Newspaper: Atheists Groups on the Rise
Atheist groups are on the rise
By Rebecca Rosen Lum
Contra Costa Times
Posted October 14 2006
When Richard Golden put the word out that he was starting a group for atheists in Walnut Creek, Calif., about a dozen people showed up. Two years later, 80 are dues-paying members and several more drop in on twice-monthly meetings to chew on everything from particle physics to court cases.
Horrified by escalating religious violence and alarmed by the Bush administration's "faith-based initiatives," which make government money available to religious organizations, atheists are coming out of the closet -- and organizing.
"Local groups are springing up all over the place," said Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists. Active groups have grown by about 90 percent over the past six years, she said.
In the past few years, groups affiliated with American Atheists have taken root in Berkeley, San Francisco, Davis, Calif., and Silicon Valley.
National membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that monitors the separation of church and state, grew from 5,000 in 2004 to 6,400 members by the beginning of 2006, said co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Meetings and rallies, once the province of older folk, now include younger people with tattoos and dreadlocks. The Internet, radio spots during Al Franken's Air America radio show and campus groups are responsible, Johnson said.
But atheism appears to be gaining ground also as a belief, not just a wave of political activism by those who fear the wall between church and state is being disassembled. Books challenging religion like Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins have been best-sellers on Amazon.com.
"Our primary conviction is that there is no supernatural world -- there is only one world, the world that is the subject of scientific investigation," Johnson said.
Two University of California at Berkeley sociology professors found that the proportion of Americans with no religion doubled from 1990 to 1998, but has leveled out at 14 percent.
The study "reflects a growing backlash against the role of organized religion," said Claude S. Fischer, one of the authors. "People on the political left have reacted against the organization of churches on the right. Their statement is a reaction: `If that's what religion means, then I'm not religious.'"