Atheism grows among youth, high school students


While religion has found itself in a nationwide downturn, with 15 percent of the American people saying they don't follow any particular faith, the trend is far more pronounced - nearly double, with a corresponding figure of almost 30 percent - among young people. And, despite pressures from parents and school districts, these youth are coming out.

For the past few years, atheist and other freethinker groups have been putting advertisements on subways, buses and billboards across the country and across the world. Now, the Secular Student Alliance, which already has chapters on 200 college campuses nationwide, announced that it would work to help high school-aged free thinkers express themselves.

The SSA received a grant in 2010, and used the money to hire organizer J.T. Eberhard to help with SSA's new effort, which would start with establishing local chapters at 50 high schools across the country.

Eberhard pointed to the case of Skyler, a secondary student in Maryland, as one reason why groups like the SSA need to be on high school campuses.

"I've been called an idiot for not believing in God, which is quite rude, since that's my opinion," Skyler wrote in an email to SSA. "I've gotten death threats. One person said he wasn't scared of me because he's a 'crusader.'"

A group of students attempting to organize an SSA chapter in Oklahoma City was called to the principal's office and accused of attempting to form a "hate group," a label quite incongruous with SSA's policies.

According to the "minimum standards" for groups affiliating with SSA, they must be "civil rights minded - we cannot support groups that promote denial of liberties in areas such as religion, speech or equality under the law." In addition, "We cannot affiliate with groups that bar members from joining on the basis of their creed or worldview. We also cannot affiliate with groups that discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, age, handicap or veteran status."

So where does the "hate group" concept - which isn't limited only to Oklahoma City - come from?

"I think it's that religion has had such a privileged position in society," Galef explained. "There is this idea that morality comes from religion, and when people say, 'No, you can be moral without it,' then that is seen as an insult, an assault ... We stand up for the rights of religious groups, though."

Especially in extremely conservative religious areas, people who question religion or disbelieve in God commonly voice feelings of isolation. Students need SSA-like groups, says Galef, for "the same reason [they need] Christian groups. There's a need to find like-minded people. They need to talk about good values, talk about what it means to be a good person. They also have the urge to help community, make friends, do service. Without a religious text, these students need to discuss what all that means. Particularly in more oppressive religious climates, they need to find friends and not be stigmatized."

This, Galef says, explains the seeming paradox of SSA's popularity in more conservative areas, especially Texas and the South.

Eberhard's job is different than other SSA organizers in that he will focus only on high school issues. "He can specifically answer questions high school students face," said Galef. "Administrations tend to give more pushback at the high school than the college level. One thing he does is work with administrations to let them know exactly what the law is."

Some administrations, even some dominated by the very religious, would be happy to allow students the right to organize such groups, Galef said, but are fearful of legal action by people on the religious right. Some are dominated by people who simply don't want secular groups. "In extreme cases, [Eberhard] sets students up with lawyers."

SSA points to the Equal Access Act as helpful in allowing students to express their first amendment rights. Ironically, the religious right first pushed the EAA in the 1980s. They argued and won a sound constitutional case: if a school permits any extracurricular groups on campus, it should therefore not discriminate against religious groups also trying to organize. Since then, GLBTQ alliance groups have won the right to campus presence because of the law, as well as others.

The group is specifically non-political, though, says Galef, "For any politician who claims to be a crusader, or a holy warrior, we object to that."

The Alliance also refuses to allow its local organizations to endorse any specific economic policy. Right-wing Ayn Rand supporters - objectivists, as they call themselves - are as equally accepted as Democrats, Keynsians, Greens or Communists, so long as they all respect each other and stand for democracy and a separation of church and state.

The idea behind this, as well as the group as a whole, is that better ideas arise when people meet and discuss things rationally, says the Alliance.

Photo: Members of the Secular Students Alliance at UMBC. Courtesy of


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  • When I first processed in as a patient into the VA medical system I noticed that they made a special notation in my medical history that i claimed to be an atheist. they remarked that I seemed 'very comfortable' with the decision. Ithought it strange that that would be included in my medical history.

    Posted by Richard, 03/03/2011 10:53am (4 years ago)

  • To address Manuel:

    I don't "ignore design." I have never seen it. I see randomness that occasionally fits together due to environment. I have never, not once in my life, even when I was religious, seen any "design" in nature or the natural world. And I'll be honest, most people who weren't brainwashed as a child don't see it either. If anything, my "god-given common sense" is what has told me, ever since I was a child, that there is something fishy about a group that tells me stories from a 2000 year old book, and then asks for money.

    To your second point: religion is what calls for "belief" or faith. You see I can actually go out and look at evidence for evolitionary theory. It is in books, museums, lecture halls, universities, and yes, even in the words of Richard Dawkins. I can take that evidence, and within the limits of my layman's understanding of science, evaluate it for accuracy. This again call for my "common sense." Religion on the other hand, can point to NO evidence for the truth if its claims beyond a feeble attempt to label everything in existance "designed". We cannot evaluate tangible evidence for a god or gods, nor is their any evidence of his omnisience or omnipresence. If the so called miracles where people are healed of terminal illnesses are to believed then we need to address serious implications, such as "what does god have against amputees?" All of this is to say that there is ZERO evidence that would cause one to believe in a god outside of blind faith, while there is literally MOUNTAINS scientific research that all supports evotionary theory.

