A Pew Study published in 2015 reported that
the number of Americans who don’t affiliate themselves with a religion jumped by almost
35% percent. That’s about 72 million Americans who consider themselves irreligious – and
may be atheist, agnostic, or spiritual, but unaffiliated. And worldwide, 13% of people
considered themselves “convinced atheists”, according to a 2012 Gallup International poll.
So why is Atheism more popular than ever? Well, first it’s important to understand
that atheists are distinct from the religiously unaffiliated. Atheists firmly believe that
there is no higher power. This is not to be confused with agnostics, who are uncertain
of the existence of a higher power. However, many people use the two terms interchangeably. For much of history atheism has been considered
a taboo around the world. In medieval times, it wasn’t uncommon for atheists and other
free thinkers to be burned at the stake for heresy. And even today, atheists can still
be executed for their beliefs in about 13 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Despite their growing popularity, negative stigmas and stereotypes also continue to affect
atheists and the religiously unaffiliated, even in developed countries like the United
States. However, there have been growing trends away
from religion in America and many other western nations. Pew has attributed the change to
the maturing millennial generation, of whom, more than 30% identify as non-religious. Comparatively,
about 11% of the silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945, is non-religious. Other news sources have noted that, for millennials,
the rise in atheism has corresponded to increased acceptance of things like gay marriage, and
abortion. Conversely, many religious institutions still do not accept these practices. And this
conflict of ideas could indicate that millennials are looking away from religions which exclude
themselves or their peers. In the coming years the number of non-religious
people are predicted to grow to over 1.2 billion worldwide, compared to nearly 6 billion Christians
and Muslims. However, the total percentage of the non-religious is actually set to decline
overall, as other, religious populations grow faster. So which religion is growing the fastest?
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