It looks like Hell is going to get mighty crowded. According to the Pew Research Center, 19 percent of Americans identify as either atheist, agnostic, or believe in nothing in particular.
Come to the dark side, my idolatrous brothers and sisters. We have cookies and great sex.
The uptick in “the Nones” has been kind of staggering. In 1990, only 6 percent of adults in the United States did not identify with a religion. That number jumped to 15 percent in 2008. It’s conventional wisdom that young people are the godless heathens who are destroying society, but it looks like the picture is more complicated than that. According to USA Today:
Barry Kosmin, co-author of three American Religious Identification Surveys, theorizes why None has become the “default category.” He says, “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”
So it’s young people, yes. But it’s also older people and a general disinterest over all. Hey Boomers! Stop making God hate us! You just can’t let your kids do anything on their own, can you?
The growth of the Nones could well be mitigated by immigration from religious countries. (Soon we may discover who conservative Republicans hate the most: brown people or atheists.) What is really interesting, though, is the number of people who are brought up in a religious tradition who then leave. This is the primary way the Nones grow, and the number is surprisingly large.
But the chief way the category grows is by “switchers.” A 2009 Pew Forum look at “switching” found more than 10% of American adults became Nones after growing up within a religious group.
I had to do a double-take. Ten percent of American adults leave a religious faith and become Nones. Where were all those adults when I left my faith in high school? They could have been helpful.
But no matter. There is a growing opportunity for children who question the existence of God to get the support they need. For example, the Secular Student Alliance is an organization that has been growing at a staggering speed.
This trend toward the irreligious is a definite win for society at large. Religion is one of the more obvious examples of uncritical thinking in society today. Worse yet, this type of unquestioning acceptance of ancient stories fosters a culture of ignorance that bleeds into other aspects of our lives. Abandoning religion isn’t sufficient to combat all of combat all non-evidence based beliefs we are bombarded with on a regular basis, but it’s a start. If we can abandon a particular irrationality that was previously so important, then surely we can dismiss the ridiculous claims made by anti-vaccination activists and psychics.
I’m especially encouraged by the number of “switchers.” People are not simply accepting the atheism of their parents. They are thinking for themselves, and thinking is something I can have faith in.
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