George H. Smith

Most of America's religious 'nones' aren’t atheists, and aggressive 'new atheism' isn’t new

Most of America's religious 'nones' aren’t atheists, and aggressive 'new atheism' isn’t new

With a growing chunk of Americans identifying as “nones” unmoored from religious identity, The Atlantic’s Emma Green says we often hear the following: “As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking -- not just about medicine and mechanics but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.”

That’s too simple, Green continues, “arguably inaccurate,” and “seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality.” Many “nones” believe in God and pray regularly, so it’s much more a drift from “organized religion” than from faith.

Though polls show outright atheists who reject belief in God remain a tiny minority, organized atheism is becoming more prominent and aggressive. A July federal lawsuit by American Atheists goaded Kansas City into withholding on short notice its promised $65,000 to provide shuttle transportation for 20,000 attendees at the National Baptist Convention session Sept. 5-9, causing headaches for that huge African-American group. Such city aid is a standard means to help visitors and foster convention business.

Another federal lawsuit was filed August 25 by American Atheists and three groups of Pennsylvania non-believers, alongside Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It challenges the ban on non-believers delivering opening prayers for Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. (Old gag: How does a non-believer begin a prayer? “To whom it may concern.”)

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