Washington Post: Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers

Did we all rebrand ourselves as “nonbelievers” all of a sudden?

Yesterday, The Washington Post ran an article on the rise of atheism.

What do we learn?

There’s a 500-person waiting list for the Atheist Alliance International convention in two weeks:

“People who were ashamed to say there is no God now say, ‘Wow, there are others out there who think like me, and it feels damned good,’ ” said Margaret Downey, president of the Atheist Alliance International, whose membership has almost doubled in the past year to 5,200. It has a 500-person waiting list for its convention in Crystal City later this month.

And did she just say “there is no God”? Oh boy. That’s very un-Margaret-like of her.

According to the Barna Group (religious pollsters), atheists have unprecedented numbers:

A study released in June by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that about 5 million adults in the United States call themselves atheists. The number rises to about 20 million — about one in every 11 Americans — if people who say they have no religious faith or are agnostic (they doubt the existence of a God or a supreme deity) are included.

… one in four adults ages 18 to 22 describe themselves as having no faith.

Who are these atheists? Often, they are richer, more educated, single men:

They tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith, according to the Barna study.

The Council for Secular Humanism has a massive budget:

The budget of the Council for Secular Humanism has climbed 40 percent in the past two years, approaching $8 million this year.

Atheists should be even more commonplace when you hear why some people made the switch:

Javier Sanchez-Yoza, 21, a biology major at George Mason University, is a former born-again Christian who gave up his belief in God two years ago and is starting an atheist club at school. He turned atheist after growing skeptical of Christian friends’ arguments for creationism.

If they can be wrong about creationism, what else can they be wrong about?” Sanchez-Yoza said.

Coming out is still tough:

Maggie Ardiente, 24, of Silver Spring faced the disapproval of her family and some friends because of her atheist beliefs. “It’s hard for them even to comprehend,” she said.

We may be a distrusted minority and unlikely to be elected into public office, but people associate us with crime:

In a nationwide poll last year by University of Minnesota researchers, Americans rated atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” They also associated atheists with everything from criminal behavior to rampant materialism. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, more than half would not vote for an atheist for president.

Incidentally, in 1997, atheists were 0.2% of the prison population, compared to over 10% of the general population.


[tags]atheist, atheism, On Faith[/tags]

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Non-believer is, I think, a much more straightforward term than atheist. Atheist, unfortunately, is still very confusing because it really DOES mean, to many believers “people who claim that there is no god” or even the archaic definition of “wicked.” And it still says that in the dictionary.

    Now, of course, there’s something to be said about taking back a word that others have demonized and warped and fighting for it. But there’s also something to be said about just clearly stating something: non-believer is what Michael Shermer suggested a while back, and I always sort of agreed with him. It also helps explain the issue of why there is no way to definitively rebrand anything: we’re just a group of people who don’t have anything necessarily in common other than that we aren’t something. That doesn’t exactly make for an organic or centralized group. :)

  • Karen

    I use “atheist” as often as possible, as a way of making the word more acceptable and less “toxic,” but in general I think non-theist is the best word overall. Non-believer makes it sound like we’re cold, clinical robots who don’t believe in anything (i.e., motherhood, love) – which isn’t the case at all. Non-religious believer gets too long and cumbersome.

    Re the story itself: Cool! :-)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I frequently call myself a nonbeliever. “Unbeliever” sounds too much like “infidel” to me. I don’t know about anyone else. I’m not really big on labels for the most part, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to describe yourself in one word when you don’t feel like having a long conversation. Nica Lalli’s “Nothing” works well, too.

    What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    P.S. I see nothing wrong with saying “There is no god.” I will also say “There are no unicorns in the forest and no teapots orbiting Mars.” I don’t think these things need to be qualified with “I don’t believe….”

  • Miko

    Incidentally, in 1997, atheists were 0.2% of the prison population, compared to over 10% of the general population.

    I’d guess that this has more to do with the facts that atheism is correlated with education and education is inversely correlated with criminality than with any sort of direct causal connection between being an atheist and getting arrested.

    P.S. I see nothing wrong with saying “There is no god.” I will also say “There are no unicorns in the forest and no teapots orbiting Mars.” I don’t think these things need to be qualified with “I don’t believe….”

    I tend to agree, especially once we accept the existence or nonexistence of god as a scientific hypothesis, since it then becomes implied that it’s a provisional conclusion pending further evidence. We seem to have been forced into a defensive position by theist claims that we haven’t looked everywhere for god or what have you, and we need to stop that. No one would complain if I asserted that a balgue doesn’t exist, and I will assert that unreservedly until someone defines what a balgue is. Likewise, until theists can decide what they mean by the syllable ‘god,’ I see no reason to entertain the idea that it refers to something actually in existence.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    P.S. I see nothing wrong with saying “There is no god.” I will also say “There are no unicorns in the forest and no teapots orbiting Mars.” I don’t think these things need to be qualified with “I don’t believe….”

