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Are atheists becoming the hot new political force?

Atheist Billboard in Philadelphia

In a nation that regularly bows its head in prayer -- and that begins many public meetings with the God-fearing Pledge of Allegiance -- atheists may be coming into their own.

As the National Journal's Paul Starobin reported last month, exit polling suggests that nonbelievers represent a growing segment of the U.S. electorate.

In every presidential election since 1988, he wrote, the ranks of what pollsters call "the religiously unaffiliated" has grown. In 2008, some 12% of the electorate -- or 15 million voters -- identified themselves as nonbelievers. That's bigger than the Latino vote (9%), the gay vote (4%), or the Jewish vote (2%), and it's competitive with the African American vote (13%).

During George W. Bush's administration, they chafed at what they saw as the fudging of the line between church and state (think faith-based initiatives).

Now, after President Obama reached out to them with a first-ever mention during his inaugural address ("We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers," Obama said),  atheists think the time is right for a return to humanistic principles over religious influences in public policy.

"The climate is right in the country today for a major expansion of humanist ideals and humanist thinking -- atheism, free thought," Louis J. Appignani, the Florida tycoon who has earmarked $30 million for various atheist causes, told the National Journal. "I think we are on the threshold of a counter-revolution from the Bush years."

Today the New York Times profiled the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry in Charleston, S.C., the beautiful community of southern gentility where the Civil War began. This time, said the group's founder, the mission is not to declare war but to declare themselves.

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who said the group has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”

Silverman said that 10 national organizations of "atheists, humanists and free-thinkers" recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

And you know how that goes. Once you have a lobbyist in Washington, you have power and influence.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason

Comments () | Archives (16)

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No!!!! Atheist have no power or foundation!

The religious mind is mired in perpetual denial, closed-mindedness, and often callous arrogance toward other faiths and nonbelievers. The religious need outlandish threats to scare nonbelievers ("my god will burn you for all eternity", "you are a sinner"), but it's really just a projection of their own insecurity because, unless they are insane, they have never actually seen their god, never really witnessed the slightest proof of its existence and never heard to remotest mumur of his voice. And when a group of people dare to point it out, the religious must act with a fury because without other religious people around them bleating the same tired tune, their religion would vanish into the ether... as so many have done throughout human history.

Atheists are starting to wake up to the fact that there are far more of us than commonly thought and our numbers are growing. Atheists probably already outnumber Jews, yet have a relatively small political voice.

Atheists do not want to deny anyone the right to express their religious views, but are beginning to stand up to government policies based on iron age superstition. Look at how fast the womens and minority rights movement took effect. Its a good bet that in less than 100 years people who express religious views will be treated the way we treat people who beleive in fairies today.

What have atheist ever fonded or contributed to our nation?

"to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state."

The best and worst things about America, lobbying and the separation of church and state.

I will leave it for the reader to work out which is which.

"What have atheist ever fonded or contributed to our nation?"

Just a few names:
James Watson, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Schultz, …

Steve rodriguez,

The contributions of the following Atheists should at least partially answer your question.

Andrew Carnegie
Albert Einstein
Isaac Asimov
Carl Sagan
Clarence Darrow
Elizabeth Cady-Stanton
Gene Roddenberry
Helen Keller
Margaret Sanger
Frank Lloyd Wright
Robert A. Heinlein
George Orwell
Samuel Clemens "Mark Twain"
Susan B. Anthony
Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Thomas Edison
Charles Laughton
Elsa Lanchester
Oscar Wilde

There have been many non-theists that have contributed to making our world a better place, without religious baggage being thrown into the mix. There have been many Deists (many were our founding fathers) who have contributed to making this country and this world a better place, again without religious baggage being thrown into the mix.

This is so cool and I think it's about time. I'm an atheist and I don't want to deny anyone religion yet at the same time, I'm tired of seeing our views cast aside. We're just like everyone else, just without the belief in a divine being. We're not all bad people, there are those of us who do have good morals and are decent people.

OK! Good for you guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm not precisely an atheist, I'm agnostic - as Carl Sagan said, an atheist knows a lot more than I do. But I certainly can't bring myself to believe that God told Bush to attack Iraq, or Allah told bin Laden to attack the USA. Plenty of theists believed both, however, and were totally gung-ho about killing people. Why? Why is your invisible, mute "God" so much more important than a living, breathing child with hopes and dreams?

And then they say God wants them to deny their fellow Americans civil rights given everyone else, such as marriage for gays, or police protection for prostitutes. Why? Why is your love for "God" so much more important than a young man's love for his hard-working boyfriend; or the need for a young woman practicing a totally nonviolent profession to go to the police about a violent customer? Because an ancient book considers them "sinners"? While people who kill are heroes? Take the beam out of thine own eye.

