The Rise of Atheism

Atheists have become a more vocal and visable part of American society.

ByABC News via logo
January 8, 2009, 1:18 AM

Sept. 30, 2007 — -- A large convention of atheists gathered today in Virginia, where men, women and children eagerly proclaimed their belief God does not exist.

While their views still may be the minority in the country, atheists have become more vocal and visible in recent years.

T-shirts, bumper stickers and even rap songs proclaim atheists' beliefs. Atheist summer camps now exist for children.

"Over the last 20 years," said Alan Wolfe of Boston College, "the number of people willing to tell people in surveys that they don't believe in God have pretty much doubled."

Books denying God's existence have topped bestseller lists, and Congress has its first self-proclaimed atheist, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.

"A lot of respectable people are coming out and saying they are very happy to dispel the myths of the Bible," said Margaret Downey of Atheist Alliance International.

Some atheists said their profile has increased because of a rise in religious extremism, like the Islamic fundamentalism behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the rise of the Christian right in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Internet has helped unite non-believers. In fact, this weekend's convention sold out, and had a waiting list of 600 people.

Besides listening to speakers, convention attendees can buy merchandise like a born-again-atheist hat, atheist-on-board signs for those with kids, or after-the-rapture mints.

They also had the opportunity to mingle with celebrity atheists like authors Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

On "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," Hitchens said American believers should recognize they live in a secular state.

"It would be better for them if they didn't give themselves false conciliation," he said. "My challenge is really to say, 'Can you name me a moral action or a statement that has been made by a believer that couldn't have been made by a non-believer?'"

And while the stigma associated with atheism may be diminishing, the majority of Americans say they would not vote for an atheist for president.