11 June 2007

The new wave of atheism in America

Is it possible that "unbelievers" actually make up as much as one-fourth of the US population? That's what this essay argues, based on analysis of several surveys of religious belief.

Atheism has recently won new prominence and respectability in our country due to the fiery and popular books of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett. But even before that, it may actually have been much more widespread than most people imagine. This is certainly the case among the most educated:

After all, unbelievers are concentrated at the higher end of the educational scale--a recent Harris American poll shows that 31 percent of those with postgraduate education do not avow belief in God (compared with only 14 percent of those with a high school education or less). The percentage rises among professors and then again among professors at research universities, reaching 93 percent among members of the National Academy of Sciences. Unbelievers are to be found concentrated among those whose professional lives emphasize science or rationality and who also have developed a relatively high level of confidence in their own intellectual faculties. And they are frequently teachers or opinion-makers.

The essay argues that the time is ripe for a coalition of unbelievers and secular, non-fundamentalist believers who are equally fed up with the Christian Right and its excessive influence over national politics. The latter have more in common with the former than they do with the extremists. Together we can restore the secular character both of the government and of society.

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