Young atheists come online

The Reason Rally marks a high point in the recent surge of atheism.  For anyone who has been around long … Continued

The Reason Rally marks a high point in the recent surge of atheism.  For anyone who has been around long enough to watch atheism in America go from hated to somewhat tolerated to (almost) mainstream, this is an event we never thought we’d see: Thousands of atheists coming together on the National Mall for a celebration of freethought, with politicians and celebrities willing to speaking to us (at least via video)!  It just didn’t seem plausible a decade ago.

For those of us under 30, though, this event doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary.  A bunch of atheists getting together?  It’s just like those gatherings we have for our college atheist groups.  Or our local meetup groups.  Or our online communities.  Just bigger.

That wasn’t always the case.

Five years ago, the number of active campus atheist groups was just over 50.  As I write this, the Secular Student Alliance ha over 350 affiliates across the country.  It’s to the point where college students seeking out an atheist group at school are more surprised *not* to find one.  Even high school groups have begun popping up.  These atheists are not only active in their communities and spearheading conversations about religion on campus, they’re also media savvy, getting featured in their school newspapers, local media, and even major publications time and time again.  We’re not anywhere near “Campus Crusade for Christ” levels with regard to money or ubiquity, but we’re not showing any signs of slowing down.  

Even people who are not atheists are becoming more accepting of atheism.  A recent report from Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute found that people ages 18-30 were much more accepting of atheists than Americans 65 and older.  Fifty-six percent of the younger generation viewed atheists favorably, compared to only 35 percent of the seniors.  It’s getting to the point where high school and college-aged students all know someone who doesn’t believe in God.  And when you know an atheist, you realize they don’t hate God, they aren’t immoral, and they have solid reasons for why they reject faith.  It’s a lot harder to demonize us now.

Young people are also more likely to be atheists than ever before.  Researchers Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell point out that “between 25 and 30 percent of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.”  Not all of them are atheists, but I’ll bet a large number of them are.

David Paul Morris


“It it’s not as hard for atheists — certainly not in the age of the Internet — as it was before,” writes Mehta.

How did all this happen?  It starts with every pastor’s worst nightmare, the Internet.  Their “true stories” are now easily debunked on Snopes, their critiques against gay rights and women’s rights are quickly rebutted across the blogosphere, their arguments for the existence of God are laughable in the face of a well-written Wikipedia article.  If you want to find the truth about how the world works, the Church of Google is more reliable than any megachurch pastor in the country.

Even though there may not be a physical building where we can meet, atheists have discovered communities online that weren’t around a decade ago.  It’s easy to hear what other atheists have to say about current events on blogs, Tumblr, and Twitter. It’s not unusual to see the word “Pastafarian” show up under “religious views” on your friends’ Facebook pages, a humorous jab at faith.  Want to put a face on modern atheism?  Watch YouTube videos made by any number of popular heathens.  We can talk about rejecting faith and thinking critically with an ease that wasn’t around a few years ago, and that has only amplified our message.  The atheism subgroup at has nearly 600,000 (!) members.

OPINION: Why Americans should embrace atheists
View Photo Gallery: Despite their negative reputations among many Americans, atheists tend to be very ethical and high-achieving, argue Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.

Perhaps the strongest indication that atheism is hitting a tipping point in our country — especially for young people — is seen in the story of Jessica Ahlquist.   When she noticed a banner in her high school’s auditorium promoting a belief in God, she filed a lawsuit to have it taken down.  She knew the prayer banner was unconstitutional and she ultimately won the case.  As if on cue, many in her community treated her like a monster.  One politician in her state even called her an “evil little thing.”  

But online, she became a hero.  Videos of her media appearances spread quickly.  On my website, Friendly Atheist, I asked if people would contribute to a college scholarship fund for her.  They came through, raising a grand total of over $60,000.

We still have a long way to go.  But it’s not as hard for atheists — certainly not in the age of the Internet — as it was before.

What does all of this have to do with the Reason Rally?  

We’ve never had a chance to celebrate en masse what we’ve mostly (up to this point) enjoyed online and in smaller groups: A chance to meet other atheists from around the country, a chance to talk about religion without feeling the need to censor ourselves, a chance to be inspired by the people who helped shape our views.  

