atheism in america

5. Although of course individual atheists do plenty to help others, we usually don’t think about atheist groups or communities coming together to provide services for those in need, at least not in a self-consciously atheist way. The term likely describes other early American luminaries, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and even George Washington. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRI) (incorporated 1978) and The Center for Inquiry (CFI) (established 1991 and merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science in 2016), engage in broad campaigns of advocacy and education. When Cecil B. DeMille released The Godless Girl in 1928 about a young woman who perilously joins a godless society on her campus, Smith reveled in the notoriety generated for 4A. They will have to explain their conduct to the Lord. While Kneeland’s publications rarely advocated atheism, they frequently defended it from intellectual criticism. While the Christian majority has occasionally welcomed atheism into the public square, often our presence has been met with ridicule, anger, and derision. And that kind of work takes resources. It’s always been around, since before the Bible was written. The epistemological unifier for contemporary atheism is a general commitment to science. George Jacob Holyoake (d. 1906) coined the term in 1851 in response to the legal prosecution of blasphemy in 1840s Britain. New Atheism appears uniquely comfortable with the tactics of identity politics, but this constitutes more an extension of the tactics deployed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair and American Atheists than a departure from them. Popular Deism was an intellectual byproduct of the Enlightenment which percolated through Britain, Europe and the United States, although as a creed it originated before the Philosophes. In the United States, atheism is diffuse, individualistic, and heavily reliant on the media for the cultivation of a sense of community. Through new media, New Atheists can organize en masse according to a dominant understanding of identity. Some notable atheists on this list have either come out with or mentioned their atheism in public, like atheist comedian Ricky Gervais, and others are just known for a lack of a belief in God. Even after the economy recovers, advertising alone will never be enough to support it. Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). But again, Holbach, for example, in The System of Nature, expressed very similar sentiments to the new Atheists on religious liberalism, arguing that religion always tends toward the extreme and that accepting the immunity of liberal religion generates a slippery slope toward being unable to criticize religion’s more violent aspects. They used information obtained through the (online) U.S. Secular Survey to find out what roughly 34,000 non-religious participants thought about a variety of topics. His three-and-a-half-by-five-inch booklets cost 25 cents and were initially advertised to the 175,000 subscribers to Appeal To Reason (Girard, Kansas), which Haldeman-Julius took over in 1915. Her name is Linda Stephens, and her speech was inclusive and inspiring. She had earlier filed a … I do not know of any other book on the market that seeks to bring together individual narratives of deconversion and the challenges faced afterward. This is a companion volume to his book on the fundamentalist take over of America. On August 27, 1995, O’Hair, along with her son Jon and granddaughter Robin, suddenly disappeared along with around $500,000 worth of American Atheist funds. And the cause is the false Christians of the religious right. Deism contributed to American atheism by reinforcing the understanding of religion as a question of beliefs, which could be empirically proven or disproven by scientific method. As 17th-century European theology grew increasingly confident and fractious, theologians became more and more adept at deconstructing the theological systems of their opponents, inadvertently providing the philosophical tools that would be synthesized in the atheism of Holbach and Diderot.2. In many ways, skeptics resemble the rest of America … As much as American atheists have been framed (and have framed themselves) as antithetical to all forms of religion, atheism in America has also shaped and been shaped by creative engagements with religious culture. In response, Madalyn declared a “postnatal abortion” and repudiated William “for now and all times.” During the 1980s, American Atheist chapter leaders called for the removal of Madalyn and her son Jon Garth Murray from power and began defecting from American Atheists. These three thinkers—a biologist, author, and philosopher, respectively—largely accepted the moniker and soon adopted journalist Christopher Hitchens (d. 2011) following the publication of god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in 2007. Why is atheism growing? So a survey of atheists in America has been completed, and quite a bit has been revealed. American atheists are more likely to be young, white, males. At the same time, the ascendancy of television relative to radio meant that O’Hair found radio broadcasters more willing to take risks in catering to niche audiences left out by network television programming. For one thing, I got to know a lot about the Satanic Temple, a nontheistic religion that venerates Satan as a symbol of rebellion against oppressive authority. The Humanist Fellowship of Chicago was formed in 1927, transforming into the Humanist Press Association by 1935 and finally into the American Humanist Association (AHA) in 1941 by Unitarian minister Curtis Reese. In the first half of the 20th century, religious criticism and anticlericalism was largely dispersed among various organizations representing religious liberalism and secular humanism. Everybody in the United States has the right to practice their religion and to talk about how great it is and even to try to get other people to believe it too. 16. It is important to acknowledge these forms of religious humanism as contributing to, rather than competing with, American atheism. While organized atheism necessarily involves bodily practices and communal discourses and values, its proponents nonetheless tend to describe it first and foremost as a hypothesis about the nature of reality that lends itself to distinguishing between scientific and religious ways of knowing. According to the Pew Research Center, close to a quarter of the population identifies as a so-called “none,” up 7 percent from 2007 to 2014. Well, how would you feel if the dollar bill said “There Is No God” and the Pledge of Allegiance proclaimed that we are “one nation under no God whatsoever, yay”? The name most synonymous with this second wave of American free-thought is Robert Green Ingersoll (d. 1899), “the Great Agnostic.” A former Illinois Attorney General and prominent Republican, Ingersoll was world-renowned for his skills as an orator. Shouldn’t we just chillax? Additionally, 4A organized a series of popular debates with famous evangelists, including one between Smith and Aimee Semple McPherson on the subject of evolution at Carnegie Hall in 1934. These controversies, along with New Atheism’s frequent unwillingness