Footage of a man delivering an atheist invocation to various gods has been shared thousands of times on Facebook claiming to show the new American government praying to Satan. Less frequently recognized is the second function, in which the history of American atheism demonstrates a long and fascinating interrelationship between atheism and various forms of religious piety. O’Hair thrived in these fringe media forms and formats, where she could position atheism in opposition to the mainstream or dominant religious culture. 4. Contributors to free-thought periodicals often employed the term “infidel” and “infidelity” much more readily than “atheist” or “atheism,” apparently in part because the term was frequently deployed by Christian leaders concerned with establishing religion’s cultural enemies in the eyes of their congregations. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “Secularism,” American Atheist Radio Series (Austin, TX: KTBC, November 25, 1972), in Vol. The case, Murray v. Curlett would eventually be combined with a similar challenge brought by Unitarian Universalist Edward Schempp in Pennsylvania, Abington School District v. Schempp. Similarly, when I attended the annual conference of an organization formed to help nonbelieving high school and college students called the Secular Student Association in July 2016, I learned that getting out and helping people is a key concern for young secularists. With the popularization of broadcast media, in the form of radio and television, antireligious criticism was translated into a more centralized grammar, in which fewer producers and distributors held sway over larger audiences who simultaneously found their options for feedback limited. “Atheism” is, of course, a difficult term to pinpoint. In the United States, atheism carries within itself the influences of a web of intellectual currents and historical movements antithetical or parallel to a dominant religious culture. By the end of the 19th century, “secularism” had begun to replace “Liberalism” as the political term of choice. In one 2018 research paper using indirect methods estimated that 26% of Americans are atheists, which is much higher than the 3%-11% rates that are consistently found in surveys.. The overarching principle or common motif that connects these disparate movements to atheism is rooted in individualism. It provides speakers for colleges, universities, clubs, and the news media. On the other hand, Leigh Eric Schmidt’s Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation meticulously unearths the voices of American free-thinkers who attest to the presence of a vibrant atheist imagined community in the United States in the 19th century. The organization holds national conventions, operates a Roku channel, and earns notoriety for erecting prominent billboards critical of religion. He tweets @SCOTUSHUMOR. For roughly the decade from 1925 to 1937, when Smith returned to the Truth Seeker as editor, 4A was a prominent feature of America’s religious landscape. By James Burton on April 25 2017 in Society. America is a country so suffused with faith that religious attributes abound even among the secular. The term likely describes other early American luminaries, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and even George Washington. Roderick Bradford, D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006), 73. The majority of American Christians realize there are fewer Christian round them and the opinion leaders - those who influence active church goers - are likely to know even more. They are more dispersed regionally. On August 27, 1995, O’Hair, along with her son Jon and granddaughter Robin, suddenly disappeared along with around $500,000 worth of American Atheist funds. Nonetheless, patterns do emerge in contextual discussions of appropriate labels within the free-thought community. 7. Although of course individual atheists do plenty to help others, we usually don’t think about atheist groups or communities coming together to provide services for those in need, at least not in a self-consciously atheist way. When the National Liberal League splintered in 1884 over the issue of whether to advocate repeal or reform of the Comstock Law of 1873, it reformed in 1885 as the American Secular Union. Specifically, the community has been dogged by accusations of Islamophobia, sexual harassment, racial homogeneity, and classism. Nevertheless, Madalyn made it much safer — and much more natural — to call oneself an Atheist.17. This seeming attempt to rescue free-thought from a lack of philosophical rigor posed by the use of nicknames made explicit an underlying concern about terms like “infidelity,” namely whether a collective label should represent a purely philosophical viewpoint or whether it should serve a primarily social function in distinguishing the free-thought community from a wider religious culture. Of course, French atheism drew on several philosophical traditions closely aligned with absolute materialism and religious criticism, from Epicurean and Lucretian atomism to Pyrrhic skepticism and scientific naturalism, but these traditions had always been located, at least by their ancient and medieval proponents, within some form of religious thought. Atheism Rises, Religiosity Declines In America. In 1983, she proposed a new motto for American Atheists: “Unity today, power tomorrow,” but few people seemed interested in her brand of unity. For