    Lastly, you shouldn't be so smug and self rightious: its not very godly, and I'm certain its not the approach Jesus would have taken.

    Posted by Matt, 03/03/2011 7:52am (4 years ago)

  • Well, Manuel (no matter if you're Ray Comfort or "Manuel" and just copied Comfort's blog), your post certainly doesn't speak well of you. To justify that assessment, I'll go through your post, point by point:

    1. Your post states: "It [becoming an atheist] [is] not an easy thing to do."
    Not so. In reality, becoming an atheist is extremely simple: everyone is born an atheist. Becoming religious, on the other hand, isn't easy: it's a learned behavior, similar to how dogs are taught, but more complicated, in that to be religious, one must be taught how to think, rejecting one's natural inclination to think for oneself.

    2. It states: "The first rule is to ignore design in nature."
    Not so, but with the added deception of using the word 'design' (implying a supernatural intelligence behind such a "design") rather than the word 'order', 'regularity', or similar (which would have correctly implied that only natural processes are involved in developing and establishing such order). We who are scientific humanists (as opposed to you unscientific anti-humans) spend much of our lives trying to understand the order in nature.

    3. It states: "Now here's the hard part. Ignore your God-given common sense. Admit that everything man made is man-made, but be uncompromisingly adamant that everything in nature came from nothing, with no Designer."
    Again, not so -- repeatedly so. First, "common sense" isn't God-given; it's developed via experience with reality. Second, although it does seem to be correct that everything has in fact come from nothing (an idea that's too complicated to describe in detail, here, but if details are sought, I provide them in Chapter A at the website you can find if you click on my screen name), yet the processes by which the items listed have evolved (from atoms to galaxies and fungi to eyes) certainly aren't "nothing", e.g., the evolution from a single molecule that can utilize sunlight's energy to the operation of the human eye certainly wasn't "nothing" but required more than a billion years of natural selections, with each step in the selection taken because of its survival advantage.

    4. As for "crown yourself as intelligent", no: we leave ignorant arrogance to you unscientific anti-humans.

    5. Your post states: "Believe that you are right in your beliefs." Again, not so. We scientific humanists hold our beliefs only as strongly as relevant evidence justifies; in contrast, essentially all you unscientific anti-humans tenaciously hold to your beliefs simply because they make you feel good (the proof-by-pleasure logical fallacy).

    6. "Believe that you an ape, that you are not morally responsible [etc.]" That statement is so ignorant, on multiple levels, that it's not worth responding to.

    7. "No one can be a true atheist…"
    Once again, not so. An atheist is one who assesses that the probability of any god's existence is less than 50%; a theist is one who doesn't have the ability to make a rational assessment and assumes (usually based on childhood indoctrination) that the probability of a particular god's existence is greater than 50%; an agnostic is one who claims no knowledge regarding the god question, and therefore chooses the probability to be 50% (as in the toss of a coin). If you will explore further at my website (which, again, you can reach by clicking on my screen name), in particular, see Chapters H & I, you'll find justification for my assessment that: the most certain knowledge humans have been able to gain, even more certain than the knowledge that we exist (for we may all be just simulations in some humongous computer game), is that there are no gods (and never were any). You can also find my estimate for the probability that your imagined "creator/designer god" exists: it's less than 1 part in 10^500, which is the smallest probability that I've ever encountered and certainly justifies my assessment that you don't know what you're talking about.

    And if you are, in fact, Ray Comfort, then your behavior is even worse than ignorant, since Comfort apparently makes a comfortable living duping others with his arrogant ignorance. Thereby, he's just another con artist.

    Posted by Nick222, 03/03/2011 6:29am (4 years ago)

  • Manuel: You are either a patient and brilliant satirist or a truely and most unfortunately diluted individual. If it is the latter then you are a tremendous hypocrite.

    There is only one thing one must do in order to be an atheist: not believe in any gods (yes, small 'g' since there are countless gods in numerous mythologies and to assume yours to be the one true god deserving a capital 'g' is both pompous and extremely short-sighted). It's as simple as that - don't believe. Belief requires assuming that something extradonary and unprovable is fact. THAT applies to religion, UFOs, psychic activity, ghosts, Bigfoot, etc. Evolution does not require belief. Evolution is as much a fact in the scientific community as gravity is. Unless you think believing in gravity takes some kind of leap of faith then you're a bigger fool than I had thought. We also don't have to believe that we are apes and this over-simplified statement is a prime example of the 'strawman' that you so liberally accused your counterparts of using. Oh, and there are 'missing links' (another strawman) that have been discovered. Perhaps you ought to look into that which you make claims about.

