Not sure what prompted this news item in the Duluth News Tribune, but it’s nice to see an article about atheists that isn’t hostile.
In early May, the Barna Research Group, a national leader in tracking religious trends, published a survey showing that the number of “unchurched” people has nearly doubled in the past 13 years, growing from about 39 million in 1991 to about 75 million people today.
This was also reflected in a Minnesota Poll commissioned by the Star Tribune newspaper in December that showed the number of people in the state who “definitely believe in God” has decreased since 1984, from 84 percent to 78 percent.
Not all of those leaving organized religion are atheists, but Barna estimates that 12 percent of the population, or more than 30 million people in the United States, are atheists or agnostics. In Minnesota, that percentage translates into more than 500,000 nonbelievers.
“There is this secular trend in society,” said August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists. He believes the Barna research indicates the number of atheists has doubled or tripled in the past 10 years.
The article goes on to cite the various reasons George Barna of the Barna Group feels this is happening, but also talks about how atheists in the state are becoming more active both in volunteer services and politics:
In May, Castle opened what she says is the “first openly atheistic facility in the country” by converting the bottom half of the geodesic dome she lives in Minneapolis into a community center for nonbelievers.
Next month Camp Quest Minnesota, one of the few summer camps in the country strictly for secular-humanist children, will open in Minnetrista. And this year especially trained atheist volunteers will start working with Fairview Home Care and Hospice to provide services to the nonreligious.
Although atheism has a long tradition in the United States dating back to inventor Benjamin Franklin and President James Madison, Castle and others say atheists have become more politically active of late.
They have taken it upon themselves to battle religious or conservative groups on everything from gay marriage and abortion rights to prayer in schools and state education standards.
In late 2002, Minnesota atheists participated in the first-ever Godless Americans March on Washington. This year, Berkshire and others battled over Minnesota’s education standards at the Capitol.
In March, Castle wrote a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of atheist Michael Newdow of California, who wants the Pledge of Allegiance declared unconstitutional because it contains the phrase “under God.”
The growing trend in political activism among atheists is often mentioned—usually as being some sort of threat to the Christian majority—but it’s rare for an article to highlight some of the volunteer and charity work that atheists are engaging in. I’m often asked by True Believers where all the atheistic charities are to which I normally have to reply, “Much like your God, simply because you haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” It’s nice to see them get some print for a change.