One of the topics that I find most fascinating is religion: what do people believe and why? What are the effects on society and the individual? How do religions change, adapt or go extinct? I am sorry to disappoint, but this Friday Diversion is on the much narrower issues of how Americans perceive religious groups and the effect of religious diversity on the individual. It was spurred by my participation this week in an online "Agnostics and Atheist at Intel" meeting in which the following question was asked: why did you join the group? In case you are curious, the group is an Intel Employee Resource Group just like the Latino Network, Diverse Abilities Network, GLBTQ+, or the Bible-Based Christian Network and like these other groups it is sponsored by Intel Global Diversity and Inclusion.
Apart from meeting like-minded people at Intel, my principal reason for joining the group was to help increase the visibility of atheists in society. There are plenty of religious groups that do good things for society, for example feeding homeless people or aiding the poor. There are also plenty of atheists who do good things for society as well, but we don't label ourself as such. When we tutor students at the middle school or walk dogs at the humane society we don't tell everyone that we are atheists. In fact, atheists are still persecuted or socially ostracized in many parts of the world. Some people on the bridge, Intel employees, mentioned that they joined the group because there is no one in their lives they can be open with about their beliefs. We are comparatively in good shape in the US, for example there are only 7 states left in which we atheists are legally forbidden by the constitution of the state from holding public office. If considered a religious group (which evidently are not), non-religious people make up something like 20-30% of the population yet have no representation in Congress, the Supreme Court, or (arguably) the White House.
What happens when people have non-religious friends or friends from other religions? Correlation is no causation, but the Fivethirtyeight article linked below shows that society as a whole become less religious, with less people labeling themselves "strongly religious." Kids raised in mixed-religion households tend to be less religious. This of course does not mean the end of organized religion or religious belief, it just means that people have more freedom to be who they want to be. It is probably not a one-way relation, though. The Pew article shows that the perception of atheists among 18-29 year-olds is relatively positive and on par with their perception of muslims and evangelical christians. The religion perceived most positively among that group is Buddhism, still significantly lower than how positively the old crowd (over 50 years old) perceive Christians. The young crowd do things like cohabit and have kids out of wedlock at a rate that many older folks consider scandalous. Is this the cause or the effect of measurably lower religiosity in this age group?
The articles are full of statistics, I hope you enjoy them!
Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life: Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Towards Religious Groups
Fivethirtyeight: Religious Diversity May be Making America Less Religious
(Bonus) New York Times: In Seven States, Atheist Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban
Publishing a blog post like this was difficult even for me, an openly atheist person in a tolerant society, so I do feel for those who can't speak their mind. I commend Intel for being supportive of all diverse populations. openlysecular.org is a good resource for people thinking about "coming out" about their atheism or who want to understand friends and relatives who are. Letting others know that you, a good person and productive member of society, are an atheist, helps change perceptions... so come out!