PHILADELPHIA — The first question people ask about an atheist is, “What are you?”
But if you ask about a secular person, you’ll find that most people are not aware of that word.
In the last decade, secularism has become more visible, more accessible and more acceptable to the average person, says Kristina L. Sager, director of the Center for Atheist Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
It’s becoming part of the mainstream, she says.
And the more we do research, the more people see secularism as a concept that we can understand, that we shouldn’t be ashamed of.
But for those who find themselves struggling with their religious identity, the idea of an atheist isn’t something to be ashamed about, says Lillian R. Williams, associate professor of religion and ethics at Wheaton College in Illinois.
“We all have to be aware of the fact that we are all made in the image of God,” Williams says.
The idea of atheism has become so accepted that even people who identify as agnostics have come out as atheists in recent years.
Atheists are often seen as less religious, and it’s difficult to explain why, Williams says, because atheists aren’t the “super-religious” label of the Christian faith.
I think it’s because we have a more nuanced understanding of religion, Williams adds.
Religion is a very complex thing, and we need to understand that in order to be able to understand the complexity of religion.
Sager agrees that atheists are often not viewed as “superreligious,” but she says we’re a lot less likely to dismiss a person who is agnostic or atheist simply because they don’t believe in God.
Atheists are just more inclusive of people of all faiths, Sager says.
People who don’t subscribe to a specific religion, or don’t share their religious beliefs, can be considered atheists.
And, she adds, “we’re just more open to people of different faiths.”
“It’s a lot more accepting,” she says, “and it’s also easier to understand.”
For a good number of people, atheism means something different than a belief in God, Williams explains.
It’s a philosophical stance that puts the idea that there are no gods or spirits at odds with their beliefs in science, history and nature.
We can argue about the nature of religion for years on end without ever having to engage with the religious idea that the idea is a lie, Williams notes.
But for some people, it’s a more uncomfortable topic than the idea they have a God or a spirit that keeps them alive.
So why do atheists seem to be more accepted in the U.S.?
One reason is that many atheists are being recognized as a religious group, Sarge says.
There are more atheists in the United States, and their numbers have grown in recent decades.
But that doesn’t mean the atheist community has reached its full potential.
One of the most interesting findings is that the secularization of the country has been driven by a greater willingness among Americans to be secular, Sanger says.
In addition to the increase in secularism among people who are religious, there are now more atheists, including people who were born secular, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.
Even though atheism is still considered controversial in the country, it has been more acceptable than ever, Williams points out.
In 2015, the Pew Research survey found that 41% of Americans identified as atheist.
The figure rose to 55% in 2017.
That’s an increase of more than three-quarters of a percentage point, and Sager agrees, pointing to the fact the number of atheists in this country has increased in recent generations.