    I generally advocate that people do go out of their way to include these caveats even it seems laborious, mostly because I think that in addition to just being more accurate to begin with, fighting confusion and helping believers understand what non-believers really mean is paramount. Like any minority, we have the unfortunate position of having to put more effort into explaining ourselves. It sucks, but suckage doesn’t change the situation.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Bad, as a woman, I get tired of people thinking I have to be “nice” and qualify everything I say as “it’s only my tiny opinion.” It’s quite common in online groups for women to be criticized for being direct and outspoken. Assuming you’re a man, you don’t have to deal with that kind of crap.

  • Darryl

    writerdd, isn’t it just you that thinks that others think you have to be lady-like?

    I’ve never thought about your gender when reading your posts here–they seem to be just as straightforward as anybody else’s. But, maybe I’ve missed something.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Bad, as a woman, I get tired of people thinking I have to be “nice” and qualify everything I say as “it’s only my tiny opinion.”

    I guess don’t see it as a function or being nice, nor as qualifying it as an opinion. It’s a matter of getting the details right given that believers so often get them wrong. Knowledge is not the same thing as belief is not the same thing as logical truth and confusing those things or being ambiguous doesn’t do anyone any good. There’s a big difference between being direct and outspoken (or, as I like to put it: blunt) and confusing your audience with things that make issues even more convoluted and confusing.

    In my opinion. :)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    What difference does it matter how many there are? If numbers mattered, you’d all have to convert. I would too, but the distance wouldn’t be as taxing. If you think you’re right you should believe what you believe.

    That said, I’ve noticed that some of the estimates are very inclusive and others not. I remember one which assumed that all those who weren’t members of churches were “nonbelievers”. I’d guess lots of us would be surprised to find ourselves claimed by the atheists. It reminds me of the various “estimates” of how many English speakers there are. There are some who include the entire population of India because English is an official language, which is just silly.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    And with that, my reason for being here is over.

  • Maria

    Non-believer is, I think, a much more straightforward term than atheist. Atheist, unfortunately, is still very confusing because it really DOES mean, to many believers “people who claim that there is no god” or even the archaic definition of “wicked.” And it still says that in the dictionary.

    Now, of course, there’s something to be said about taking back a word that others have demonized and warped and fighting for it. But there’s also something to be said about just clearly stating something: non-believer is what Michael Shermer suggested a while back, and I always sort of agreed with him. It also helps explain the issue of why there is no way to definitively rebrand anything: we’re just a group of people who don’t have anything necessarily in common other than that we aren’t something. That doesn’t exactly make for an organic or centralized group.

    I agree. I know many “non-believers” who don’t consider themselves atheists. You have humanists, non-theists, agnostics, deists, or just plain non-religious people, and/or those that may consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Some do believe there may be “something out there” but they don’t do much about it. I think it’s good to label all of them in a very general term like this-one term for everyone is not going to be accurate. And it’s true, if you say “atheist” to most people, they assume you say “there is no god”. Most non-religious I know agree on separation of church and state, so that seems to be something good to organize around.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Daryll said:

    writerdd, isn’t it just you that thinks that others think you have to be lady-like?

    I’ve never thought about your gender when reading your posts here–they seem to be just as straightforward as anybody else’s. But, maybe I’ve missed something.

    Sorry, I wasn’t talking about this blog. I assume most people here don’t know my gender since I don’t usually sign my name. But I experinece this in person and online in groups of all/mostly women quite frequenly so it does shade my reaction to topics about hedging my statements. It’s usually, to be honest, other women who try to make the outspoken women be “nice”.

    It really has nothing to do with this thread other than to explain part of my own reason for not using the “I believe” tag when saying things such as “There is no god.”

  • Mriana

    IF it comes up, I usually say I’m a Humanist or non-theist, thing is that alone has gotten me in trouble- even with relatives. :roll:

    Even so…

    There is no God. God is just a human concept.

    Humm… I’m going to join George Carlin’s sun worship. :lol: Hell, I could get a very nice tan out of it.

  • http://www.oproject.co.uk Hamish

    Great piece, Humanist still strikes me (asa Brit) as the best most positive descriptor. I just don’t the average person will understand ‘non-theist’.

  • stogoe

    I’d love to be a Carlinist sun worshipper. Unfortunately the sun doesn’t believe in me; I burn faster than a gallon of gasoline.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X