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Aug 14 2011

The coming godless generations

Adam Lee points to data that show the rapid rise of nonbelief among young people, and points to stories of young people challenging the religious privilege that their elders took for granted.

Most of the student activists I named earlier have faced harassment, some from peers, some from the teachers and authority figures who are supposed to be the responsible ones.

But what’s different now is that young people who speak out aren’t left to face the mob alone. Now more than ever before, there’s a thriving, growing secular community that’s becoming increasingly confident, assertive, and capable of looking out for its own.

The Secular Student Alliance, a national organization that supports student atheist and freethought clubs, is growing by leaps and bounds in colleges and high schools. (This is especially important in the light of psychological experiments which find that it’s much easier to resist peer pressure if you have even one other person standing with you.) Student activists like the ones I’ve mentioned are no longer just scattered voices in the crowd; they’re the leading edge of a wave.

All these individual facts add up to a larger picture, which is confirmed by statistical evidence: Americans are becoming less religious, with rates of atheism and secularism increasing in each new generation.

[T]he more we speak out and the more visible we are, the more familiar atheism will become, and the more it will be seen as a viable alternative, which will encourage still more people to join us and speak out. This is exactly the same strategy that’s been used successfully by trailblazers in the gay-rights movement and other social reform efforts.

This is why it is important for atheists to not rest on our laurels just because we have won the argument. We have to continue to be a very visible and vocal presence in public life, so that those who are hesitant to speak realize that atheists are everywhere and that they have a support network.

I myself have been heartened by the number of people in my own institution who tell me that my atheist presence via this blog has helped them.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    P Smith

    What also should be of note – and publicized – is what isn’t coming. You won’t see a trail of violence or crimes against theists, no burning of churches or discrimination against them.

    Theists have a long and sordid history of turning a blind eye or passively supporting violence against victims they don’t like. When George Tiller was murdered, most christians did NOT say it was murder, they said, “Tiller shouldn’t have been performing abortions”. They tried to infer that his murder was his own fault, not a criminal act by Scott Roeder.

    Atheists do not support communists (except those who are), and atheists do not support or excuse criminal behaviours BY atheists. I’ve never heard an atheist say “Stalin wasn’t because he attended a seminary”. I’ve never heard an atheist deny that Tom Metzger is a pinhead white supremacist and atheist. And I’ve never heard anyone pretend that James Watson “wasn’t a true atheist” after his racist diatribe in 2007.

    I have, however, heard plenty of christians go into denial and try to disassociate themselves from christians who commit crimes. They remind me of Americans of German descent who liked Hitler’s talk of “der fatherland” in 1938 and then two years later pretending they had never claimed to be Germans.

    .

  2. 2
    Steve LaBonne

    I myself have been heartened by the number of people in my own institution who tell me that my atheist presence via this blog has helped them.

    It’s great to have this kind of practical confirmation of the value of “out” atheism.

  3. 3
    Caitlyn Grant

    “[I]t is important for atheists to not rest on our laurels just because we have won the argument.”

    I have lived in the Bible Belt for the last ten years, and I can assure you that, down here, you ain’t won nothin’.

    The most hated man in our community is a secular humanist who had the temerity to challenge – on First Amendment grounds – his town council’s practice of praying before meetings. His separation-of-church-and-state argument was roundly refuted by legions of armchair constitutional scholars, who bombarded the local newspaper for months afterward.

    I know it’s different in the Northeast (and in Europe). But you’ve got a hard slog ahead of you down here. Who will be your movement’s Rosa Parks?

  4. 4
    Septamia

    I think that with the growth of atheism and increase the number of people who can not be with your life and others.
    About Stalin – it was destroyed by religion, not because of the “seminary”.
    This was done in order to break any human and moral principles.
    That people feel that they are the same creatures as pets.
    This is killing and starving his countrymen – that’s fine, if it is necessary for the triumph of communism.
    You know the slogan of the Young Communist League?
    - “The Party said it” necessary “- the Komsomol said – is”.

  5. 5
    Mano

    Caitlyn,

    The south and the Bible Belt are tough nuts to crack no doubt.

    But think about it. Even there, people are now challenging the religious view openly. True they are being shouted down, but that is still progress. That region is behind the curve but it will come around, just as it did on civil rights. You cannot stop the march of ideas that are right. You can only slow it down.

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