Palmer, the enemy was “supernatural and vindictive theology, which has served only to destroy the harmony of nature, and demoralize the intelligent world.”3 But the clearest bridge between American deism and American atheism was erected by Thomas Paine, who was regarded at least throughout the 20th century as a kind of patron saint of American atheism. For the first time, thinkers like Jean Meslier (d. 1729), Denis Diderot (d. 1784), and Baron D’Holbach (d. 1789) proudly embraced the term, which had previously served exclusively as an epithet to describe various forms of religious heresy. The Little Blue Books were eagerly consumed. Contrary to the opinions of evangelical atheists, atheism is a religion which has repeatedly attempted to take away the religious liberties of Christians in order to support their false religion. Among the difficult issues of governance faced by America’s founders was the question of how to balance religious and political liberties. Harry Golden, “Foreword,” The World of Haldeman-Julius (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960), 7. There were no miracles, no revelations, and no personal God. This is particularly true in regards to religious intrusion into public policy and issues vital to the state. In the late 1980s, she unsuccessfully attempted to legally commandeer The Truth Seeker. Now, that’s a school I’d really like to teach at, but the fact that such a thing is almost unimaginable in today’s society (while of course private schools that explicitly promote the divinity of Jesus Christ are everywhere) just goes to show how marginalized atheism really is in the United States. 18. Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix is also an atheist. They used information obtained through the (online) U.S. Secular Survey to find out what roughly 34,000 non-religious participants thought about a variety of topics. Why is atheism growing? Hence, the SEC only brushed up against atheism, which it framed as a metaphysical position irrelevant to questions of morality. Where Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her American Atheists sought first-and-foremost to render atheist identity publicly visible to mainstream America, contemporary atheists on the internet appear relatively more content with remaining a subcultural virtual community. Some notable atheists on this list have either come out with or mentioned their atheism in public, like atheist comedian Ricky Gervais, and others are just known for a lack of a belief in God. 12. I. Atheism in America. I mean, what’s the big deal, right? The religion blog includes dozens of well-trafficked nonreligious blogs, but the largest digital community of atheists resides at, a popular content-aggregating social platform. These include at least deism, skepticism, and theological agnosticism; religious and irreligious anti-clericalism and anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic prejudice; philosophical materialism, logical positivism, and varying degrees of scientism; the free-thought, Infidel, Free Love, Populist, and Communist movements; political secularism and ethical humanism; and the contemporary rise of the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones.” None of these strands map perfectly onto American atheism, but each one imparts some of its values, commitments, self-understandings, and political strategies to the background of contemporary atheism. There is ongoing debate over whether there is anything essentially new about New Atheism or if it merely extends the rational atheism of Enlightenment Europe. 31 Edgell et al., supra note 13, at 217–18. 15. Atheism refers to the conviction of the nonexistence of God. Die American Atheists (dt. The Godless Girl provided a short-lived boon for Smith’s 4A, but the expansion of television and radio around the middle of the 20th century enabled atheists to maintain a more tenacious and unified public image. And the cause is the false Christians of the religious right. Boston Investigator, October 14, 1846. In decades past, the Northeast and West were seen as isolated hotbeds of atheism and agnosticism. It never can influence many to either good or evil, for it is a cold abstraction not suited to any passion or feeling.”14 Perhaps because atheism was understood primarily philosophically, then, the term remained far less popular at the end of the 19th century than “infidel,” and it would remain relatively unpopular for the first half of the 20th century. 31 Edgell et al., supra note 13, at 217–18. The association has an American Atheists … At the same time, a number of religious groups and leaders have defended the secular separation of church and state as a means of encouraging religious expression. Among other findings, 62% of Americans say their country is not currently or never has been a Christian nation, and only one-quarter believe that the U.S. is a good moral example to the rest of the world. The government cannot promote atheism over religion, that’s true. In 1959, Madalyn filed suit on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was the victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate. American Atheists also strives to educate, bring attention to, and dismiss false conceptions of atheists and atheism. Additionally, 4A organized a series of popular debates with famous evangelists, including one between Smith and Aimee Semple McPherson on the subject of evolution at Carnegie Hall in 1934. While the New Atheism emerged largely in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the surge in popular interest in Islamic extremism, the New Atheists have often gone out of their way to emphasize that liberal religion is not off the hook. A former writer for the Truth Seeker, Smith’s approach to religion was confrontational, belligerent, and uncompromising. When infidelity stood for unfaithfulness in general, critics alleged, it became too context dependent to be useful; depending on perspective, one person’s infidelity was another’s orthodoxy, and many free-thinkers sought to reserve infidelity’s sting for criticisms on religious hypocrisy. Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, for example, is aimed primarily at rejecting the notion that religion deserves special treatment as a topic of conversation. According to the Pew Research Center, close to a quarter of the population identifies as a so-called “none,” up 7 percent from 2007 to 2014. 1 Percentage by country The growth of the aforementioned Secular Student Association is one such example. As the abolitionist and Spiritualist movements gained traction surrounding the Civil War, free-thought subsided until energized by influence of Bradlaugh’s speaking tours, the development of Darwinism after 1859, and the controversy generated by the National Reform Association’s call, in February 1873, for a Constitutional amendment recognizing Jesus Christ as the supreme ruler of all national conduct, provoking the formation of the National Liberal League in 1876.7. 14. This is misleading; AFP Fact Check traced the video to 2014, long before US president-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential race. On this point, the resources of French atheism were limited. Commentators point to the New Atheists’ optimism in science’s ability to disprove the epistemic claims of religion, but this constitutes a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind. And He doesn't accept excuses or political slogans as explanations. In the United States, religion - in particular Christianity - is a driving force behind African-American culture. New Atheism appears uniquely comfortable with the tactics of identity politics, but this constitutes more an extension of the tactics deployed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair and American Atheists than a departure from them. Historians have disagreed over the extent to which individuals like Franklin and Jefferson can be safely considered deists. American atheism: Low stature of American atheists in American society. Given our growing numbers, it’s important for non-atheists to understand what it means for someone to not believe in any god. I do not know of any other book on the market that seeks to bring together individual narratives of deconversion and the challenges faced afterward. Jan Bremmer has also provided an accessible introduction to atheism’s ancient predecessors in his contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, titled “Atheism in Antiquity.” Gavin Hyman’s A Short History of Atheism provides an even more accessible historical survey. There is a lot going on to counter the conclusion that atheism soon will be America’s dominant “faith.” A 2020 Pew Forum survey supports the rise of the “nones.” Twenty-six percent of Americans identify with no denomination. Intellectually and socially, American Atheism has its roots in a number of prior movements, including in particular the Deism of Thomas Paine and other American Revolutionaries and the broad free-thought movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For Deism, a rational God could not intervene in human affairs or natural processes without invalidating the possibilities of free will and an ordered universe, respectively. Sie ist unter anderem durch eine Reihe von Gerichtsverfahren bekannt geworden, bei denen öffentlichen Einrichtungen vorgeworfen wurde, durch religiöse Praktiken das Prinzip der … But skip ranting at me. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. Smith focused much of 4A’s efforts on challenging perceived violations of the Constitution’s Establishment clause, advocating hedonism and moral liberalism, and making atheism as publicly visible as possible. Linell E. Cady and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 87–105. Elihu Palmer, Principles of Nature; Or, A Development of the Moral Causes of Happiness and Misery among the Human Species (New York: Literary Licensing, 2014 [1823]), title page. Similarly, some have argued that the New Atheists are more caustic or polemical in their language, refusing to mince words like never before, a characterization obviously belied by the long history of truly polemical works of religious criticism. Perhaps seeking more moderate positions, some of America’s founders, most notably Thomas Jefferson (d. 1826), Benjamin Franklin (d. 1790), and Thomas Paine (d. 1809), found valuable resources in deism. Evidence of this transition includes that when the National Liberal League splintered in 1884 over the issue of whether to advocate repeal or reform of the Comstock Law of 1873, it reformed in 1885 as the American Secular Union. Stephen LeDrew’s The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement does the important work of situating New Atheism as a political and social—rather than purely intellectual—phenomenon. I. Atheism in America. American Atheists is