to acknowledge anything positive about religion, have prompted several contemporary atheist figures to attempt to establish more accepting forms of atheism. The organization was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. American atheists tend to lean left politically and are most likely to identify as liberal democrats. At the same time, a number of religious groups and leaders have defended the secular separation of church and state as a means of encouraging religious expression. Atheism refers to the conviction of the nonexistence of God. If this is unclear, try this thought experiment that I often raise when I’m teaching students about the First Amendment: What would a school (private, of course) truly dedicated to promoting atheism look like? Indeed, O’Hair’s legacy in the 21st century consists primarily of her unwavering commitment to popularizing the term atheism. Most notably, Hemant Mehta (“the friendly atheist”) has become a popular figure for those who regard New Atheism as unnecessarily hostile to religion, Atheism+, a movement proposed in 2012 by blogger Jen McCreight, has sought to place social justice concerns at the forefront of the New Atheism, and Alain De Botton has influentially advocated “Atheism 2.0” as a form of disbelief that maintains the positive trappings of religion like communal institutions, traditional ethical commitments, ritual behavior, and diffuse forms of transcendence. By the time Madalyn Murray filed suit in the Superior Court of Baltimore in December 1960, she had already grabbed ahold of the media spotlight. God’s a Ghost,” Smith was arrested once for disturbing the public peace and then again for blasphemy, in both cases refusing to swear the court’s religious oath against perjury and drawing public attention. The answer to this two-part question is yes and no. Atheism in America is increasing. But as a term of art, free-thought described a movement popular during the 19th century of applying skeptical tools of independent inquiry to religious theology. 1 Percentage by country Just as atheists come to recognize their belonging to a group, the transparency of the Internet also presents them with the fact that they are surrounded by a dominant religious culture. Contributors to free-thought periodicals often employed the term “infidel” and “infidelity” much more readily than “atheist” or “atheism,” apparently in part because the term was frequently deployed by Christian leaders concerned with establishing religion’s cultural enemies in the eyes of their congregations. The Little Blue Books were eagerly consumed. Upending common social, political, and psychological assumptions about atheists, this collection helps carve out a more accepted space for this minority within American society. See Tisa Wenger, “The God-in-the-Constitution Controversy: American Secularisms in Historical Perspective,” in Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age, eds. TST, as it’s often known, counts its followers in the tens of thousands, was just recognized as an official religion by the IRS, and is active throughout the country, with a particularly strong presence in New York City, Arizona, and Seattle. In 1959, Madalyn filed suit on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was the victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate. Menu. Why is atheism growing? I watched an atheist give an invocation before a town board she had previously sued for violating the First Amendment, attended a Veterans Day ceremony held by a pagan priestess who successfully sued the federal government to approve the Wiccan pentacle for placement on national cemetery headstones, and sat on a 9-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a goat-headed occult figure that the Satanic Temple wants to put up on government property someday. American Atheists has taken a big leap in fixing that with the release of Reality Check: Being Nonreligious in America. Atheists in Black America. Under Bradlaugh’s direction, British secularism took a greater interest in separatism and atheism relative to Holyoake, who, apparently uncomfortable with the stringency of the antireligious position with which he had become associated,5 adopted the term “agnostic” after it was coined by Thomas Henry Huxley (d. 1895) in 1869. Elihu Palmer, Principles of Nature; Or, A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery among the Human Species (New York: Literary Licensing, 2014 [1823]), title page. There's power in understanding. By James Burton on April 25 2017 in Society. Atheists in America today face a deeply religious populace that holds a powerful and resilient anti-atheist prejudice, outstripping its distaste for other stigmatized groups, such as Muslims and homosexuals. "Atheism in America" explores what forces are working to define who and what atheists are, and the often detrimental effects they have. Seaver editorialized, “Perhaps of all doctrines, Atheism may be taught with safety to society. Similarly, when I attended the annual conference of an organization formed to help nonbelieving high school and college students called the Secular Student Association in July 2016, I learned that getting out and helping people is a key concern for young secularists. In 1878, concern about the continuing popularity of “nicknames” and “party commonplaces” culminated in the adoption of a number of resolutions at the Freethinkers’ Convention at Watkins, NewYork: WHEREAS, the common use of the words Heretic, Infidel, Atheist, and others of like import only mislead the ignorant and offend the wise; therefore, Resolved. Frank R Zindler, “Remembering Madalyn Murray O’Hair: April 13, 1919–September 1995,” American Atheist (Second Quarter 2013): 28. In response, there was a clear desire among many Freethinkers to reclaim the pejorative term and meet the social condemnation head- on. Despite these reservations, debates over the accuracy of terms like “infidel” or “atheist” simmered but rarely caused widespread shifts in opinion. For those unwilling to identify with infidelity, the term “liberal” served briefly as the label of choice, particularly for readers of and contributors to the nationally circulated Truth Seeker, which would become the official organ of the National Liberal League founded in 1876.10 For the last two decades of the 19th century, “Liberal” became a popular term of identification for those opposed to institutional religion. Nevertheless, Madalyn made it much safer — and much more natural — to call oneself an Atheist.17. One of the largest genres was rabidly antireligious—booklets like “The Meaning of Atheism” (1931) and Bertrand Russell’s “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Society?” (1930) urged readers to cast off the shackles of religion and embrace atheism and free-thought. An atheist believ… Teaching evolution and giving out condoms might be at odds with what some religious people believe, but they’re not the same as saying that there’s no god. When the National Liberal League splintered in 1884 over the issue of whether to advocate repeal or reform of the Comstock Law of 1873, it reformed in 1885 as the American Secular Union. It provides speakers for colleges, universities, clubs, and the news media. This understanding of atheism owes in part to the influence of Abner Kneeland (d. 1844), the editor of The Boston Investigator who in 1838 became the last American tried and convicted of blasphemy. Waters, a typesetter for American Atheists who had been exposed embezzling funds from the organization by Madalyn in 1995, along with two accomplices had kidnapped, extorted, and finally murdered the O’Hairs. Self-professed atheists interested in abolishing the separation of church and state are less common. Even more so than contemporary atheism, free-thought described a fervent sense of plurality and individualism. This, combined with Paine’s accessible language and its publication in cheap pamphlet form, meant that The Age of Reason was widely read, introducing the American public in explosively controversial fashion to deism’s capacity for religious criticism. 