The rise of atheism in America

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COMMENTARY -Mike offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. This particular response to a comment from a Muslim to worry about Atheism.

Let’s be realistic, it’s not the west that causes one to be an Atheist, I
chose to be one in India (raised in a secular but religious family) when I was
in my teens and remained so thru the last century. It’s human to be an atheist
or have an atheist streak in one.
There is nothing evil being an Atheist, and one should not look down on
it, if we do that, it amounts to arrogance of being righteous, to God, the
righteous ones are the ones who care about fellow beings.

And I’m a muslim, perhaps a very strong one, without
negating other paths, but appreciating them all in creating societies that God
wanted- where people honored the otherness of others and accepted the God given
uniqueness of each one.
Deep down, a majority of Muslims are this way. Are you not?  
Mike Ghouse

The rise of atheism in America

By The Week’s Editorial
Staff | The Week – 14 hrs ago

The number of disbelievers is growing, but they remain America’s least
trusted minority. Why?
How many atheists are there?
It depends on your definition of the term.
Only between 1.5 and 4 percent of Americans admit to so-called “hard atheism,”
the conviction that no higher power exists. But a much larger share of the
American public (19 percent) spurns organized religion in favor of a nondefined
skepticism about faith. This group, sometimes collectively labeled the “Nones,”
is growing faster than any religious
faith in the U.S. About two thirds of Nones say they are former
believers; 24 percent are lapsed Catholics and 29 percent once identified with
other Christian denominations. David Silverman, president of
American Atheists, claims these Nones as
members of his tribe. “If you don’t have a belief in God, you’re an atheist,” he
said. “It doesn’t matter what you call yourself.”
Why are so many people leaving religion?

primarily a backlash against the religious Right, say political scientists
Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In their book,
American Grace, they argue that the religious Right’s
politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians
away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. The dropouts were
turned off by churches’ Old Testament condemnation of homosexuals, premarital
sex, contraception, and abortion. The Catholic Church’s sex scandals also
prompted millions to equate religion with moralistic hypocrisy. “While the
Republican base has become ever more committed to mixing religion and politics,”
Putnam and Campbell write, “the rest of the country has been moving in the
opposite direction.” As society becomes more secular, researchers say, doubters
are more confident about identifying themselves as nonbelievers.
“The collapse of institutional religion in the first 10 years of this century
[has] freed so many people to say they don’t really care,” said author Diana
Butler Bass.
How are nonbelievers perceived?

Most polls suggest
that atheists are among the most disliked groups in the U.S. One study last year
asked participants whether a fictional hit-and-run driver was more likely to be
an atheist or a rapist. A majority chose atheist. In 2006, another study found
that Americans rated atheists as less likely to agree with their vision of
America than Muslims, Hispanics, or homosexuals. “Wherever there are religious
majorities, atheists are among the least trusted people,” said University of
British Columbia sociologist Will M. Gervais. As a result, avowed atheists are
rare in nearly all areas of public life. Of the 535 legislators in Congress, for
example, only one — Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) — calls himself an atheist. Few
sports stars or Hollywood celebrities own up to having no religious
Why so much distrust?
Many Americans raised in the
Judeo-Christian tradition are convinced
that atheists can have no moral compass. Azim Shariff, a University of Oregon
psychologist who studies religious thinking, sums up how believers view
nonbelievers: “They don’t fear God, so we should distrust them. They do not have
the same moral obligations as others.” The antipathy may have actually grown
with the recent emergence of “New Atheist” writers such as Richard Dawkins and the late
Christopher Hitchens, who have launched impassioned
attacks on organized religion. Dawkins has
encouraged his followers to “ridicule” anyone who could believe in “an
unforgiving control freak” and “a capriciously malevolent bully” like the God
portrayed in the Old Testament. Dawkins’s harsh approach, said Barbara J.
King, an anthropologist at the College of William and Mary, has confirmed “some
of the negative stereotypes associated with the nonreligious — intolerance of
the faithful, first and foremost.”
How have atheists responded to this negative image?
coalition of nonbelievers is out to make atheism more acceptable, starting with
last month’s “Reason Rally” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where
thousands stood up for their right to not believe. Silverman of
American Atheists, who helped organize the rally, said it was intended to give
heart to young, “closet atheists” who fear the social stigma of being “outed,”
in much the same way closeted gays do. “We will never be closeted again,” he
said. Some within the movement advocate taking a more conciliatory approach to
believers, too. Alain de Botton, the Anglo-Swiss writer of the new
book Religion for Atheists, assails Dawkins as being
“very narrow-minded,” and praises religions as “the most successful educational
and intellectual movements the planet has ever witnessed.”
Will atheism ever be accepted?
If growth
continues at the current rate, one in four Americans will profess no religious
faith within 20 years. Silverman hopes that as nonbelief
spreads, atheists can become a “legitimate political segment of the American
population,” afforded the same protections as religious groups and ethnic
minorities. But he’s not advocating a complete secular takeover of the U.S. —
nor would he be likely to achieve one, given the abiding religious faith of most
Americans. “We don’t want the obliteration of religion; we don’t want religion
wiped off the face of the earth,” Silverman said. “All we demand is
Atheists in foxholes
Atheists are barely visible in
politics and entertainment, but they are clamoring for recognition in another
area of public life — the military. The Military Association of Atheists and
Freethinkers estimates that 40,000 soldiers identify as nonbelievers, and counts
the most famous casualty of the war in Afghanistan, former NFL star Pat Tillman,
as one of its own. In attempting to secure the same rights and support enjoyed
by religious soldiers, the association lobbies against the idea that “there are
no atheists in foxholes,” and wants “atheist chaplains” made available for the
ranks of the armed nonbelievers. Jason Torpy, the association’s president, says
that nonbelievers outnumber every religious group in the military except
Christians, yet receive no ethical and family counseling geared to their own
nonbeliefs. “These are things that
chaplains do for everybody,” he said, “except us.”
Mike Ghouse is committed to building a cohesive America and offers
pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a speaker, thinker and a
writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairs, Islam, India, Israel, peace and
justice. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, commentator on
national radio network, writes weekly at Dallas Morning News and bi monthly at
Huffington post, The Smirking Chimp and other periodicals. His daily blog is

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