churchWith all the political pandering to traditional Protestant beliefs, you'd think America was a nation of devout Christians. We are, aren't we? Surprise! Not so much. For the first time in history, fewer than half of Americans identify themselves as Protestant -- just 48 percent.

A whopping 20 percent of Americans don't identify themselves with any religion at all. And look where the trend is heading: A full third of Americans under 30 don't identify with any religion. We're not a nation of atheists, yet. About a third of non-religious people do believe in some sort of higher power, whatever you want to call it. But we're definitely not as churchy as we used to be.

Just like the rest of the industrialized world, Americans are becoming more and more secular. And as one of the 7 percent of Americans who don't believe in god or any divine being, that's a big relief.

Hello, I am an atheist. And surprise! I don't go around killing puppies and burning the flag.

I grew up in a devoutly religious family and made a long, slow, thoughtful journey to atheism. Leaving religion and belief in a god has made me happier, more relaxed -- and it's made every aspect of my life so much more precious because I know I'm only here once and then it's all over. Everything in life means more to me now.

I've seen the full range of behavior and attitudes from religious people. I've had the privilege of knowing some of the kindest, most forgiving, and loving people -- and some of the most appallingly hypocritical.

Just this weekend I witnessed a hot debate over religion on Facebook. In defense of his faith, one man wrote, "The [excised] in me just wants to take a weapon of mass destruction to those that are in the great and spacious building." (In this context, "great and spacious building" is a reference to the secular world.) The irony that the poster sounded exactly like a terrorist was completely lost on him.

It's the kind of thing people say when they feel like religion is under attack -- and it's the kind of thing that turns people off from religion. That and other attacks -- on gays, feminists, other faiths, you name it. It seems like the more secular we become, the more polarized the religious and non-religious get. But atheism and secularism aren't a threat to organized religion. The threat is from within, from the people who use religion as a front for hatred and fear.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping that religious dogma -- something fewer and fewer of us having in common -- will have less influence on public policy in the future.

Do you identify with a specific religion or are you among the un-affiliated?

 

Image via Qfamily/Flickr