A new study sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that only 1.6% of Americans consider themselves atheists. Really? I would have guessed the number was higher... Do I live in the much of a bubble? Yes, probably. I had to search a bit to find that number actually since the Pew researchers buried it in the category of "other religions" -- lumping atheists in with agnostics and "nothing in particular." Altogether, this group of "other religions" (and yes, I object to that terminology) is 16.1% of the American population.
Of the folks in this group, only half were raised in that tradition:
"The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion."
The other interesting tidbits I learned also concern how we were raised:
"More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether."
From here my brain wandered off into three directions: 1) will my children follow the new trend and leave the "faith" in which they are being raised? 2) this shifting about does represent a profound shift from American traditions where families stayed in a religious tradition generation after generation -- political parties, regional identities, etc. were built on such stability 3) this is still a pretty hugely religious country. I do know that my students tend to be religious (though I no longer have that overwhelming evangelical student body population I had at Georgia Southern), but most of them tend to keep it out of the classroom so it is easy for me to ignore.
Every once in a while I do run in to it, though. I remember a student who was following me back to my office once and discussing a moral issue that had come up in the reading on one of the activists we'd been studying. The activist rooted much of her perspective in a particular religious tradition and the student was searching her own experiences, trying to see how her religion had shaped her worldview (good, we like that in a student). The student then asked me about my religion. When I told her I'm an atheist, she got this look of pity on her face and said, "oh, that is so sad." She was worried, as my mother has been since I "fell from grace" (I was raised Methodist), that I would not have the comfort of faith in an all-powerful being. Um, no, see I just don't find that comforting. Physics... that I find comforting. Rational thought, oh yeah, that will get me through the night.
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