    We also do not have to 'ignore' design seeing as how there is no design in the things you've decided to point out. Where, for example, do you see design in feet? In the needless excess of toes? Or in humans: is it our numerous vestigial organs? Or perhaps it's inferior sight, hearing, strength, speed, taste, etc. Is that where our design is obvious? Maybe it's our foreskin that god designed us with but then decided we should rid ourselves of. Either there is no designer or he is extremely inept. Either way, there is no 'intelligent' designer.

    We also don't need to find other atheists to bolster our own sense of self-importance as you so ignorantly and blindly suggest. I dare say that the devout, with their mass congregation every Sunday, are the ones who must lean on one another to justify their own ridiculous beliefs. These sermons, for the record, are in direct defiance to the teachings of the Jesus of your holy book and, according to him, you're all hypocrites for doing it. Just saying.

    If you have 'absolute proof' of the existance of any god, as you state that we must have against it, then I would love to hear it. Let us keep in mind that holding up a book and claiming it to be proof is not actually proof. Let's try to come up with something concrete, shall we?

    Posted by Evan, 03/03/2011 12:52am (4 years ago)

  • @manuel


    Obviously you have no idea what you are talking about or you would realize that your entire argument is based on incredulity and ignorance. The universe is amazing enough without your all powerful yet undetectable sky jinn intervening. Your toxic preconceptions about atheists is appalling and should serve you well in which ever self-aggrandizing zombie worship group you belong to.

    Posted by noodlyjames, 03/02/2011 10:36pm (4 years ago)

  • Manuel is a troll and should not be listened to.

    Posted by klaus, 03/02/2011 10:08pm (4 years ago)

  • There are two main hard and fast rules for anyone who would like to become an "atheist." If you are tempted, beware. It's not an easy thing to do.

    The first rule is to ignore design in nature. You will see it everywhere; from the planets, to the atoms, to the birds and the bees, to the seasons, to the design of the human body, the design of fish, flowers, fruits, feet, and even fungus. And of course, the amazing-looking human eye. Everywhere you look and everywhere you can't look, you will see design.

    Now here's the hard part. Ignore your God-given common sense. Admit that everything man made is man-made, but be uncompromisingly adamant that everything in nature came from nothing, with no Designer. Once you have set aside your acumen to do this, crown yourself as being intelligent. Very. Then find other atheists and they will confirm to you that you are indeed, intelligent.

    The second rule is to "believe." This is very important, because if you let doubt in, it will let in fear, and that can be a scary thing when the issue at stake is a place called "Hell."

    Believe that you are right in your beliefs. Believe that evolution is indeed true. Believe that it's scientific. Believe that there are no missing links, and believe that Richard Dawkins knows what he is talking about.

    Believe that you are an ape, that you are not morally responsible because apes have no moral absolutes. Believe that your conscience was given to you by your parents and society, and not by God (always use a small "g" for God, if possible).

    To grow as an atheist, you will need to learn believers' language--phrases like "There is no creation," "Evolution is a proven fact," and the powerful "Flying Spaghetti Monster." Learn the fine art of cutting and pasting, and responding with "Straw man!" That means you won't have to respond to anything challenging.

    All this will give perceived intelligence. Never question evolution, and don't think for yourself.

    Do these things, and you will be able to call yourself an atheist, or even a "new" atheist. How cool is that! Well, I should say, as much of one as you can be called one. No one can be a true atheist because you need "absolute knowledge" to say that there is no God. So until you are omniscient (like God), you will just have to do with pretending to be one.

    Posted by Manuel, 03/02/2011 9:19am (4 years ago)

  • I am excited about this article. This movement has to start with our Youth, our future leaders.

    Be Bold!

    Posted by Tim Berry, 02/28/2011 12:51pm (4 years ago)

  • Hello from Australia -

    Christians are fearful - they stand on shaky ground and become aggressive, vengeful and crude when threatened by passive, peaceful people, who are educated, and who do their homework, as in actually dissect the bible, who simply don't agree with them.

    Atheists don't care what people believe in or not believe in, just let me live my life how I want to - without fear - without being told I will go to hell, without being told God is looking over my shoulder and will punish me.

    I know that I am more moral than the vast majority of christians - and I know that I don't have to be told how to behave from a medieval book, which to my way of thinking is totally immoral, misogynistic, and violent.

    Through the internet Atheists are banding together, simply because we are being pushed to do so.

    There is hope in all young people, to live fear free, from the bible and aggressive, violent christians. Well done.

    Posted by Suzanne, 02/27/2011 7:47pm (4 years ago)

  • As obviously sensed reality lies always in between opposites, neither with credulous religious people neither among atheists. On both opposites one can spot brainless people together just to be a common maneuver mass in order to allow someone to make a huge profit.
    Even 'atheistics' scientists do scrutinizes Universe Energies in order to gather evidences of why humans sometimes 'thinks' while all others live specimens only reacts to common life threats.

    Posted by Ot Manu, 02/27/2011 4:21pm (4 years ago)

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