And they also say God tells them to deny science! That a millennia-old story written by a Pharaoh's adopted son is evidence that the reality of our existence, obvious and in front of us, is false. Theists have jailed and harassed us for telling the truth, for recognizing the beauty around us, for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun, or that selective breeding can evolve desired traits. Why?These things are right in front of your face, theists, if you would get your nose out of those musty old books!

It's frustrating. And during the Bush years - both Bushes - I was treated as the enemy by my Presidents because I love peace, equality, and truth. Bush Sr. said that I shouldn't even be considered an American! I was born here, I work hard, I pay taxes, I vote, I volunteer at a homeless shelter, I try to be a good American. Why is someone who lives on the dole, never votes, never helps, but believes Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, why is he a "better" American than I?

Anyway, I don't advertise my beliefs. I've had them held against me too often. My family is very Christian. At one job in particular, I was harassed after I unwisely told a woman trying to convert me that I simply could not believe that the Earth was only a few thousand years old, and therefore I will never be able to be a Christian. I quit that job, and found another one...but could I do the same in this economy?

But the voting booth is private. And I will always vote for the candidate who is open to us, the atheists and agnostics. Now that we are organizing, I will try to work toward atheism/agnosticism as a legitimate political and social force. Science is beautiful! Civil rights and equality are, too! And peace...peace between rational people who don't believe the violent voices in their head are deities...that is a dream worth working toward

Because somewhere in Iran, which the theist neocons wanted so badly to bomb, there is a woman much like me, I think. A woman, an agnostic, who looks at the theists in power and works quietly against, who thinks they are being foolish and superstitious, and who resents their gilded tomes, self-righteous cruelty, and stubborn ignorance in the face of truth and beauty. I am with her, she is with me. We are everywhere, in every nation, and someday, Darwin willing, we shall overcome.

We can only expect atheism to grow particularly amongst the youth, whom they target as the atheist “movement” encourages the ultimate rebellion: rebellion against God.

Atheism is also appealing as it is a consoling delusion of absolute autonomy, consoling delusion of lack of ultimate accountability, consoling delusion of eruditeness, consoling delusion of subjective meaning in an objectively meaningless universe, etc.

During a time of worldwide recession atheists are collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations not in order to actually help anyone in real need but in order to attempt to demonstrate just how clever they think themselves to be via billboards and bus ads—need anymore be said?


To Mariano,

You sir, do not understand the first thing about atheism. In fact - you are an atheist yourself, you just don't realise it!
Do you believe in the god Zeus? Thor? Osiris? No, No, No?
Well - you are an atheist.
The rest of us just go one god further.
As for ultimate rebellion/against god:
How can there be rebellion against something that does not exist? That is illogical, Mariano. Its like saying: "You are rebelling against GZxU68A!" WTF is that?!

As far as accountability goes and so forth, humans developed ethics and morals long before we invented god or systemised beliefs. Don't read your history so selectively, Mariano, or you are doomed to repeat its excesses.

The Universe is anything but meaningless, however if you think your "god", a fevered dream of some bronze-age desert illiterates had granted you or any of your cohort the slightest insight into the Universe, then I pity you, because you have abandoned reason (or never embraced it in the first place).

Oh and don't bring the financial crisis into this, that gets blamed for everything nowadays. The financial crisis is the ultimate red herring of our times - being thrown in without context just to support any point of view: "my cat won't get out of the tree, the financial crisis made it so!"

Peace out, Mariano, and may Cthulhu be with you!

Hey Steve Rodriguez,

What have you "ever fonded [sic] or contributed to our nation?"

Well said, Stanley.

To Friendyskies. I agree with every thing that you said.

The fact of the matter is that the religious right is falling out of power. They have lost alot of ground within the US Government. Both the Senate and the House have a Democrat majority, however there are unfortunately evangelical Christians within the Government. Christianity itself is fading away specifically Roman Catholicism. They are overrunned by controversy with priest rapping altar boys and abusing children. Just look what happened in Ireland with literally thousands of people being affected over the course of 70 years. The Church knew about these pedophiles existing within their ranks and yet they turned a blind eye to it. Now they are answering for their crimes. Atheists yes are looking for young teens to join their cause but so aren't Christians seducing the young into their beliefs. They either threaten them with hell or bribe them into believing with holidays like Easter or Christmas. Christianity is an Imperial Religion you either join or die. It seeks to convert everyone to it's belief system and crush any other beliefs it sees as being inferior to it's own. Atheists are on the rise but we have yet to gain any ground within the political arena since most people would rather vote for a gay or black man than an atheist. But I voted for Obama so at least he might loosen the strangle hold Reborn Again Christians have on this country. America isn't a Christian Nation it wasn't founded by Christians in fact it was founded by Deists and it never will be because of the separation of Church and State.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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