Atheism is defined as the lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods. Despite its history and cultural roots as a Christian nation there's little doubt that over the years the U.S. has become home to a growing number of non believers. Some of the most powerful and well known atheists in America include David Silverman (former President of the American Atheists group), author Philip Roth, and writer/neuroscientist Sam Harris (who has been dubbed as one of the "Four Horsemen of Atheism"). Despite its increasing popularity around the world, many misconceptions and falsehoods still surround atheists and the American atheist movement.
On The Rise
The number of non believers in America is growing. In 2007, a Pew Research Center survey found that 1.6% of respondents identified themselves as atheists while in a similar survey seven years later in 2014 that number had risen to 3.1%.
Research has shown that most atheists tend to lean to the left in terms of their politics. About 69% of non believers are Democrats while 56% consider themselves to be politically liberal. In keeping with this finding 92% of atheists support same sex marriage and 87% approve of legal abortion. Atheists are also more likely to be young (the median age being 34), male (68%), white (78%), and educated (with 43% having a college degree).
Research from across the globe has illustrated that atheism is most popular in European and English speaking countries.
Despite the growing focus on eliminating instances of religious persecution and discrimination in America, atheists are one of the most hated groups in the country. One example of such bias is the finding that 51% of American voters report being less likely to support a presidential candidate who publically identifies as an atheist.
Atheists are people from all walks of life including some famous people. Among some of the most well known atheists include Oscar winning actors Jodie Foster and Brad Pitt, comedians Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, Ron Reagan (son of President Reagan), footballplayer Arian Foster, and Titanic filmmaker James Cameron.
Countries With The Most Atheists
The majority of the world's atheists don't live in the U.S. The nation with the largest population of atheists in the world is China. Statistics have shown that approximately 75% of Chinese citizens, some 1,029,390,000 people, identify as atheists. Another Asian country, Japan, ranks second with 46% of its population (58,342,720 people) who publicly identify themselves as being atheists. Rounding out the top three is Germany with 38% or 30,855,050 citizens subscribing to atheism.
According to some figures there are approximately 450 to 500 million people across the globe who don't believe in a God or gods. This number represents about 7% of the world's total adult population.
Mysterious Murder Of A Famous Atheist
One of the most well known names in American atheism is Madalyn Murray O'Hair who not only began the American Atheists group but also fought for the rights of atheists and for issues relevant to atheists for thirty years. In 1964 Life magazine referred to O'Hair as "the most hated woman in America". In 1963 O'Hair had played an instrumental role in getting mandated prayer banned within the public school system. Tragedy struck O'Hair and her family in 1995 when the 77 year old along with her forty year old son, thirty year old granddaughter, and a large sum of money suddenly went missing. The case wasn't solved until 2001 when the perpetrators (including a disgruntled former employee whom O'Hair had previously fired) led police investigators to the dismembered remains of the three bodies buried on the grounds of a remote Texas ranch.
In 2017 Netflix produced a television movie entitled "The Most Hated Woman in America" which chronicled Madalyn Murray O'Hair's life. It starred Oscar winner Melissa Leo in the lead role.
Unrepresented In U.S. Government
Currently, nearly all members of Congress, some 90%, align themselves with some formal Christian denomination. One of the few persons to diverge from the status quo and identify as having no religious affiliation is Kyrsten Sinema. Despite being raised as a Mormon this controversial Democratic senator who represents Arizona, is the first member of Congress to describe her religion as "none." It's interesting to note that Sinema has said that she personally rejects the label of atheist and prefers terms such as that of non-theist.
The other Congress members who have ever publicly identified themselves as being non religious are Democrat Pete Stark from California and Rep. Jared Huffman from California. Stark represented his constituents in the House of Representatives for thirty plus years before "coming out" as an atheist in 2007. Five years later in 2012 Stark lost his seat. In 2008, Stark was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. Rep. Jared Huffman helped form the Congressional Freethought Caucus in 2018 to safeguard the interests of nontheists in government and to promote science and reason-based policies.
Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, etc.
Atheists may refer to themselves in a variety of terms including agnostics, humanists, secularists, and non-theists. By definition agnostics subscribe to the belief that the existence of God is ultimately unknowable. The term's origin can be traced back to 1869 and English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (also referred to as "Darwin's bulldog"). Secularism refers to the belief that religion should operate seperately from government. Secularists believe in shifting the focus from faith and religion toward science, nature, and reason.
Representation In World Religions
According to a 2012 international report those who do not subscribe to any religious beliefs or affiliations have become the third most popular so called "faith" in the world behind Christianity and Islam. Christians make up 31.5% of the global population which is representative of a total of about 2.2 billion people. Islam is the world's second largest religion. Its followers account for 23% of the world's population or 1.6 billion people. At twenty three years of age Muslims were shown to have the lowest average age of any religious faith community. In contrast, Judaism has fourteen million followers which translates to a mere 0.2% of the global population. The median age for Jewish followers is thirty six.
According to the Pew Research Center in terms of the U.S. adult population the average age of Christians was 49 in 2014 which is up from 46 in 2007. This comes as a contrast to atheists whose average age fell from 36 in 2007 to 34 just seven years later. American Jews remained steady over this time period with a median age of 50.
The group American Atheists has 170 affiliates across the U.S. Founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair in 1963, the group's main goal is to ensure the separation of church and state (or religion and government). American Atheists also strives to educate, bring attention to, and dismiss false conceptions of atheists and atheism. This is particularly true in regards to religious intrusion into public policy and issues vital to the state. The association has an American Atheists Center which is located in Cranford, New Jersey. This facility is not only home to the American Atheists magazine but also houses the Eddie Tabash Conference and Media Studio as well as the Charles E. Stephens American Atheist Library and Archives. Some of the major topics that have been addressed by the group include eliminating the way in which religion and faith communities have permeated U.S. government policy especially in relation to hot button issues such as LGBT rights, access to abortion services, and tax exemptions for churches and other religious institutions.