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April 29, 2009

Catching up with atheist evangelists

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/catching_up_with_atheist_evangelists_20090429/

“More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops.”

That was the headline from a New York Times article Sunday that covered familiar ground: The number of Americans not belonging to a religion has grown dramatically in recent years and atheist evangelists are attracting attention by proclaiming their godlessness.

An excerpt:

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.

Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords, a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason, which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.

Despite all the hype, and the success of atheist authors, I’ve yet to see the fruit of these labors. Americans remain suspicious of atheist values and polls regularly show Americans would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is female, African American, Latino, Catholic, Jew, Muslim or Mormon than for an atheist.

Not sure how Thomas Jefferson snuck in, but that was a different era. In fact, U.S. Rep. Pete Stark remains the only modern member of Congress to be an “out-atheist.” 

I’ve blogged quite a bit about the New Atheists and their mission, and back in 2006 I wrote a lengthy feature for the LA Daily News about atheists “coming out of the closet” and engaging the political process just like religious folks have done for decades.

My entire article, “Got God? No Way,” appears after the jump:

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