Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Professor Richard Dawkins on a bus displaying an
atheist message in Kensington Gardens, London.

Atheist and Unaffiliated Parents Forming Groups Nationwide

May 26, 2009 07:30 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
As the number of people unaffiliated with any religious group grows faster than any organized religion, nonbelievers are finding it easier to go public with their views on faith.

Unaffiliated Population Explodes

Groups are sprouting up around the nation for parents who are unaffiliated with any religion, a Sacramento Bee article reports. Members find it a relief to get support from others who share their views. The group offers the opportunity for members to find a community outside of religion while raising children without religion.

“No one should be alone in their disbelief,” one member of such a group told The Sacramento Bee.

The unaffiliated are not alone. The National reports that a poll conducted in March found that about 12 percent of the population calls themselves agnostic and another 12 percent considers themselves atheist. According to The National, “Non-believers are suddenly especially evident on American college campuses, 149 of which are now home to atheist student groups up from just a few dozen a decade ago.”

Changing or losing religion is not new; a Pew survey released in April found that almost half of adults in the United States have changed their religious affiliation or left religion entirely. This change or disaffiliation happens early in life, usually before the age of 24.

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Opinion & Analysis: Why are nonbelievers going public now?

The unaffiliated are growing faster than any religious group. But why do atheists and nonbelievers, once shunned by the religious sect of the U.S., feel comfortable revealing their beliefs these days?

Robert McClory, a former Catholic priest, told Medill Reports that increased diversity, exposure to other religions and the church’s tendency to take “positions that are rather rigid” has “challenge[d] the way people think about (religion).” The National points to atheism in the mainstream media, including documentaries such as “Religulous” and books such as “God is Not Great” as sources of support to those nonbelievers waiting to go public.

Reactions: Believers vs. nonbelievers

Still, “coming out” as an atheist or nonbeliever is not without its setbacks. Some students told The National that they feared losing friends or were treated with hostility and even felt threatened because of their beliefs. One attendee of an unaffiliated parenting group told The Sacramento Bee that a common misconception about nonbelievers is that they have no morals. “That's just not the case,” she said.

But the public might still need some convincing. The Sacramento Bee reports that a 2008 Gallup poll found that as far as public perception goes, attitudes about atheists were only better than those about Scientologists, who were “at the bottom of the favorability list.”

Background: Atheism sparks debate, anger from religious groups

In January, a bus campaign in the United Kingdom incited controversy by displaying ads that promoted atheism. The campaign soon spread to the U.S. with ads that read, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The campaign was rejected in Australia, but was shown in cities in Spain with the words, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Although many in the religious community were unhappy about the ads, others felt that it was good to have public dialogue about religion. The Trinitarian Bible Society in the U.K. later launched its own campaign promoting religion, displaying bus ads that had a verse from the Bible and information about how to get a Bible from the group for free.

Related Topic: Will the recession mean a return to religion?

For some, the change in the economic landscape has meant a return to religion. One former Wall Street trader, now known as Brother Nikanor, left his career to become a monk.

In September 2008, clergy in New York reported a sharp rise in the number of congregants attending services. Religious groups also began offering support groups at that time for those people worried about losing their jobs or finances.

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