Religion is still very important to many Americans and it will be a very long time before we will live in a world without religion. It might not ever happen. However, we are getting much closer to that world, and before we know it, religious belief will occupy the same place as fortunetellers in our society. We are at the dawn of a new reality in America in which people are starting to be more interested in actual reality than they are in ancient superstitions.
According to a 2012 Gallup-International poll (PDF), the number of "convinced atheists" in the United States has risen from 1 percent in 2005 to 5 percent in 2012. I want to point out here that we are not talking about some vague group of "nones," or even people who shy away from the "A" label. That 5 percent doesn't count those who only identify as agnostic or secular. It doesn't count those who only use the Humanist or rationalist labels, either. We aren't even talking about people who are just a little bit atheist; we are talking about "convinced atheists." That's 5 percent of the American public.
Let's put this in context with some religious group identities. Muslims make up just .6 percent of the population in America. Although you wouldn't know that by watching Fox News or by listening to many religious fundamentalists who insist that Sharia Law is going to take over the country any day now.
While Jewish groups have a strong lobby in Washington, they only make up 1.7 percent of the population in the nation. That's it! Plus, there are still a lot of Jews who are secular and "convinced atheists." So that number is probably inflated.
There are more "convinced atheists" in America than all the Muslims and Jews combined and doubled. But that's not all. Not by a long shot. Atheism is still considered a dirty word in much of this country. So there are a lot of people who lack a belief in gods but don't call themselves atheists.
The media loves the fact that according to the new Gallup tracking poll, the so-called "nones" only grew .3 percent from the previous year. Religious leaders are thrilled that the rise of the "nones" is slowing down. But the media reported it wrong. The "nones" are still rising! Looking at the context of how the other religious identities have risen or fallen, it becomes clear that this is a win for atheism. Protestants actually shrunk by .6 percent. Catholics can't brag either. They fell .2 percent. Jews and Muslims stayed the same at the previously mentioned 1.7 percent and .6 percent, respectively.
In fact, aside from the Mormons, no religious group increased their numbers in 2012. But the religiously unaffiliated did grow! The story shouldn't have been that the rise of the "nones" was slowing down, but rather that the religiously unaffiliated is still the fastest growing religious identity. More people are leaving religion than joining religion. Even in the most Bible-minded cities in the country, 48 percent of people are "resistant" to the Bible.
The religiously unaffiliated or "nones" make up about 19 percent of the American population. That's nearly one in five Americans. I know, not all those people are "convinced atheists," but the Pew Research Center does break down those numbers a little bit and most of the "nones" don't believe in any deities. So yeah, they're atheists. Thirty-six percent of the "nones" are flat-out convinced atheists and agnostics. Thirty-nine percent consider themselves secular or not religious. In other words, they don't like to use the "A-labels" but they still don't believe in any deities. Only 23 percent of the religiously unaffiliated "nones" consider themselves to be unattached believers. That means that 77 percent of the "nones" don't believe in deities. That's about 14 percent of the American people and 0 percent of Congress.
While religious lawmakers continue to waste tax-payer money pushing laws that affirm "In God We Trust" as our national motto, it is their religious-based laws which continue to attack the rights of women, gays people and racial minorities that are most problematic. Those things aren't helping religions grow one bit. On the contrary, they are making it easier for me to make my case that basing our laws on the Bible is silly and dangerous. It is much better to base our laws on secular values like human compassion, fairness and reason.
Religious apologists like to talk about a clash of world-views but there is no clash. There are people who live in reality and people who believe ancient stories on bad evidence and faith. When it comes to understanding the world we actually live in, there is no better tool than science. Stephen Hawking put it best:
"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."
As information becomes more available to the general public via the Internet, religion can no longer hide. When religious leaders make claims, people can now turn to Google and research those claims. You won't find a religious leader claiming that there are no contradictions in the Bible anymore because a quick Google search can expose that as nonsense. That old line claiming that something can't come from nothing is easily refuted with a YouTube search on Lawrence Krauss.
Whether religious believers like it or not, we are at the dawn of a new godless age in America. Religious leaders know it and they are afraid. The greater community of reason is organizing and we are starting to demand equal treatment and representation. It won't be long before we actually get it, either. Religious believers can deface our billboards, but they cannot prevent the inevitable reality that our message is getting out there. People are starting to think critically about the beliefs they have been indoctrinated to believe and they are leaving their religions behind.