This morning, on my way into work, I heard a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition about how a new Pew survey indicates that Americans are becoming less religious, and this decline in religious belief has happened over a short frame of time.
- The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” that God exists has dropped 8 percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.
- The percentage of adults who describe themselves as “religiously affiliated” has shrunk 6 points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.
- The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion “very important” to them, pray daily and attend services at least once a month have declined between 3 and 4 percentage points over the past eight years.
The report didn’t address why increasing numbers of Americans are comfortable with not being religious. If I had to make a guess, I would say the Internet has played a role. It’s easier today for someone with doubts and questions to find someone who can answer their questions and, importantly, give them support when they reject the dogmas in which they were raised. Twenty years ago I knew I was an atheist, but I didn’t know any atheists, and I wouldn’t meet any for several more years.
Now I seem to meet atheists everywhere.
Except for where I live.
My parents noted one time they visited that there are churches everywhere here. I joked that in Raleigh I could have swung a cat and hit half a dozen bookstores, while here I would hit half a dozen Methodist churches.
That’s had a consequence. I’m less public now (in real life, that is) about my atheism than I was before I moved to Pennsylvania. The reason is that I really don’t feel my small community would be accepting of an atheist among them.
To give you an example, two weeks after I moved here, two women from a local church knocked on my door. They wanted to invite me to their church since I was a new resident. (I assume that my complex passed my information on to several churches in the area as I received a great deal of mail from local churches over my first few months here.) I didn’t know quite how to react, and the conversation turned very awkward when I was honest with them about why, even though I appreciated that they took the time to talk to me, I wouldn’t be attending their church. In short, they gave me a look that made me feel like they suspected me of murdering babies. The only way the conversation could possibly have gone worse is if I had told them that I don’t even own a Bible. (Which is true. I don’t.)
While among my friends (who don’t live here) I don’t hide my atheism, I have, when asked by neighbors or others in the community, been evasive or even outright lied since that incident with the two ladies. I’ve even put a Buddy Christ bank in my front window. It’s self-protection. Culturally, this place is very Southern — I walked past a house flying a Confederate battle flag this morning while walking to my polling place — and very conservative. A liberal cosmopolitan atheist doesn’t exactly fit here.
I just find it interesting that more and more Americans are comfortable stating that they aren’t religious. It’s possible that the United States will never approach European levels of secularism, but I could be wrong. Who knows, in light of yesterday’s Star Trek news, maybe the Star Trek future, where atheism won the historical question and human religions were discarded on the dustbin, really is possible.