Godlessness

A couple of interesting tidbits on the topic of Godlessness.

First, there is this recently released report of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) (.pdf file). Among it’s findings:

  • The number of Americans who claim no religion, or no preference, when asked what religion they affiliate with, rose from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.2% in 2001, to 15% today.
  • Northern New England is the least religious section of the country, with Vermont claiming 34% non-religious.
  • The number of Christians in the country is down from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% today.  90% of this loss is from the mainline Protestant churches
  • Based on stated beliefs, rather than religious affiliation, 12% are atheistic or agnostic, and another 12% are deistic (i.e. no personal god), which for all practical purposes, is the same as atheism.

Indisputably, non-belief,  or at least non-affiliation, is the fastest growing sector of the country.  Almost a quarter of the country doesn’t believe in the god of the Bible. The conclusion of the report:

The rise of the Nones has been one of the most important trends on the American religious scene since 1990. The overall rate of growth of those expressing no religious preference slowed after 2001 but the numbers offering a specific self-identification as Agnostic or Atheist rose markedly from over a million in 1990 to about 2 million in 2001 to about 3.6 million today. The historic reluctance of Americans to self-identify in this manner or use these terms seems to have diminished…

Next is this article (.pdf), recently published in the National Journal.  It’s national recognition that the godless will soon be a political, social and cultural force to be reckoned with in America.

While I’m happy that freethinkers are starting to be taken seriously, I think we still need to educate the public as to exactly what we are. I can envision a theist reading this article and arriving at the conclusion that it’s just another example of declining morality in America. If they believe that atheists are worse than the worse, or, as it was pointed out in the article, that 48% of Americans would rather have their son or daughter marry a Muslim, Jew or African American than an atheist (not that there’s anything wrong with Muslims, Jews or blacks), then they will have a problem appreciating that a Godless society is a good thing.

America needs to understand that a godless American is not an amoral American. We don‘t kill kittens, eat babies or worship Satan. We don‘t think raping and pillaging are ideal forms of Saturday night entertainment.  We don‘t believe that life is meaningless.

We do think that the world is better off without a misplaced reliance on a non-existent being. We do believe that life has meaning in the very act of living. We do value well thought out, reason-based policies to guide us through life, not appeals to a supernatural world because of our fear of what will happen if we don’t.  We do especially think we are better off, for the most part, if our decision making is supported by empirical, repeatable evidence, not hunches. Most especially, we are motivated by the knowledge that this life is all we have, that we won’t get a second chance, and that we need to get it right when it matters the most – now.

Meanwhile, Newsweek recently noted that Christians are distancing themselves from the moniker Christian. They are now taking to calling themselves Followers of Jesus. Apparently, the term, Christian, is beginning to take on some unwanted weight.

“Follower of Jesus” has at least two advantages over “Christian” or “evangelical,” its boosters say. First, it doesn’t carry baggage. You can wear it abroad, in Islamic countries, or at home with your Jewish or Buddhist friends, without causing offense. Second, it distances the bearer from the culture wars that have made American politics so divisive.

And here I thought Christian meant Follower of Christ.

Maybe attitudes in the country are slowly changing. It’s nice to finally see a little insecurity crop up in such a monolithic institution. When the godless begin to gain clout, and the term Christian starts to have pejorative connotations, we must be on the right track.

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15 thoughts on “Godlessness

  1. Kind of makes you think that the fears of being seen as “militant atheists” are unfounded. Something has been working in the past 10 years.

    Call me a Follower of Dawkins.

  2. The sad part is that Christianity has always had a negative connotation, only now are the people who realize that coming out and saying it. If Chrisitians don’t want to be called Christian, then something this movement is doing is positive. I have a feeling the next 10 years are going to show a lot of attitude shifts in atheist and Christian perceptions.

  3. Well, people will either believe or not and as people they tend to want a banner of some type to assemble under. (Personally, I have always been more like Kipling’s Cat Who Walks By Himself)

    I hope a corner has been turned, though. I was told I was “dangerous” by a woman because her children saw me and I wasn’t like the preachers said. They thought it might be OK to not believe and that was horrible.

    Why this is going on would be interesting to find out, though.

    That “Saturday night entertainment”, though…ah, well, that’s for the young folks, not an old geezer like me.

  4. The number of Christians in the country is down from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% today.

    Hail George W. Bush! I think we can thank him for this decline of professed believers.

    I don’t live in the States, but I live in Canada–close enough. I never did like George Bush, but I OWE my de-conversion to him. The post 9/11 saga and his multiple references to divine guidance did wonders in showing me the Christian hypocrisy, including my own.

  5. It’s an interesting point, Lorena. I’m sure it had no effect on hard-core Christians. But moderate ones? They probably had both Bush and Dawkins to thank if they gave up religion during the past decade.

  6. We don‘t kill kittens, eat babies or worship Satan. We don‘t think raping and pillaging are ideal forms of Saturday night entertainment. We don‘t believe that life is meaningless.

    Speak for yourself, Mister. :)

    Actually, I’ve enjoyed reading some well-written, well-informed pieces about atheism and secularism for a change. I also got some chuckles when I saw two Christian apologists telling Lou Dobbs that the people who claimed no religious affiliations were certainly not atheists or agnostics. Funny thing is, they never told us what those people actually were. I’d say there’s some wishful thinking going on there.

    I also think it’s hilarious that Christians are running away from the label they’ve worn proudly for 2,000 years. I’ll bet there are some hard-cores who consider the Followers of Jesus to be sell-outs. As secularism and non-theism gain ground, the internecine wars among the Christians Followers of Jesus as they struggle to regain ground could be entertaining.

