Why Am I the Heathen? Atheism’s Rise in America

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atheist_fish Atheism, or as one of my old teachers called it (I swear to God) “hedonism”, rejects the belief that a higher power exists. On the other hand, theists believe there is an all-powerful god who sits on an IKEA couch in a cloud, judging everything everyone does while demanding to be worshipped.

The United States has historically been a religious nation and remains so. Today, about 76 percent of Americans say prayer is an important part of their every day life and 80 percent say they will never doubt there is a god.

But despite there being an overwhelming majority of god fearing Americans, our country has seen a steady increase in non-believers over the last 10 years.

According to the Pew Forum, 14 percent of all U.S. adults consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion, which amounts to around 33 million people.

But young people aren’t just beginning to lack faith in a god– many have begun to affirmatively self-identify as atheists.

The Global Index of Religion and Atheism conducted a worldwide poll and found that the number of “convinced atheists” in America rose from one percent in 2005 to 5 percent (about 13 million people) in 2012. Other studies have placed that number higher at 9 to 10 percent.

Why are people leaving religion?

America is witnessing a decline in the belief in god because young people are increasingly disillusioned with the role of organized religion.

A large part of society has progressed far enough to realize that the world isn’t flat and that we can lead a prosperous life without adhering to rigorous religious teachings or the antiquated standards set by the church.

Another reason Americans are giving up their faith is because of the radicalization of religion across this country and the world.

Socially liberal churchgoers have shunned some fundamentalist religious teachings on premarital sex, homosexuality and abortion, as its standards are widely regarded by the American youth as misogynistic and homophobic. The vast majority of the younger generation is much more accepting than their parents of different cultures and lifestyles and do not view abortion, access to contraception or gay marriage as sinful.

The evangelical hate group, The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), and their radical religious teachings is one example of how churches are alienating young people from religion. (I would get fired if I actually wrote in verbatim the things WBC’s members say in their protests, so I’ll just direct you here.)

But instead of looking introspectively and acknowledging why people are leaving the church, religious leaders have doubled down on their views and further alienated many in their congregations.

Some Americans are also coming to the conclusion that religion is full of unsubstantiated claims and false promises. They’ve chosen to accept scientific hypotheses supported by credible, tangible evidence rather than purposefully suspend critical thinking by conforming to faith.

And as more secularists emerge, atheists are grouping together to find community. We are becoming less fearful of being ostracized and more likely to champion our views because of it.

During my junior and senior years I went to a private, Christian high school (which is probably why I don’t believe in god). Even though an entire school full of people surrounded me, I can say with a high degree of confidence I was 1 of 10 atheists at a school of 1,400 students.

If the ten of us had come together and found solace in the fact that more than one of us were atheists, would we have been more vocal about our beliefs? I often wonder.  

Why I am I the heathen?

I’ve always been confused when hardline, fundamentalist religious folk tell atheists we lack morals. A radical’s thought process is as follows:

Eric does not believe in god. Eric does not adhere to (insert religion and god)’s belief system, instructions and moral code. Therefore, Eric is completely amoral and likes to kick babies and burn down houses.

It is an enormous logical fallacy to assume that atheists do not have a strong moral compass. Just because I don’t believe in god does not mean I am a homicidal maniac. I need not believe in god to be a good person and most people of faith know that. Still, atheists remain one of the least trusted groups in America.

But radicals, and even many moderate believers, fail to understand there is a religion for atheists. We need not conform to all of the teachings other faiths follow, but we can apply the wise parts of organized religion’s teachings to live a moral life.

The bible says don’t kill. Killing a person is wrong except in extraordinary circumstances; therefore I will not purposefully kill someone.

Does that make me such a bad person even if I don’t believe in god?

No, but religious people see atheism as not an attack on an idea, but an attack on their identity- something that humans inherently find very difficult to handle. So, next time you hear that atheists are amoral people, “Don’t think about where the lines are drawn. Think about who draws the lines*” and why they have done so.

*Quote from, Who Bullies the Bullies by The Last Psychiatrist

About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at ebates0@gmail.com.
Posted in: Culture, Politics, Uncategorized
  • Mark

    A statement in your article struck my interest. You state that being an
    atheist doesn’t prevent you from having a strong moral compass, then you
    go on to say that the reason you won’t purposely kill someone is
    because the Bible says killing is wrong. I find that intriguing since
    you don’t believe God exists yet you will put value in a book written by
    someone you claim is non-existent. I don’t believe that atheists are
    amoral, that’s silly. However, that being said, I do believe that morals
    come from God and not from the mind of man. Just look at the bulk of
    world history with all the violence, wars and killing, deceit, malice
    and debauchery and you will see what lurks in the minds and hearts of
    men. I don’t wish to challenge you to a debate on the existence of God, I
    do, however, wish to challenge you to rethink your position on exactly
    where your sense of morality comes from. The Bible also says that the
    heart of man is deceitfully wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9)

    The belief that morality comes from within is rather dangerous because everybody
    has their own opinion of what’s morally right and wrong and that’s a
    recipe for chaos. Just as your morality tells you murder is wrong,
    someone else’s morality may find nothing wrong with killing someone.

    Just as a ship’s compass needs a fixed point of reference in order to function properly, a moral compass needs that same thing.

  • Greg Ackerson

    It’s more accurate to say the Bible (Ex. 20:13) says “Do not murder”.
    Q.v. https://carm.org/questions/you-shall-not-kill-yet-god-kills