afterlife and, on certain days, in something like reincarnation. I have no problem reconciling this with no interest in deities, or with using science to describe the physical world and solve problems.

I know plenty of people who think as I do. People who say they don't care when asked about gods aren't likely to make a big point of something they don't care about, so we fly under a lot of radar.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Fri Apr 13, 2012 6:02 pm

snoqueen wrote:Atheists say there's no god, agnostics say we can't know if there's a god or not, and nonbelievers (the "other" category) say they don't believe in any of it. This isn't the same as specifically believing there's no god, which I think might be Wagstaff's position.

I don't believe in anything for which there's no evidence. The notion that my disbelief in God is any different than my disbelief in leprechauns -- or that a special word should be needed to express that disbelief -- is cultural, not logical. What do you call someone who doesn't believe in Bigfoot? Or Atlantis? Or astrology? And do you know anyone who is "agnostic" about any of those things? Of course not. Only God enjoys the status of needing words to explain what it means not to believe. Seriously, think about how fucked up that is. Why don't we feel the need to label people Round-Eathers, for example?

That said, I am more than willing to change my beliefs (and have) based on evidence, so it would be a relatively simple matter to get me out of the "atheist" column -- just show me some evidence. It's exactly the same way I feel about alien visitors or the existence of time travelers. Nothing would please me more than to have to rethink my beliefs on those topics based on new evidence. But I ain't holding my breath.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby fennel » Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:04 pm

What's all the fuss about belief? It's a boat anchor. It's fine for when you need a nap, but if you're-a-thirstin' for some spiritual practice, it's time to weigh anchor and hoist the sails of uncertainty. The practice is about the practice.

Then, what to do about those barnacles who so desperately believe you know better than they do?
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Igor » Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:14 pm

All I know is, nobody that I know wants to talk about religion more than atheists. Keep your religious views to yourself indeed.

The central question is "do you believe that the universe(s) were created by an external intelligent force(s), or not?" The potential answers are really only Yes, No, or I don't know. The rest of the debate in how to parse those three groups into smaller groups (or how to label the groups) is just a rhetoric exercise.

The set of talking points being set forth in the last year or so ("Christians are atheists about Hindusm!") are not very interesting either, frankly.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby fennel » Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:23 pm

Igor wrote:("Christians are atheists about Hindusm!") are not very interesting either, frankly.
I'll have to look that up, since it sounds very much to the point, if not interesting to the anchored.

But I just remembered this piece: Atheists, please read my heathen manifesto.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby fennel » Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:31 pm

Igor wrote:All I know is, nobody that I know wants to talk about religion more than atheists.
Now everybody knows everything you know. (*tee hee*)
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Fri Apr 13, 2012 7:57 pm

Igor wrote:All I know is, nobody that I know wants to talk about religion more than atheists.
Atheists react to religion, because it intrudes on our lives. If everyone else kept their religious views out of politics, there'd be nothing to react to. Yes, I do talk about religion a lot, but that's because I believe its influence on society is a negative one. Not only do many atheists feel it's simply important to stand up and be counted (especially since people of faith, like our own Ned Flanders, love to exaggerate how prevalent their own beliefs are) but it's simply true that it's impossible to change other people's attitudes by remaining silent. A similar observation could be made about many topics. The people most like to talk about the death penalty are those who oppose it, for example. There's no urgency associated with discussing a position that is already the status quo if you agree with it.

Igor wrote: Keep your religious views to yourself indeed.
Atheism is not a religious view.
Do we really need to go over all this again?

Igor wrote:The central question is "do you believe that the universe(s) were created by an external intelligent force(s), or not?" The potential answers are really only Yes, No, or I don't know.
I would add a fourth: Does it even matter?
Let's say there is a God and let's say she did create the universe. Does she still interact with it? If the answer is yes, then there should be evidence. If the answer is no, then whether there's a Creator or not has no bearing on our current existence.
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby snoqueen » Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:18 pm

The central question is "do you believe that the universe(s) were created by an external intelligent force(s), or not?" The potential answers are really only Yes, No, or I don't know.


What about people who believe the universe IS a sort of intelligent or self-modifying "force" (or maybe "entity")? I don't think you read enough speculative fiction or, on the other hand, enough cosmologies from non-Western perspectives. There are numerous other approaches to your question.

What I like about the current rising-of-atheism environment is not specifically the rise of atheism so much as the availability of more and more alternate versions of reality. Why choose just one?
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Re: The Rise of Atheism in America & Who to Thank

Postby Igor » Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:34 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
Igor wrote: Keep your religious views to yourself indeed.
Atheism is not a religious view.
Do we really need to go over all this again?


Okay, a "view *about* religion. This is the kind of annoying word parsing that make these discussions so tiresome. It's the equivalent of "I'm not touching you".

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
Igor wrote:The central question is "do you believe that the universe(s) were created by an external intelligent force(s), or not?" The potential answers are really only Yes, No, or I don't know.
I would add a fourth: Does it even matter?
Let's say there is a God and let's say she did create the universe. Does she still interact with it? If the answer is yes, then there should be evidence.


I am guessing that a power that could create a universe would probably also be powerful enough to do so without our ability to find proof, if it chose.
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