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04 June 2010

Growth of No: Americans Denying Any Religious Identity Continue to Grow

I came across a blog entry about more and more people basically not identifying with any religion.  Now, I honestly consider this a good sign, and it makes me more hopeful for the future.  But I have to be honest.  While I would consider it the best possible world where people are rational and don't adhere to totally unprovable concepts, and wild fantasies, that isn't what I need to see.

The problem with theists is that they are making it everyones business.  Politicians, our laws, what we're allowed to do in our own homes are being directed by these people's deranged fantasies.  THAT'S when I have a problem.  Religion is like masturbation.  As long as they keep it to themselves, they can waste all the time in the world making themselves feel good.  But sadly theitards insist on making it a public issue, and forcing you to masturbate exactly the same way they do.

The trend of more and more people cutting ties with organized religion -- or just admitting to this, even though it happened long ago -- continues. Although not all the people who profess "no religion" also say that they are atheists, it's implausible that this growth in "no religion" responses is completely unrelated to the parallel growth in recent years of the popularity and visibility of unapologetic atheists.
Just what the connection is, is open to debate. Maybe a lot more of these "no religion" people are atheists than are willing to admit it -- and given how much bigotry there is towards atheists, that's not unreasonable. Indeed, we should assume that there are at least a couple of percentage points of "in the closet atheists" out there. Another possibility is that the publicity surrounding atheist critics of religion is making it easier for people to explore doubts about religion.
Gallup began systematically tracking religion using this measure in 1948, asking Americans to name the major religion with which they personally identified. At that point, 2% of Americans volunteered "no religion" and another 3% had an otherwise undesignated religious identity. In 1949 and in the 1950s and 1960s, these percentages stayed low. The number of Americans with no formal religious identity began to increase in the 1970s, reaching 11% by 1990. After some fluctuations over the last two decades, 16% of Americans now say they have no religious identity or have an otherwise undesignated response.

Gallup's 53-year trend on this measure represents nearly a quarter of the history of the United States as an independent country. There is no systematic way of comparing this trend with what may have been the case stretching back to the earliest post-Revolutionary War days. The best conclusion therefore is that Americans are more likely now than at previous times since World War II to say "no religion" when queried in traditional fashion about their religious identity.

Source: Gallup
Wait a minute, aren't atheists constantly being told that they should just hush and not be so noisy in their criticisms of religion? Aren't atheists told that so much public criticism of religion is counter-productive? Well, counter-productive for whom: atheists, or religious apologists? Never blindly trust the "helpful" advice of a person whose political and/or ideological agenda is the opposite of yours.
Another interesting part of the Gallup survey is on Americans' belief about whether religion can solve problems facing us today or if religion is "old-fashioned and out of date." Currently 58% of people think that religion can solve our problems and just 28% reject this. While that first number may be depressingly high, it's better than it was a few year ago -- as with people answering "no religion," the trend is against religion.
The percentage of Americans who believe religion can answer all or most of today's problems has fluctuated since the mid-1970s, as has the number who believe religion is old-fashioned and out of date. When Gallup first asked this question in 1957, 7% of Americans said religion was old-fashioned. That percentage was generally at or around 20% during much of the 1980s and 1990s, but has risen to 29% last year and 28% this year.

Thus, although clearly still a minority, the segment of Americans who believe "religion is largely old-fashioned" is now modestly higher than it was a decade or two ago.
A vigorous, direct, and public critique of religion is what's needed to keep these numbers going in this direction. Atheists will not and cannot make any gains by being meek, quiet, and subservient. Deference towards religion is exactly the opposite of what you should do when criticism of religion is what society needs. If atheists' critiques of religion isn't helping these numbers move in this direction, then atheists surely aren't hurting the trend.

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