a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating complete separation of church and state. That sure would be nice! As someone who has taught and written about church-state law for nearly 20 years, I’ve heard and read this kind of argument more times than I can remember. But as a term of art, free-thought described a movement popular during the 19th century of applying skeptical tools of independent inquiry to religious theology. Alongside these official organizations, atheism’s largest presence in America can be found on the Internet. By the early 1980s, O’Hair’s grasp on the atheist movement that she had helped create was falling apart. The birth of the broadcast media era enabled an unprecedented degree of exposure for American atheism. I like to watch Comedians like Jim Jefferies, Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr ect and whenever religion comes up there’s a skit about how some American got offended. "Atheism in America" explores what forces are working to define who and what atheists are, and the often detrimental effects they have. Emma Goldman’s (d. 1940) short-lived Mother Earth journal served occasionally to voice her conviction of the sinister marriage of the state and religion. I’ve met and talked to a lot of atheists, and I can testify that we are a diverse bunch. This process can be traced back to Edward Herburt, first Baron Herbert of Cherbury (d. 1648), who attempted to formulate a universal belief which could resolve 17th-century religious disputes. And Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose influence is rarely acknowledged by any of the New Atheists, was notorious for her incendiary language. Menu. On the contrary, historian Tim Whitmarsh has regarded atheism as an ancient phenomenon in Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World. “Demands of Liberalism,” The Truth Seeker, October 1873. On the long history of Western atheism and atheists from antiquity to modernity, Michael Buckley’s On the Origins of Modern Atheism provides a compelling intellectual history of atheism’s relatively modern emergence out of theological debates. Historically, atheism has served as both a dangerous force to be resisted, providing fodder for religious leaders advocating conservatism and piety, and as a kind of buffer allowing religious liberals to frame their own movements as relatively restrained and pious.1 The former function is a familiar one; atheists are still often framed as immoral and un-American in ways that reify the notion of America as a religious nation. Personally, I’m fascinated by religion and am a strong believer in religious freedom, although I don’t like how most religious beliefs these days tend to push people in a politically rightward direction. Central among these have been the protection of public schools from religious influence, the taxation of religious property and income, and the removal of religious symbols from official governmental displays, including especially currency, the Pledge of Allegiance, and NASA missions. Joining the ranks of the Boston Investigator, founded in 1831, were the nationally circulated The Index, unofficial organ of the Free Religious Association, and innumerable regional free-thought newspapers like Texas’ Common Sense, Agnostic, and Independent Pulpit; Kentucky’s Blue Grass Blade; Kansas’ Lucifer the Lightbearer; Missouri’s Liberal; California’s To-Morrow and Freethought; New York’s Man, Truth Seeker, and Freethinker’s Magazine; and Chicago’s The People’s Press and Ingersoll Memorial Beacon. Later that day in gym, I broke my collarbone playing dodgeball. In contrast to previous attempts by atheists to achieve prominence through mainstream media, O’Hair’s atheist message found greater acceptance alongside counter-cultural currents of the 1960s. In response to critics who accuse them of cherry-picking the most extreme forms of religion, the New Atheists go to great lengths to demonstrate that their criticisms apply to the very idea that religion is off limits as a topic for attack. Dawkins, in particular, has spearheaded the attempt to disprove the “god hypothesis” with contemporary theories from biology and physics. The organization was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. For those unwilling to identify with infidelity, the term “liberal” served briefly as the label of choice, particularly for readers of and contributors to the nationally circulated Truth Seeker, which would become the official organ of the National Liberal League founded in 1876.10 For the last two decades of the 19th century, “Liberal” became a popular term of identification for those opposed to institutional religion. Evangelicals are losing 20-30% each generation. Considering the sectarian conflicts and religious wars that had plagued Europe at least from the Protestant Reformation to the 17th century, the founders sought to strike a balance between religious toleration and the possibility of the moral improvement of society. It also publishes books and American Atheist Magazine.. On the figure of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Bryan Le Beau’s The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair remains the most authoritative and exhaustive account of her relationship with American atheism, and her own publications, including those of her radio broadcast transcripts, serve as important source material on 20th-century atheism. Was it God’s revenge for my blasphemy? Edward Herburt, first Baron Herbert of Cherbury, Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology of Religion, Free-Thought and Infidelity in the 19th Century, From 1986 until 1995, both Madalyn and Jon were tireless advocates for atheism and the absolute separation of religion from government, filing lawuits and building a nationwide atheist community. 