10. Perhaps seeking more moderate positions, some of America’s founders, most notably Thomas Jefferson (d. 1826), Benjamin Franklin (d. 1790), and Thomas Paine (d. 1809), found valuable resources in deism. I like to watch Comedians like Jim Jefferies, Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr ect and whenever religion comes up there’s a skit about how some American got offended. Among the difficult issues of governance faced by America’s founders was the question of how to balance religious and political liberties. As someone who has taught and written about church-state law for nearly 20 years, I’ve heard and read this kind of argument more times than I can remember. For those who see atheism as a modern phenomenon, 18th-century France serves as the site where the first philosophers proudly self-identified as atheists. Smith focused much of 4A’s efforts on challenging perceived violations of the Constitution’s Establishment clause, advocating hedonism and moral liberalism, and making atheism as publicly visible as possible. This can make it difficult to create declarative statements about atheism as it manifests in the United States. Alongside these official organizations, atheism’s largest presence in America can be found on the Internet. Major digital platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have thriving but nebulously defined atheist communities, often closely affiliated with the web presences of New Atheist thinkers. Following the popularity of the Intelligent Design movement toward the end of the 1990s and the September 11th attacks, New Atheism emerged in the mid-2000s as a form of atheism reliant on new media, especially critical of fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity and Islam, and particularly devoted to scientific empiricism and rationality. Some expressed dissatisfaction with an ambiguity arising from the term’s overuse by Christian opponents. Atheists have also begun offering invocations before town boards all around the nation. Boston Investigator, October 14, 1846. The prevalence of atheism in Africa and South America typically falls below 10%. From 1986 until 1995, both Madalyn and Jon were tireless advocates for atheism and the absolute separation of religion from government, filing lawuits and building a nationwide atheist community. By the end of the 19th century, “secularism” had begun to replace “Liberalism” as the political term of choice. Though America wasn't founded as a Christian nation, religion has always … Atheists recognize this (and of course we can do the same), but as minorities, we also understand that the government is in a different position than the people it governs. In the United States, religion - in particular Christianity - is a driving force behind African-American culture. 9. Felix Adler and his Society of Ethical Culture (SEC), which grew out of a series of weekly lectures in 1876 and 1877, sought to articulate a religion free of ritual and theological doctrine. That’s higher than the Catholic Church, the single largest denomination. I voted for Bernie Sanders. Die American Atheists (dt. American Atheists also strives to educate, bring attention to, and dismiss false conceptions of atheists and atheism. Following his display of a storefront sign in Little Rock, Arkansas that read “Evolution is True. Some atheists think religion is ridiculous or generally awful, while others don’t think about religion at all, and still others think religion is fine, or even a force for good. Atheism has become quite the movement in America and the Western world. “Demands of Liberalism,” The Truth Seeker, October 1873. It provided a large umbrella, incorporating ideas from agnosticism, atheism, free religion, spiritualism, liberal Christianity, free love, and other less-well-defined communities. Due to simple advances in technology, New Atheism is a uniquely networked or digitally imagined community, existing primarily in print and on the Internet. As the abolitionist and Spiritualist movements gained traction surrounding the Civil War, free-thought subsided until energized by influence of Bradlaugh’s speaking tours, the development of Darwinism after 1859, and the controversy generated by the National Reform Association’s call, in February 1873, for a Constitutional amendment recognizing Jesus Christ as the supreme ruler of all national conduct, provoking the formation of the National Liberal League in 1876.7. 1. According to the 2008 ARIS, only 2% the US population was atheist, while 10% were agnostics. The Documentary Real America. 3. Home; About; America Atheism in America: My Background May 10, 2015 May 10, 2015 ~ zgriffo ~ Leave a comment. He spoke from memory for hours on a wide range of topics for massive crowds across the country, but he was known primarily for advocating a form of agnosticism often indistinguishable from atheism. By Jay Wexler Updated Jun 14, 2019, 9:17am EDT. After 1937, Smith receded somewhat from the public spotlight. In 1960, Madalyn Murray (who adopted the O’Hair surname in 1965) filed suit against the Baltimore Public School System for requiring her son William to participate in mandatory Bible readings. But while Ingersoll achieved success as an orator, the postbellum period also demonstrates a close reliance of the broader free-thought movement on an emerging print culture. The religion blog Patheos.com includes dozens of well-trafficked nonreligious blogs, but the largest digital community of atheists resides at reddit.com, a popular content-aggregating social platform. The term “The New Atheism” was coined by U.S. journalist Gary Wolf in a 2006 profile of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett to refer to a wave of atheist literature that emerged after 2004. Jay Wexler is a professor of law at Boston University. In some ways, those characteristics of New Atheism highlighted by other depictions—the polemicism, opposition to tolerance, and minoritarian status—can be seen as results of changing media practices rather than as necessary components of a unique atheist epistemology. In general, it was used mostly in explicit reference to the works of British secularists. Atheism is also tied to education, measured by academic achievement (atheists in many places tend to have college degrees) or general knowledge of the panoply of … Another popular method of distinguishing the New Atheists’ argumentative arsenal has been to argue that they, more so than in the past, have attacked not merely religion but the idea of religious tolerance. According to a global survey conducted in 2011, 16% of the population has no religion (13% of non-religious, 2% atheists convinced and 1% didn't know answer). Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 show that 4% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 2% in 2009. We have been putting up with this kind of treatment for a long time, and our numbers are still rising. 10 percent of Americans identify as atheists — but there’s a lot that people don’t know about us. Roughly a dozen national organizations with full-time paid staff cater to self-identifying atheists and the cause of secularism, operating primarily through some 1,400 local groups throughout the country. The Enlightenment atheism of Diderot and Holbach would be influential for early American Freethinkers concerned with demonstrating atheism’s reasonable foundation in scientific naturalism. While Deists rarely went as far as rejecting the existence of God outright, they attempted to excise all irrational convictions from religious dogma, often ruthlessly attacking a form of Christianity that expressed insufficient skepticism in the face of miracles—both Biblical and contemporary. It wouldn’t be subtle. A lot of people think that atheism is a recent idea. The community, or “subreddit,” r/atheism (reddit.com/r/Atheism) claims more than two million members and serves as a critical hub for the wider world of digital atheism. Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix is also an atheist. It wouldn’t just teach evolution; it would teach explicitly that the Bible’s creation story is flat-out wrong. J. H. W. Toohey, “The Omitted Resolutions,” The Truth Seeker, September 21, 1878, sec. V of O’Hair’s transcripts at the Charles E. Stevens American Atheist Library and Archive (CESAALA). And the cause is the false Christians of the religious right. Most of us … image caption A student atheism convention took place in Ohio. If you’re a religious person, a monotheist perhaps, do you ever wonder why atheists get so bent out of shape by the fact that “In God We Trust” appears on our money and “under God” is in the Pledge of Allegiance? Fueled by naturalism, science, and secularism, atheism has been emboldened. [3] In 2016, AAoA achieved autonomy from the decision-making Affiliate Council [4] while the international group retained the original AAI name but adopted new bylaws and a new organizational structure. “When we work together to move our town forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about our community, our state, and our nation.”. In response to critics who accuse them of cherry-picking the most extreme forms of religion, the New Atheists go to great lengths to demonstrate that their criticisms apply to the very idea that religion is off limits as a topic for attack. “It is important to remember that we are all linked by our common humanity and our shared origin,” Stephens said. The 8–1 decision, issued in 1963, effectively banned mandatory Bible recitation in public schools, constituting a legal victory for secularism and a cultural victory for the atheist movement as a political force in America—a movement now closely wedded to the persona of O’Hair herself. Atheism, as indicated by its name, is the opposite of theism which is belief in at least one god; to include polytheism (belief in many or more than one god) and monotheism (belief in only one god). By Dale McGowan . Fifth-one percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist president. Atheism in America is increasing. O’Hair saw broadcast media as holding the secret to a successful atheist movement in America. The New Atheism has faced a number of controversies in the years since 2006. Atheism often seemed to constitute a more extreme version of infidelity, but this extremity typically had a philosophical dimension. Secularism provided a means with which to “test theology by its ethical import.”4 Between 1851 and 1861, some sixty secularist groups were founded in the United Kingdom, with Charles Bradlaugh (d. 1891) rapidly achieving prominence, presiding over the London Secular Society and then cofounding the National Secular Society in 1866. By 1964, Life magazine famously dubbed her “The Most Hated Woman in America,” a title she relished and encouraged throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I'm not the one they will have to answer to. Millions of people rely on Vox to understand how the policy decisions made in Washington, from health care to unemployment to housing, could impact their lives. -- … Paul … Things are much different now, thanks to her, although I can’t say the desensitization of society as a whole is yet complete. Hence, the SEC only brushed up against atheism, which it framed as a metaphysical position irrelevant to questions of morality. As an atheist, it frustrates me when people say that public schools promote a secular worldview because they’re not allowed to sponsor prayers or do other things that some religious people would like them to do. Nonetheless, patterns do emerge in contextual discussions of appropriate labels within the free-thought community. Footage of a man delivering an atheist invocation to various gods has been shared thousands of times on Facebook claiming to show the new American government praying to Satan. Based on surveys, between 8% and 15% of citizens polled demonstrate objectively nonreligious attitudes and basically naturalistic worldviews. Linell E. Cady and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 87–105. Whitmarsh explores the scant but provocative evidence for atheistic philosophers and self-identifying atheists in ancient Greece and Rome, keeping in mind that they must have differed from contemporary atheists in the extent to which religion was regarded as a matter of belief rather than cultural practice. Later that day in gym, I broke my collarbone playing dodgeball. The principle of religious tolerance, to the New Atheists, is what generates their emphasis on religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. About 10 percent of all Americans say they are atheists, although this estimate may be on the low side. It wouldn’t just not lead kids in prayer; it would lead kids in a “there’s no god, there’s no god” chant. The U.S. group of AAI was renamed Atheist Alliance of America. Of course, French atheism drew on several philosophical traditions closely aligned with absolute materialism and religious criticism, from Epicurean and Lucretian atomism to Pyrrhic skepticism and scientific naturalism, but these traditions had always been located, at least by their ancient and medieval proponents, within some form of religious thought. The second wave of American free-thought saw greater success in distributing free-thought ideas and organizing official societies in large part because the Civil War greatly contributed to the wider consumption of print media and the pluralization of reading publics.8 Hence, American free-thought became a widely successful imagined community based on an explosion of new regional and national free-thought periodicals. A strongly negative understanding of atheism as the absence of religious beliefs has generated an emphasis on the inclusivity of a diffuse atheist movement—the lack of theistic beliefs is regarded as a kind of bedrock or tabula rasa on which the individual is free to erect whatever personal beliefs they wish. It is important to note that secularism is not synonymous with atheism. In the American context, James C. Turner’s Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America, locates America at the center of atheism’s emergence as a modern phenomenon. Atheists come in all political stripes. 