By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
Atheists, come out of the closet. You won't be struck by lightning. I promise. I've been an "out of the closet atheist" for years now, and God (and her followers) have yet to cause me to perish. The New York Times has finally picked up on the trend and published the following this week, which I believe was the Times 's take on a front-page article in the National Journal earlier this year:
Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed "no religion" were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.
Nationally, the "nones" in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the "nones" are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.
While I hope atheism continues to expand, something tells me I've seen this movie before. I still remember the 1966 Time magazine cover that asked, "Is God Dead?":
Princeton Theologian Paul Ramsey observes that "ours is the first attempt in recorded history to build a culture upon the premise that God is dead." In the traditional citadels of Christendom, grey Gothic cathedrals stand empty, mute witnesses to a rejected faith. From the scrofulous hobos of Samuel Beckett to Antonioni's tired-blooded aristocrats, the anti-heroes of modern art endlessly suggest that waiting for God is futile, since life is without meaning.
During W's presidency, I often scratched my head and asked, after the liberating '60s and '70s, how did we ever go "back to the future" and end up in the political clutches of the religious Right? The fact is, '60s and '70s atheism was a bit too uninformed about the psychological and social benefits of churchgoing. Religion answers the unanswerable. It creates powerful and important social networks among churchgoers. Unless and until atheists, agnostics, and other nonbelievers can somehow replace those benefits, or form their own version of same, religion will continue to be a powerful cultural force.