10. Upending common social, political, and psychological assumptions about atheists, this collection helps carve out a more accepted space for this minority within American society. See, for example, Alan C. Kors, “The Age of Enlightenment,” in The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, eds. As much as American atheists have been framed (and have framed themselves) as antithetical to all forms of religion, atheism in America has also shaped and been shaped by creative engagements with religious culture. In some ways, those characteristics of New Atheism highlighted by other depictions—the polemicism, opposition to tolerance, and minoritarian status—can be seen as results of changing media practices rather than as necessary components of a unique atheist epistemology. In the 21st century, secularism is commonly understood as the political wing of American atheism—a commitment simply to the separation of Church and State. November Term, 1834 (J. Q. Adams, 1834), 16; and Abner Kneeland, “A Philosophical Creed,” Boston Investigator, July 12, 1833. Some atheists think religion is ridiculous or generally awful, while others don’t think about religion at all, and still others think religion is fine, or even a force for good. American atheists are more likely to be young, white, males. As 17th-century European theology grew increasingly confident and fractious, theologians became more and more adept at deconstructing the theological systems of their opponents, inadvertently providing the philosophical tools that would be synthesized in the atheism of Holbach and Diderot.2. Holbach’s System of Nature, for example, framed human nature as inherently violent, meaning that religion would only ever give citizens license to commit atrocities. The success of r/atheism, however, has remained relatively insulated from widespread visibility. As someone who considers herself "non-religious" - definitely agnostic, bordering on atheist - this was a very interesting read. atheism meaning: 1. the belief that God does not exist: 2. the belief that God does not exist: 3. the belief that…. When Horace Seaver (d. 1858) took over editing The Boston Investigator, the discussion of atheism took center stage, and the understanding of atheism articulated was almost exclusively philosophical. Deism contributed to American atheism by reinforcing the understanding of religion as a question of beliefs, which could be empirically proven or disproven by scientific method. At the same time, French atheism’s commitment to the absolutisms of logical positivism tended to be too extreme for Revolutionary America’s most important figures, who were more drawn to the English-language debates over sense perception and common sense coming out of British Empiricism and the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment. 6 things I wish people understood about atheism in America. In response, there was a clear desire among many Freethinkers to reclaim the pejorative term and meet the social condemnation head- on. For thinkers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, in particular, a primary emphasis on Islamic extremism is deeply connected to the claim that tolerance for religious liberalism reinforces a logic that requires tolerance for the intolerant or fanatical. In the 21st century, American atheism exists primarily as a virtual community. If you have already made a contribution to Vox, thank you. Atheism, more so than infidelity, was understood in primarily philosophical rather than social terms. 1 The share of Americans who identify as atheists has increased modestly but significantly in the past decade. If this is unclear, try this thought experiment that I often raise when I’m teaching students about the First Amendment: What would a school (private, of course) truly dedicated to promoting atheism look like? White evangelical Protestants are most likely to believe America has a special role in history (71%, down from 82% in 2016). In part, the scientific bent of New Atheism is a reaction to a perceived threat from the Intelligent Design movement, largely centered around the Center for Science and Culture at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, which was active at the end of the 20th century in attempting to frame creationism as a scientific concept to introduce it into public education curricula. Of the other free-thinking monikers, atheism was most closely related to and often synonymous with infidelity. In one radio broadcast, O’Hair complained: “As an Atheist and speaking for Atheists as well as American Atheism, I try constantly to find out why we have hidden ourselves under diverse names during our history.”18 For O’Hair, the primary goal of American atheism was to maximize the visibility of atheist identity, which meant resisting the temptation to philosophical hair-splitting and focusing instead on coming out and publicly identifying as an atheist. Atheists come in all political stripes. atheism definition: 1. the belief that God does not exist: 2. the belief that God does not exist: 3. the belief that….