14. In the early 21st century, atheism in the United States continues to be organized largely through the media, with official organizations operating primarily through annual conventions and local chapters. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin wrote and said conflicting things about his relationship to deism, indicating some confusion on the possibility of God’s intervention in history. In the most general sense, free-thought is the insistence on the right to think independently. Not anymore. In 1986, Jon Garth Murray, her son, became President. 17. It provides speakers for colleges, universities, clubs, and the news media. Elihu Palmer (d. 1806), for example, established the Deistical Society of New York and wrote the Principles of Nature, published in 1801 and constituting perhaps the first major work of American deism. In Holyoake’s understanding, secularism was a vitalizing force for morality, which theology had desiccated. For roughly the decade from 1925 to 1937, when Smith returned to the Truth Seeker as editor, 4A was a prominent feature of America’s religious landscape. Historically, atheism has served as both a dangerous force to be resisted, providing fodder for religious leaders advocating conservatism and piety, and as a kind of buffer allowing religious liberals to frame their own movements as relatively restrained and pious.1 The former function is a familiar one; atheists are still often framed as immoral and un-American in ways that reify the notion of America as a religious nation. 19. 18. Some are fabulously happy, but not all of us are. In the United States, atheism carries within itself the influences of a web of intellectual currents and historical movements antithetical or parallel to a dominant religious culture. 2. But that doesn’t mean the government cannot do things in public schools and elsewhere that happen to be inconsistent with what some religious people believe. This is particularly true in regards to religious intrusion into public policy and issues vital to the state. The parents of Katelyn Campbell, 19, from West Virginia, have been very supportive of her … By the 1990s, many of American Atheists’ members had abandoned the organization, leaving only O’Hair and a handful of family and supporters behind. And Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose influence is rarely acknowledged by any of the New Atheists, was notorious for her incendiary language. Religion, always tending toward extreme fanaticism, could never be tolerated. In fact, O’Hair’s infamy stemmed not primarily from her involvement in Murray v. Curlett but from her personality and tactics as a representative of Atheist identity. The topics were diverse, inaugurating with Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” and Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, but extending to classics of Western literature and pamphlets explicating liberal sexual education, Socialist propaganda, and psychoanalysis. For instance, in his opening talk, Fernando Alcántar, a former religious youth leader turned self-described “gaytheist,” told the audience that atheists can’t just be “busy reading papers and making discoveries,” leaving the business of saving people to churches and religion. He is the author of six books, including Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in American Public Life. Atheism in America Am I the only one who is really embarrassed by the fact America is the laughing stock of secular countries? 31 Edgell et al., supra note 13, at 217–18. Many of these have been quite good. Despite the use of the term “secular” in the Liberal platform, other secularist language was relatively scarce in the early decades of the free-thought movement. In November 1925, Charles Lee Smith founded the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (4A) in in New York. In decades past, the Northeast and West were seen as isolated hotbeds of atheism and agnosticism. Evidence of this transition includes that when the National Liberal League splintered in 1884 over the issue of whether to advocate repeal or reform of the Comstock Law of 1873, it reformed in 1885 as the American Secular Union. The birth of the broadcast media era enabled an unprecedented degree of exposure for American atheism. Now, that’s a school I’d really like to teach at, but the fact that such a thing is almost unimaginable in today’s society (while of course private schools that explicitly promote the divinity of Jesus Christ are everywhere) just goes to show how marginalized atheism really is in the United States. The growth of the aforementioned Secular Student Association is one such example. If you have already made a contribution to Vox, thank you. American Atheists is a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating complete separation of church and state. It's a collection of vignettes from people across America who identify as atheist or non-religious and how they've handled the situations that arise at work, in their communities, with friends, and of course, with family. Adler advocated “deed, not creed,” which represented a shift in emphasis entirely from questions of metaphysics to morality. White Americans, who constitute two-thirds of the country’s total population, are well above average in their embrace of atheism and agnosticism; they comprise three-quarters of the skeptic segment. Some of the most fervent antireligious sentiment was folded into the anarchist and socialist movements. Nonetheless, a considerable minority of American free-thinkers tenaciously persisted in identifying as atheists. "But despite … One of the most compelling methods of isolating the New Atheism while recognizing its heightened emphasis on questions of identity and tolerance is to highlight the centrality of contemporary media practices. As Frank R. Zindler, member of the American Atheists Board of Directors and managing editor of American Atheist magazine, summarizes: She did expend great effort to desensitize the nation to the “A-word.” She used the words “Atheist” and “Atheism” — capitalized, no less — over and over in every possible venue. Some are Republicans; others are Democrats. And indeed, American atheists have maintained a relatively stable and perennial core set of political demands. The Godless Girl provided a short-lived boon for Smith’s 4A, but the expansion of television and radio around the middle of the 20th century enabled atheists to maintain a more tenacious and unified public image. Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith, “Atheisms Unbound: The Role of the New Media in the Formation of a Secularist Identity,” Secularism and Nonreligion 1 (2012). The poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism,” found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” dropped from 73 percent in 2005 (the last time the poll was … It also publishes books and American Atheist Magazine. As part of my research, I traveled around the country and talked to leaders of minority groups to find out how they felt about the Christian dominance of our nation’s public life. Using unproven theories, Darwinists indoctrinate youths in the United States in high school and college. The majority of atheists in America agree homosexuality should be accepted and are perfectly fine with same-sex marriage. In part, atheism has served as a productive foil for both its critics and allies, providing a push and pull that defines one edge of American conceptions of pluralism and religious liberalism. Considering philosophical similarities between New and Enlightenment atheism, commentators have nonetheless sought to articulate a sociological uniqueness to the contemporary situation. Dawkins, in particular, has spearheaded the attempt to disprove the “god hypothesis” with contemporary theories from biology and physics. Unfortunately for me, I just don’t believe there’s a God or lots of gods or a Tao or anything else that makes sense of the world. In contrast to previous attempts by atheists to achieve prominence through mainstream media, O’Hair’s atheist message found greater acceptance alongside counter-cultural currents of the 1960s. Atheists in America is a unique contribution to the literature on atheism touching on topics rarely discussed or researched. And O’Hair sought repeatedly to consolidate this identity into something stable, exclusive, and relatively homogenous. Prior to teaching, he worked as an attorney at the US Department of Justice and as a law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the US Supreme Court. Organizationally, 4A focused largely on establishing godless societies on college campuses across the country. Since 2006, New Atheism has come to incorporate a broad coalition of loosely affiliated atheist thinkers committed in general to the scientific method, rationalism, and moral and political liberalism. In one radio broadcast, O’Hair complained: “As an Atheist and speaking for Atheists as well as American Atheism, I try constantly to find out why we have hidden ourselves under diverse names during our history.”18 For O’Hair, the primary goal of American atheism was to maximize the visibility of atheist identity, which meant resisting the temptation to philosophical hair-splitting and focusing instead on coming out and publicly identifying as an atheist. 6 things I wish people understood about atheism in America. The title might lead readers to think this is a history of atheism in the United States; instead, it’s a collection of 27 essays by Americans who identify as atheists, detailing how they came to understand themselves as nonbelievers and what happened when … This pursuit of a religious common-denominator was a popular move among Deists and contributed to religion’s being understood as privately held beliefs in contrast to publicly shared political opinions—an understanding of religion that later atheists would adopt as they attempted to reduce religion to a series of scientifically disputable hypotheses about the nature of reality. November Term, 1834 (J. Q. Adams, 1834), 16; and Abner Kneeland, “A Philosophical Creed,” Boston Investigator, July 12, 1833. Atheism has played and continues to play an important role in the American religious landscape. 10 percent of Americans identify as atheists — but there’s a lot that people don’t know about us. Similarly, some have argued that the New Atheists are more caustic or polemical in their language, refusing to mince words like never before, a characterization obviously belied by the long history of truly polemical works of religious criticism. The first time I remember openly identifying as an atheist was when I announced to my high school freshman English class that I didn’t believe in God. With over 56% of its population describing themselves as "nonreligious," Vermont takes a clear lead in terms of US states with the highest proportions of nonreligious, agnostic, and atheist citizens. But skip ranting at me. Susan Jacoby has influentially attempted to rehabilitate the radical anticlericalism of the America’s founders in Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, while Albert Post’s Popular Freethought in America, 1825–1850 and Sidney Warren’s American Freethought, 1860–1914, constitute invaluable historical surveys of 19th-century free-thought. About 10 percent of all Americans say they are atheists, although this estimate may be on the low side. Of the global atheist and non-religious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%). You could not be signed in, please check and try again. And maybe some space aliens, I guess, but they don’t really help. Atheism in America. How would you like it if your kids were forced to say that every day before class? The overarching principle or common motif that connects these disparate movements to atheism is rooted in individualism. 6. Not al… Bradford, D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker, 16. Help keep Vox free for all by make a contribution today. Individuals as well as communities had little incentive to establish rigid boundaries around their identities, as there was enough room in the mediascape for overlap and negotiation. In contrast to the pluralism of free-thought, O’Hair frequently lamented the fragmentation of irreligious identity. But if Jefferson and Franklin represent a reticence to fully identify with deism, others were more outspoken. The case, Murray v. Curlett would eventually be combined with a similar challenge brought by Unitarian Universalist Edward Schempp in Pennsylvania, Abington School District v. Schempp. The Bible’s a Lie. In her opening statement before the Supreme Court, Madalyn said: “Your petitioners are atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. Atheists in America is a unique contribution to the literature on atheism touching on topics rarely discussed or researched. Atheists are the last of the minorities in America to come out of the closet, and like other civil rights movements this one began with leaders like Dan Barker and his Freedom from Religion Foundation defending the civil liberties of godless Americans, who deserve equal protection under the Constitution. On the figure of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Bryan Le Beau’s The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair remains the most authoritative and exhaustive account of her relationship with American atheism, and her own publications, including those of her radio broadcast transcripts, serve as important source material on 20th-century atheism. Irreligion in the United States refers to the extent of the lack, indifference to or rejection of religious faith in the country. Haldeman-Julius was convicted of tax evasion in June 1951 and drowned in July, his booklets reduced to the status of collectible relics. Free-thought’s popularity peaked on either side of the American Civil War. On the long history of Western atheism and atheists from antiquity to modernity, Michael Buckley’s On the Origins of Modern Atheism provides a compelling intellectual history of atheism’s relatively modern emergence out of theological debates. Alongside American Atheists, the Atheist Alliance of America (AAA) and its umbrella organization Atheist Alliance International (AAI), founded in 1991, host national and international conventions, publish the biannual magazine Secular Nation, and assist in the formation of atheist organizations in developing countries. Atheists all believe there is no god that governs the universe, but other than that, nothing necessarily unites us. The organization was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. In decades past, the Northeast and West were seen as isolated hotbeds of atheism and agnosticism. On this point, the resources of French atheism were limited. Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Religion. Communications. See, for example, Alan C. Kors, “The Age of Enlightenment,” in The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, eds. Atheists have also succeeded in putting up symbols and displays on government property celebrating the absence of god, including an atheist monument in Bradford County, Florida, and all sorts of godless displays around the holiday season. Their whereabouts became a public mystery for the next five years until, in 2001, David Roland Waters led investigators to the O’Hair’s bodies on a Texas ranch. Throughout the 19th century, the term “atheism” was never as widespread or popular as terms like infidelity, liberalism, and free-thought. Just as a student of Christianity would want to know about a few rather significant things that happened 2,000 years ago, someone who wants a better understanding of atheism likewise needs to know what atheism has been up to for the past 30 centuries or so. Radically decentralized in production, distribution, and consumption, with low financial barriers to entry, print media in America lent itself to pluralism. Similarly, Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith’s Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America and “Atheism’s Unbound: The Role of the New Media in the Formation of Secularist Identity,” focus on the role of media in shaping the New Atheism. And in every appearance, Murray/O’Hair proudly identified as an atheist. The paper provides a detailed description of the Atheism in the United States of America. Initially comprised mostly of Unitarian ministers, the AHA maintains 150 local affiliates and a number of publications in the 21st century. By the time Paine published The Age of Reason in 1794, he was widely regarded as a hero of the American Revolution. The organization holds national conventions, operates a Roku channel, and earns notoriety for erecting prominent billboards critical of religion. Because “infidel” came already morally loaded by its critics, it proved to be a popular term with which to either confront and disprove the stereotype of the immoral unbeliever or to embrace the reputation and scandalize one’s Christian neighbors. Godlessness is the last big taboo in the US, where non-believers face discrimination and isolation . Perhaps you’re wondering: If the government can’t promote religion over non-religion, doesn’t that mean that it also can’t promote non-religion over religion, and doesn’t that in turn mean that public schools can’t do things like teach evolution or give out condoms? I'm not the one they will have to answer to. Religion News Service Religion News Service. Thinkers like Dawkins have received criticism for claiming that religion is a form of child abuse, but Diderot claimed that the most faithful adherence to religious logic would require smashing a child’s head against a rock. In 1983, she proposed a new motto for American Atheists: “Unity today, power tomorrow,” but few people seemed interested in her brand of unity. 4. Well, maybe or maybe not. New Atheism thus positioned itself early on in opposition to an understanding of religion reduced to a factual claim about the origin of the universe. Less frequently recognized is the second function, in which the history of American atheism demonstrates a long and fascinating interrelationship between atheism and various forms of religious piety. For others, it’s just one fact about us among many and really isn’t particularly important. Harry Golden, “Foreword,” The World of Haldeman-Julius (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960), 7. While atheism may be seen as a counterattack to bizarre religiosity, Hedges thesis is that it has become a type of religion itself and that society is losing a basic structure at a time when it needs it most. The government cannot promote atheism over religion, that’s true. I’ve taught First Amendment law at Boston University for nearly 20 years, am a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, and have recently published a book called Our Non-Christian Nation, which is about how atheists and other minority groups are demanding their equal place in public life alongside the Christian majority. From 1963 until 1986, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the President of American Atheists. Not to be confused with political liberalism in general, the Nine Demands of Liberalism, the official platform of the National Liberal League, indicated the specific centrality of the religious question, demanding “that our entire political system shall be founded and administered on a purely secular basis, and whatever changes shall prove necessary to this end shall be consistently, unflinchingly and promptly made.”11 Unlike infidelity, liberalism spoke almost exclusively to the question of secularism, serving as an appropriate term for those more interested in politics than collective self-identification.12 And by the end of the 19th century, “secularism” had begun to replace “liberalism” as the political term of choice. Atheism in America. We hide our non-theistic identities from different people. In October, the Baltimore Sun had published a front-page article detailing William and Madalyn’s alleged discrimination as atheists. Print media in the 19th century was well-suited to the nebulous and porous free-thought movement. Socially and intellectually Atheism in the USA can be traced in several previous movements that led to its existence. Speaker after speaker urged the atheists in the audience to go out into the world and actively serve their communities. However, methodological problems have been identified with this particular study since people do not have binary relationships … Robert Ingersoll attracted huge crowds in the 19th century in large part due to his frank and mocking tone and Diderot’s aphorisms were often unflinchingly harsh. They will have to explain their conduct to the Lord. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. It never can influence many to either good or evil, for it is a cold abstraction not suited to any passion or feeling.”14 Perhaps because atheism was understood primarily philosophically, then, the term remained far less popular at the end of the 19th century than “infidel,” and it would remain relatively unpopular for the first half of the 20th century. (RNS) Religiosity is on the decline in the U.S. and atheism is on the rise, according to a new worldwide poll. For those most committed to the scientific method and a rigorous understanding of philosophical materialism, the French atheists provided a model of a kind of respectable disbelief. Not all free-thinkers were comfortable with the embrace of infidelity. Evangelicals are losing 20-30% each generation. An outspoken racist and anti-Semite, Smith cultivated controversy to an unpalatable degree. The fragmentation of reading publics in the postbellum period meant that the free-thought movement had little need to draw rigid distinctions between various shades and degrees of disbelief and religious criticism. But it seems to be making quite the comeback especially in America. As someone who considers herself "non-religious" - definitely agnostic, bordering on atheist - this was a very interesting read. The success of r/atheism, however, has remained relatively insulated from widespread visibility. In the late 1980s, she unsuccessfully attempted to legally commandeer The Truth Seeker. For Palmer, the enemy was “supernatural and vindictive theology, which has served only to destroy the harmony of nature, and demoralize the intelligent world.”3 But the clearest bridge between American deism and American atheism was erected by Thomas Paine, who was regarded at least throughout the 20th century as a kind of patron saint of American atheism. That sure would be nice! For some of us, our atheism is central to our self-identity and drives what we do. 15. White evangelical Protestants are most likely to believe America has a special role in history (71%, down from 82% in 2016). Learn more. O’Hair thrived in these fringe media forms and formats, where she could position atheism in opposition to the mainstream or dominant religious culture. Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, for example, is aimed primarily at rejecting the notion that religion deserves special treatment as a topic of conversation. These include at least deism, skepticism, and theological agnosticism; religious and irreligious anti-clericalism and anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic prejudice; philosophical materialism, logical positivism, and varying degrees of scientism; the free-thought, Infidel, Free Love, Populist, and Communist movements; political secularism and ethical humanism; and the contemporary rise of the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones.” None of these strands map perfectly onto American atheism, but each one imparts some of its values, commitments, self-understandings, and political strategies to the background of contemporary atheism. In the United States, the government represents all its citizens, which means that it should not and (if the Constitution is interpreted correctly) cannot promote one religion over others or religion over non-religion. On the other hand, Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation meticulously unearths the voices of American free-thinkers who attest to the presence of a vibrant atheist imagined community in the United States in the 19th century. I have a very clear memory of leaving out the “under God” part of the pledge when I was forced to recite it in elementary school, and I’ve talked to countless other atheists who have similar memories. Popular in higher education during the mid-18th and 19th centuries, deism emerged in Europe precisely in response to the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War and was concerned with God’s role in history, religion’s place in moral society, and the justification of religious tolerance by the discovery of universal religious truths. Although British secularism largely declined in popularity after the 1890s, Bradlaugh, in particular, exerted a profound influence on American free-thought, largely through a series of successful American lecture tours in the 1870s. This process can be traced back to Edward Herburt, first Baron Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648), who attempted to formulate a universal belief which could resolve 17th-century religious disputes. Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith have claimed, for example, that the formation of an atheist community on the Internet generates a sense of communalism as it simultaneously cultivates feelings of marginality. I mentioned earlier that I watched an atheist give an invocation before a town board she had previously sued. American flags fly over a sign reading ‘Pray For Our Nation’ on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Rome, Ga. Ben Margot, Associated Press. See Martin Marty, The Infidel: Freethought and American Religion (Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books, 1961). I’ve met and talked to a lot of atheists, and I can testify that we are a diverse bunch. But that is changing. I. Atheism in America. With half a billion booklets sold in 30 years, Harry Golden’s 1960 declaration that “no other publisher will ever create so wide a reading audience” is not outlandish.16 Until the advent of the Internet, Haldeman-Julius’ publications arguably constituted the most explosive distribution of information in human history. American atheists continue to file lawsuits over alleged violations of the separation of church and state, particularly with regard to public displays of religious symbols. Atheists in America today face a deeply religious populace that holds a powerful and resilient anti-atheist prejudice, outstripping its distaste for other stigmatized groups, such as Muslims and homosexuals. And He doesn't accept excuses or political slogans as explanations. He tweets @SCOTUSHUMOR. This is all good news because secular democracies tend to do better than more religious nations. Edward Royle, “George Jacob Holyoake,” Journal of Liberal History 67 (Summer 2010): 35–37. 13. Commentators point to the New Atheists’ optimism in science’s ability to disprove the epistemic claims of religion, but this constitutes a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. An atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy. For thinkers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, in particular, a primary emphasis on Islamic extremism is deeply connected to the claim that tolerance for religious liberalism reinforces a logic that requires tolerance for the intolerant or fanatical. 1 The share of Americans who identify as atheists has increased modestly but significantly in the past decade. But that’s okay; we atheists tend to have thick skin. I didn’t think so, but for a while there, I kept my atheism on the down low just in case. Adler frequently made common cause with the burgeoning atheism movement, once remarking, “If [atheism] means the denial of being conceived by superstitious mortals in the image of themselves, a ‘big man’ above the clouds, then the sooner we accept Atheism the better.”15 As the free-thought movement survived into the early 20th century, it continued to overlap substantially with free religion and other social movements. Jefferson referred to himself as a Unitarian and expressed an unwillingness to abandon the notion of God’s historical presence, for example in “Notes on the State of Virginia.” But his “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” commonly known as the Jefferson Bible, in which he removed from the Bible all passages that he considered supernatural, reflects the deist concern with purifying religion of its irrational elements. 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