Atheism: On the Rise?

Samantha Henze

Samantha Henze
January 3, 2013

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.

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Comments

10 Responses to “Atheism: On the Rise?”

  1. dlahaye on January 5th, 2013 11:14 pm

    It is not the ones that have no religion I don’t like. I strongly dislike those militant atheists.

  2. shoover on January 7th, 2013 5:43 pm

    Very interesting. I wonder if the majority of the atheists identified in the survey are people who recently stopped following a particular religion, or have long held this belief.

  3. amacfarlane on January 8th, 2013 2:11 am

    As a lifelong atheist with a deep respect for the many positive aspects of religious belief, I truly hope that atheists can earn widespread respect as morally dignified, compassionate individuals. Susan Jacoby wrote an article in the New York Times that relates nicely to this discussion: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/opinion/sunday/the-blessings-of-atheism.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
    Good job on the article, Sammy!

  4. egrose on January 8th, 2013 8:30 pm

    This is a very interesting and informative article. It would be very interesting to find out what is causing the rise in atheism – whether it is due to a change of religion or discomfort expressing the beliefs associated with atheism. If it is because people felt more self-conscious before about being atheists, then I think that it is great that these people finally feel comfortable sharing with the public what they believe or don’t believe in.

  5. Alyssa W. on January 8th, 2013 9:45 pm

    Interesting. Though not really surprising. I’ve heard that most other countries, like many in Europe, have a lot fewer religious people than we do in the US. I was always surprised that comparatively, our amount of atheism is so low.

  6. Hannah Ellefritz on January 11th, 2013 12:09 am

    It’s definitely a popular trend for high schoolers to pronounce themselves “Atheists.” I think a lot of the true beliefs of Atheism get muted sometimes, when certain students are too lazy to research other religions or belief systems and simply just don’t think there’s a God for right now. I do, however, have respect for people like Ashton who have clearly researched Atheism and agree with its roots, etc.

  7. paul flanagan on January 15th, 2013 9:26 am

    Very Interesting Article.. In My lifetime I have know a few atheists..my experience has taught me that there is one place that atheism does not exist or if it does it vanishes instantaneously..that is in combat
    when things get hot spin and out of control rapidly..the saying is “there are no atheists in a foxhole”

  8. Evan on January 16th, 2013 9:00 pm

    Interesting article! I find it challenging to believe things such as “Adam and Eve” when I’ve got a bio teacher like Mr. Roisen who can explain the reasons for evolution so well.

  9. David Schmitt on February 7th, 2013 4:14 pm

    I’m fine with people who want to believe in faith, but I also can’t understand how, given what we know about evolution, one can accept it.

    Hannah Ellefritz Reply:

    A lot of modern day Christians see evolution as coexistent with the truths in the Bible. Millions of Christians today see Adam and Eve as a metaphorical story and there are beginning to be less and less Christians that fight the science of evolution. I don’t think one can use evolution to discount faith in this day and age anymore.