From a Toronto newspaper:
(Quotes are blue, my comments in black)
A City University of New York survey found the number of non-religious adults grew from 8% to 14.3% between 1990 and 2001, to more than 29 million Americans. The current issue of The Atlantic magazine cites a study that showed 14% of Americans "were distancing themselves from organized religion as a symbolic gesture against the religious right." A 2006 Pew study found that 20% of today's 18-to 25-year-olds have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, up from 11% in the late 1980s.
Ah, there's hope for the next generation.
In Canada, the number of people who categorize themselves as atheists, agnostics, humanists or no-religion rose to 16.2% in the 2001 census, up from 12.3% in 1991, and 7.4% a decade earlier.
That "no religion" designation is a tricky one. I've known some hardcore Christians who say they have no religion because they don't belong to a specific sect or congregation. So we can't necessarily say that category means they are atheist or agnostic (I consider both of those the same thing).
There are now dozens of atheist groups in the United States and Canada, under such banners as the Atheist Alliance International, the Secular Coalition for America and the Humanist Association of Canada. Membership in these groups is still relatively small, usually in the several thousands. Most report a leap in interest since the books came out.
It began in 2004, with The End of Faith by Sam Harris, followed two years later by Letter to a Christian Nation, which intended "to demolish the intellectual and moral pretenses of Christianity in its most committed form." Then came The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, who espoused an aim "to raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one."
And the only one of all the books that I've read. I usually find atheist literature boring, I read to learn something and often I can write the same thing in the books only better. In fact here (10 myths—and 10 truths—about atheism) is another blog of mine where I did that very thing with something Sam Harris wrote. But Dawkins is always a good read, I'm usually in total agreement with him in these matters and he is one guy who writes better than I do. And he managed to say a few things I didn't know, too. Very good book, I even wrote a review on this blog: The God Delusion.
The most recent addition was Why God Is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens, which paints religion as a collective form of idiocy. The New Yorker calls them "atheists with attitude;" the publisher behind a new collection to be called The Portable Atheist (edited by Mr. Hitchens), said we are living in "atheism's moment."
I have so many books piled up to read I will probably never get to all of them, so I'm going to pass on Hitchens' book because I hate the guy. As vigorously as he attacks religion, he just as vigorously supported Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq, and still does. Then he turns on his new neocon buddies and blasts their religion. I do kind of have to admire a guy willing to piss off everyone . . . but that doesn't mean I want to give him my money.
I don't think these books are converting people to atheism, although there must be a few. What it is mostly doing is taking the stigma out of being atheist. I think there are a lot of people in the closet, people who think they don't know any atheists, that it's weird, that their family will disown them - they stay hidden for all kinds of reasons. But when Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins go on TV looking intelligent and confident, and they read the books which give them a basis for being atheists, something they can argue with, they become more confident and more willing to come out.
I also think there are a lot of people who don't really call themselves atheists but deep down really are, or they follow their faith entirely out of habit and lost all belief years ago. Sometimes they are lying to themselves, sometimes they are just scared of being different, or perhaps haven't even thought about it much. When these people read the books it also gives them confidence to accept what they already know is true.
Dawkins says something similar in the article:
In describing the collective impact of the new atheists, Mr. Dawkins recently told CBC Radio, "I'm not that optimistic that I am shaking people's faith ... What I think I, and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are doing is making it easier for those who are already skeptical to come out and admit the fact."