People gather for the Reason Rally on the National Mall March 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Atheists and those who oppose religion in government gathered for a rally where they celebrated not having religious affiliations.

People gather for the Reason Rally on the National Mall March 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Atheists and those who oppose religion in government gathered for a rally where they celebrated not having religious affiliations.

The U.S. is one of the most religious wealthy nations in the world. But the number of Americans who identify as an atheist is on the rise — as high as 26 percent, according to some estimates.

So what does the term “atheist” mean, both to believers and non-believers?

From The New Yorker:

Such is the slippery label of “atheist” in the American context: slapped on those who explicitly reject it, eschewed by unbelievers who wish to avoid its stigma. Both atheists and their critics often make a hopeless muddle of the category, sometimes because it is genuinely complicated to assess belief, but often for other reasons. Some atheists try to claim as one of their own everyone, dead or alive, who has ever thought twice about religion. […] Some believers, meanwhile, use atheism to discredit anyone with whom they do not agree.

Atheism is not a monolith. Some atheists identify as spiritual; some don’t. Some discuss their views on religion with religious people; some don’t. Some use science to navigate questions of right and wrong; some don’t.

And although non-believers may not have a deity in their worldview, some still seek out elements of organized religion, like community and morality.

The Economist examined the phenomenon of “atheist churches,” which has grown alongside atheism:

America is a country so suffused with faith that religious attributes abound even among the secular. Consider the rise of “atheist churches” which cater to Americans who have lost faith in supernatural deities but still crave community, enjoy singing with others, and want to think deeply about morality. It’s religion, minus all the God stuff. This is a phenomenon spreading across the country, from the Seattle Atheist Church to the North Texas Church of Freethought.

We’re kicking off our week of audience-selected shows with a chance to ask an atheist. So what do you want to know? And if you are an atheist, tell us your story. Leave a voicemail: 855-236-1A1A. Or you can use our app, 1A Vox Pop, to send us a high-quality audio file.

Show produced by Jonquilyn Hill. Text by Kathryn Fink. Show topic suggested by Nicki Gunn.

Guests

  • Mandisa Thomas President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
  • Kevin Bolling Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance
  • Amanda Poppei Senior leader, Washington Ethical Society
  • Leigh Schmidt Religious studies professor, Washington University in St. Louis; author, Village Atheists: How America's Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation

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