According to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, one in five people claimed no religious affinity or refused to answer the question entirely. It is my personal hypothesis that, although the number of people leaving religion to have no particular faith is on the rise, the majority of the reason for the rising numbers is the change in our culture that makes it more socially acceptable to claim no faith. And, by "socially acceptable", I mean we are no longer put to death for not accepting Jesus Christ as our pesonal Lord and Saviour. Now we're just shouted at, prevented from holding political office, and in fear of having our professional licenses removed due to Morality Clauses in the state licensing policy.
The more disturbing trend this study found, however, was that, although mainstream religious affiliation is declining, evangelicanism is very sharply on the rise. Ironically, though, this rise is partially responsible for the increase in people claiming no particular faith. Their extremism is polarizing the nation and, while collecting a frighteningly large number of radical conservatives, it is also pushing the moderates away towards a more rational, less faith-based worldview. The Catholic sex scandals contributed a little bit too.
This his heartening news. Although I am concerned by the rising number of radical evangelicals, their radicalism is causing a backlash which makes it easier for me to be an atheist. As the moderates grow more concerned about the evangelicals, they can look at atheists and see the rational viewpoint of "just let me be, I'm not harming anyone and I don't need god to tell me not to" and that looks a whole lot more attractive than the frothing-at-the-mouth fundies who throw burning bricks into the homes of abortion doctors and who excommunicate doctors for saving the life of a teenage rape victim rather than risk killing her and her twins for some idealogical bullshit about when "life" begins.
I am also heartened by the number of people willing to stand up and claim their lack of "faith", particularly in the face of these radical religious nutjobs. We need everyone with no faith to stand up and declare their position while simultaneously living ethical lives, treating others with dignity and respect. You don't have to shout it from the rooftops, or wear the t-shirts, but when the subject comes up, don't be afraid to let your hand be counted among those of no faith, particularly if you have no real tangible loss for doing so. Getting wierd looks and possibly engaging in a dialog about atheism is a worthwhile cost to contributing to the reduction of those tangible losses other people suffer for their beliefs.