  7. It’s an interesting point, Lorena. I’m sure it had no effect on hard-core Christians. But moderate ones? They probably had both Bush and Dawkins to thank if they gave up religion during the past decade.

    Heavens, I wasn’t moderate. Not at all. I was Mrs. Hardcore Fundamentalist Christian. But the reactions of the Christians around me being happy that war had erupted shook my inner humanist. I just couldn’t believe I was part of a pack of ignorant, believe-whatever-you’re-told, insensitive people. I just didn’t know that loving Christians could support bloodshed in name of their God with so much joy.

  8. I’ve said this before, but I think that we’re just seeing more people who claimed to be Christians (and other theists) for social reasons deciding that they can finally be honest about their lack of belief. I’m convinced that many, perhaps even most moderate and liberal Christians are likely not Christians at all, they’re simply claiming it to make them look good to the neighbors. As being an atheist becomes more and more socially acceptable, people are finally deciding that they don’t have to wear their “Christian t-shirt” anymore, they can just be honest about their beliefs or lack thereof.

    I think the trend will continue as conditions improve for non-Christians, we might even surpass 50% non-believers in a couple of decades.

  9. Bitchspot – I would tend to agree with you on the great atheist thaw. However, reading Lorena’s comment just before yours makes it seem possible that it’s more than just that. If you are right in principle, then it seems equally likely that once we arrive at some tipping point it would serve the societal needs of people to DENY their belief, even if they still maintain it. And that’s fine with me. I’m not hoping for the end of craziness. I’m hoping it is tamped down to the point where believers don’t feel comfortable in publicly force-feeding us their insanity.

  10. I didn’t say that it was the only reason, just a big contributing factor. I also think that the Muslim insanity over the past couple of years has led people to start questioning religion in general, which likely has also brought out more atheists.

    I really don’t want people to deny beliefs that they have either, I just want it to be acceptable to be honest about what you believe, or do not believe, and leave it at that. The religious have as much right to be religious as we do to be non-religious. I will agree that it would be nice if everyone just decided to leave their particular religious or irreligious views at home and just started being decent human beings. I guess we can keep our fingers crossed.

  11. Meanwhile, Newsweek recently noted that Christians are distancing themselves from the moniker Christian. They are now taking to calling themselves Followers of Jesus. Apparently, the term, Christian, is beginning to take on some unwanted weight.
    First, a bunch of them decided to be called Fundamentalists, to distinguish themselves from those that thought they were saved but really weren’t. Then their own beliefs and actions gave them a bad name, so they switched to Evangelicals…until their own beliefs and actions gave them a bad name. Now they’re slowly abandoning that for another title. Has anyone ever pointed out that the reason they keep getting a bad name isn’t because of the title? Pat Robertson falling under the title of “fuzzy loving fuzz bear hug” would still be a small-minded, judgemental asshole. (note that I’m not lumping all Christians into the same pot. That would be silly. People are more shades of grey than black or white. That said, all those like Robertson and dear, departed Falwell are small-minded assholes. There’s a simple test: if you think that Israel exists to set off Armageddon, you’re an asshole)

    The chaplain “I also got some chuckles when I saw two Christian apologists telling Lou Dobbs that the people who claimed no religious affiliations were certainly not atheists or agnostics.”
    Didn’t you know that we are really rebeling against the God that we know exists so that we can pretend that we can avoid His judgement for all the fornicating that we apparently do?

  12. I consider myself a ‘militant atheist’, but I feel the definition is much different now than it was even a few years ago. I would be forced to change my position if real evidence were presented to me, but the reason I consider myself ‘militant’ is that I’m out, proud, an activist and an advocate. Plus, I feel it’s better than being apathetic about it!

  13. Sunny – The whole “militant atheist” thing was started by believers to try to shut us up. It backfired. “Militant atheism” has just gotten more attention for non-believers. The more attention, the more other non-believers feel inclined to “come out” and the more weak believers feel inclined to question their beliefs. And it’s pretty obvious that we aren’t militant since not a single church or parishioner has been attacked in the name of atheism. I don’t mind “apathetic atheism”. My only beef is with “cowardly atheism”. I could name names…. but I’m not uncool like that.

  14. You wrote: “Based on stated beliefs, rather than religious affiliation, 12% are atheistic or agnostic, and another 12% are deistic (i.e. no personal god), which for all practical purposes, is the same as atheism.”

    No, no, no, no, no. Please don’t make assumptions and mistakes. Deism is not like atheism. Yes, it usually shares humanist values, but it also shares god-belief with theism. It is certainly a HUGE improvement over theism, but its followers believe in a deity. Deists will resent being lumped with atheists, as they use the word “God” to also describe their version of god. Deists can exist quite comfortably in a church.

    We need to ensure that we talk UP the differences of deists and theists, so that we can accentuate this difference. We cannot claim them, but also should not allow theists to claim them either. But adding them to the atheist column only continues the type of disinformation that atheist activists should be trying to dispel.

  15. No, no, no, no, no.

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! 8)

    We’re talking about two different things, Drew. I know the difference between atheism and deism. But I said “for all practical purposes” it makes them equivalent. Think about it.

    A deist believes in a god that created the universe, then left us to our own devices. That’s not a personal god. For all practical purposes, (worship, divine intervention, day to day living) it’s as if there is no god, because no matter what we do, say, think or feel, he’s not around to interact with us. Same as atheism. No god=no god in the immediate vicinity.

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