I expect to see hordes of young atheists make their way to DC for the event.  And I hope they leave there eager to be even more active and politically-engaged.

Hemant Mehta blogs at The Friendly Atheist.

More On Faith:

Richard Dawkins: Who would rally against reason?

Fred Edwords: The great atheist ‘coming out’

David Silverman: Why we need a Reason Rally

R. Elisabeth Cornwell: Why women need secularism

Tom Gilson: Atheists don’t own reason

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  • tony55398

    Atheists need to have faith that the universe is either eternal or came into existance from nothing.

  • JosephD1000

    No faith required to admit we don’t know, that nobody does, and that it is childish to state unequivocally that not only does one know for a certainty that some supernatural force is responsible, but that this incalculably powerful supernatural force has a sick fascination about what we do with our dangly bits, and hates homosexuals who this force also created and apparently continues to create on a daily basis. As Christopher Hitchens is wont to say: ” some design, by the way. “

  • nojinx

    That does make sense. Either all things had a point at which they began to exist or they always existed. I don’t think this is specific to atheism, but to those who use empirical experience as part of life and learning. Also, does not need faith.

  • ccnl1

    o Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this cha-otic, sto-cha-stic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years with the burn out of the Sun and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the va-ga-ries of its local star.

    What we do know: (from the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and the history of religion)

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to circle us in the nearby asteroid belt.

    3. One wayward rock and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 trillion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

    7. Super, dormant volcanoes off the coast of Africa and under Yellowstone Park could explode catalytically at any time ending life on Earth.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 trillion years?

  • Cuttlefish

    Hemant writes “The Reason Rally marks a high point in the recent surge of atheism. ”

    Hemant, I certainly hope you are wrong, and that this is not so much a “high point” as “the beginning of a new era”.

    Other than that–have fun at the rally!

  • WmarkW

    The internet makes sensible viewpoints hard to ignore.
    Countries like China know this, so they block access to prevent dangerous ideas like democracy from taking hold.

    It does seem like we hear a lot less than 20 years ago about things like the Bermuda Triangle and trance channeling.

  • Sara121

    “Atheists need to have faith that the universe is either eternal or came into existance from nothing.”

    Faith is assuming either one of those things regardless of evidence.

    You are confusing atheists with theists. Theists assume regardless of evidence. What I would demand though is evidence of either of those things before I believe. And currently, the evidence is stacking up not he side of a universe from nothing as nothing is apparently inherently unstable.

  • BlackYowe

    I often debate atheists on Huffington Post and they are very ignorant of history, very angry and very self righteous. Most of them do not understand even the basics of Christian history or even the difference between churches and sects. I can almost always tell they are very young. They have a very poor understanding of world cultures and religion.

  • JosephD1000

    I find that the reverse is true and that many of the most vocal theists know less about what their dogma teaches than I do, however both claims are anecdotal and not really worth anything in real terms in regard to the debate. In addition the history of christianity is not relevant to the basic question, and that is does human exploration of spirituality and philosophy require a supernatural agent. I say it is counter-productive and defeatist to throw up one’s hands and say that the furthest reaches of this exploration should be forestalled by resignation to a supernatural agent which is surplus to requirements. It is the easy way out and a call to our conditioning as children to behave ourselves out of fear of eternal damnation by a childish jealous overseer whom we must also love. In my opinion this is immoral at it’s base, and again, not necessary or required.

  • BrianWestley

    I usually don’t bother to debate people who pull an obvious hasty generalization fallacy right out of the gate.

  • Sara121

    On the side of a universe from nothing. Dang auto correct…

  • Sadetec

    There are angry and self righteous participants on both sides, I don’t think either theism or atheist holds a monopoly. One of the problems with debating theists is that each believer has their own interpretation of their faith, which then ‘informs’ their view of its history.

    I fine (and timely) example of this is the way many Mormons view the history of their church — even the recent history — versus how a historian or journalist (or anyone concerned with the facts and historical record) may view it.

    When discussing religion with a Christian, I find it is advisable to begin by establishing a few initial understandings: key among these are precisely what is said Christian believes, and why said Christian thinks their church (and God) agrees with these beliefs? This is important, because most Christians model their understanding of God and their church around their own intuitions and sensibilities — the so called “God thinks like me” phenomena.

