Us non-religious folks are still in the minority, but a new poll indicates that we are a growing population. The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism has found that the number of Americans who identified as religious has dropped from 73 percent to 60 percent since the last time this poll was conducted in 2005. The poll asked 50,000 people from 57 countries and 5 continents. They were asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?”
This poll doesn’t necessarily indicate that more people are becoming non-religious. According to the Washington Post, since 2005 several influential books on atheism:
The seven years between the polls is notable because 2005 saw the publication of “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, the first in a wave of best-selling books on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other so-called “New Atheists.”
“The obvious implication is that this is a manifestation of the New Atheism movement,” said Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who studies American and global atheism.
“For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the U.S.”
This is most certainly a good thing. As someone who left a faith in favor of a godless existence, it can be hard when you’re overwhelmingly around people of faith. It’s a brave thing to do, to come out as different from everyone around you. Speaking personally, it would have been beyond helpful to know that there are other people like me who have chosen rational thought over superstitions.
If you think this is purely a Western phenomenon, think again. The poll shows a 23 percent drop in religiosity since 2005 in Vietnam. China, perhaps unsurprisingly given its ostensibly Communist ideology, has the most “convinced atheists” at 47 percent, followed by 31 percent in Japan.
Critics point to the Vietnam numbers as a reason to be skeptical of the survey. Barry Kosman, the principle of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey — which found that 15 percent of Americans said they have no religion — is one of those skeptics. The Vietnam numbers show a 23 percent drop in religiosity, but no atheists, which, in a communist country, is suspect.
But the overall trend is clear. People are becoming more comfortable with being non-religious. Maybe, as more of us band together, we can start letting go of all the baggage that goes with it.
Image credit: Anosmia