The beginning of 2012 is one that many Americans have eagerly awaited: it is the season of shrieking expletives at inanimate objects when your favorite football team or incumbent candidate doesn’t do as well as you had anticipated. Amid these seasonal joys, some have dubbed 2012 the year of the atheist.
In spite of atheists’ growing presence on the playing field, many still see them as specters of a coming apocalypse as opposed to other participants in the same game. Amid the hoopla that surrounds the purportedly messianic Tim Tebow and the so-called satanic Bill Maher that fills many of its spectators with ire and awe, it is clear that the dialogue between theists and atheists in America is about as pleasant as a set of cymbals crashing to the floor.
2012: the Rise of Atheism in the United States
While the term “coming out” is often associated with revealing one’s homosexuality, it is increasingly associated with publicly identifying as atheist. Coupled with the newly conceived “We Are Atheism” project that encourages atheists around the world to “come out” to their friends, family, and community and March’s Reason Rally (a national event that aspires to unite and embolden American secularists), some predict that 2012 will be a year defined in part by an escalating percentage of Americans who define themselves as non-believers.
The statistics tend to support that claim. The results of a 2011 Barna Group survey revealed an 11% decrease in female church attendance, a demographic routinely regarded as the paragon of loyal church attendees. In a similar Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Catholic (23%) barely exceeds the percentage of those who view themselves as “atheist/agnostic/none” (15%).
Despite atheism’s growing currency in the belief spectrum, atheists are still subject to scorn and distrust nationally and abroad. In fact, a 2011 study conducted on trust and atheism unearthed the alarming finding that in the eyes of believers only rapists are distrusted to the same degree.