    It may be that the Atheists you’ve debated were genuinely ignorant of Christian history — but I’d suggest it is more likely that their more comprehensive view of history didn’t tally with the selective reading you’d chosen to support your own interpretations of Christianity, and the role it plays in your life.

  • macnietspingal1

    Somehow, after I’ve posted publicly anywhere, I notice that I get another way to look at things. With citing 4 Maccabees, I’d like to ask all Reason Ralliers is there a difference between Reason Rally and Emotional Intelligence Rally? There is now in the workplace in the USA, such a thing as EI/Emotional Intelligence. From the 1980’s when the Managerial Grid took over the mindset of Corporate American, they replaced the meaning of Human Resources from simply the Technical Information Center aks “library” to be PERSONnel. So I wish all REASONable people would simply rally for separating Human Beings from the catagory of “documents” and call the Information Center HUMAN RESOURCES and the Management of Human Beings back to PERSONnel Management.

  • JosephD1000

    I think mac you are talking about something a little different here. Read ‘On Equilibrium’ by John Ralston Saul. He is a philosopher who argues quite well that reason is one of a number of essential human qualities that must be in balance for a society to get good policy/governance and that the triumph of reason over all others, leads to an imbalance characterized by utilitarianism, managerialism and corporatism. Creeping corporatism skews language in it’s own favour to disenfranchise the individual. I have thought along your lines as well, would we be better off changing the name of law enforcement officers from Police to Peace officers? It would possibly have an effect in the short term but the issue of corporatist influence runs deeper than that. People arguing that a hospital affiliated with a religious organization having ‘rights’, and a ‘conscience’, for instance is hokum. Rights and freedoms exist only at the level of the individual. Corporations, ( any group or organization) have authority and obligations and responsibilities, not freedoms rights or conscience.


    I generally try to avoid talking to believers of stripe from any sect or cult. They are usually crazy and/or violent.They are not worth having in my life

    I also find no need to talk about atheism. It’s a by-blow of any number of the things I’m much more interested in.

  • simplexion

    There is only 1 way for there to be nothing. There are infinite ways there can be existence.

  • Counterww

    Soddi, you need to get out more. Believers are usually crazy and /or violent?

    Please, take some meds or go visit some believers , a diverse set. We have families, mortgages, jobs and rational thought, and many of us are as educated or more so than the avg man.

  • theFSM

    It really depends on your definition of “nothing”. Would you consider empty space, “nothing”?


    No thank you. I see all I need to of you people in the WaPo letters column.

    You christians shoot people.

  • ThomasBaum

    I don’t know about other people but my definition of “nothing”, in relationship to something as opposed to nothing, is absolutely nothing physically, whereas “empty space” has plenty there, as a matter of fact it is anything but empty.

    I would also include, in this “nothing physical”, Einstein’s equation, E=MCsqrd

    I would go so far as to say that this “nothing” is beyond our comprehension.

    I would also say that for something to come from “nothing” would break many of the scientific “laws” that we have discovered.

    So it seems that either there was always “something” or that there was a “cause” for something to come from “nothing” and this “cause” goes against some of the scientific “laws” that we have discovered, not created but discovered.

    As far as I know, when scientists go back in time, computer generated that is, at some point all of the known laws or at least some of them, completely fall apart, so to speak.

  • Rongoklunk

    How can people be so devout in their beliefs that they will fly planes into buildings to get into Paradise? Can a person be more devout than that?

    Is there any virtue in that? Christians seem to think that the more devout a person is so much the better. It is supposed to be glorious and beautiful and so very very Holy to have blind faith in a god and an afterlife. But Islam shows how banal and simpleminded it all is.

    Only the child’s mind will accept such delusion. And it’s through childhood indoctrination that religion is passed on down through the ages. The child becomes a man, a man hard-wired to believe whatever was pushed into his little head when he was too young to resist it. If we stop doing that to our children – religion will eventually die a natural death, and we can live in a world without superstition. Amen.

  • My1View

    Hemant Mehta, you come from an ancient tradition that at its core, does not propound a Creator God outside of the universe, and which does not exclude ANY BELIEF SYSTEM as non-valid or untrue. Including atheism….

  • Counterww

    You are a nutcase. Christians shoot people. Right. Get out more.