Atheism: On the Rise?
Many recent religious surveys and polls represent an increase of Atheism compared to similar surveys of prior years in the United States. This decline of religiosity could be a result of multiple changes in the increasingly secular society of America, such as comfort of the public to openly identify an Atheist, or people’s repulsion of religion following modern issues.
Atheism is defined as the disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of God or any other deity. This definition encompasses two different branches of the atheist belief: ‘weak’ atheism and ‘strong’ atheism.
‘Weak’ atheists simply do not believe in, or acknowledge, the existence of any god or gods. ‘Strong’ atheists hold, and assert, that a god does not exist, rather than merely disbelieving. In other words, ‘weak’ atheists are without a belief in a god, while ‘strong’ atheists believe that there is no god.
While the atheist stance is often perceived as the most simplistic of stances, it does have multiple layers, making it difficult to definitively examine its demographics, or reach a single percentage that represents the number of atheists there are in the country compared to people with religious beliefs.
Therefore, although these two branches are considered to be part of the same religious status, it is easier to examine them separately, since many religious surveys do so as well.
Many more people identify as ‘weak’ atheists than ‘strong’. A 2012 poll shows that only between 1.5 and 4 percent of Americans identify themselves as so-called ‘strong’ atheists, but 19 percent of the American population claim to be ‘weak’ atheists. Several other polls show similar trends as well.
The number of proclaimed ‘strong’ atheists has remained relatively low, however many comparison surveys portray a growing number of recognized ‘weak’ atheists.
Another 2012 poll, “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” shows that 60 percent of Americans claim to be religious and 5 percent claim to be atheists. These statistics, compared to the same poll that was conducted in 2005 where 73 percent claim to be religious and only 1 percent claim to be atheists, represent this declining religiosity.
Many attribute the increase in atheism to a widespread negative reaction to churches’ Old Testament denunciation of abortion, premarital sex, contraception, and homosexuals. Many also began to view religion as morally hypocritical after the Catholic Church’s sex scandals.
However, many hold that this increase in atheism that recent surveys have been depicting is more of an increase in the people’s willingness to identify themselves as atheists, than anything else.
Prior to recent years, atheists were considered “dangerous” people “with no moral compass.” Some religious groups were encouraged to ridicule and ostracize those who did not recognize a god. Atheists also felt that they could not “comply with what it means to be a good person in the US,” without identifying as religious.
Now, the increasingly secular nature of society, coupled with the declining emphasis of institutional religion, has created an environment that is more open to people’s absence of religion.
Campaigns have also been launched to promote the outspokenness of atheists. They are designed to provide them with comfort in voicing their contra-religious viewpoints.
This heightened willingness to openly identify as an atheist, many believe, is contributing to the statistical decline of religious persons in recent years. Others recognize the rise of Atheism as a direct result of the negative reactions to Catholic Church’s sex scandals and the churches’ position on issues such as abortion and homosexuals.
Whatever the cause(s) may be, in the United States, Atheism is on the rise and religion is on the decline.