(page 2 of 3)
To achieve this, atheists will have to overcome deep-rooted resentment among many in American society toward the idea of living without religion, a sentiment that is still strong despite a gradual decrease in indicators of bias against the irreligious. They will also have to assert their power as a cohesive political force, a formidable task for a group of loose affiliation and with various definitions of atheism.
A 2007 study put the number of atheists in America at 5 million, but when adding in those defining themselves as agnostics and respondents who say they hold no religious faith, the figure rises to 20 million. Other surveys have put the number of Americans with no religion at 35 million. Atheist activists believe that with 20% of Americans questioning the existence of God, the number should be more than 60 million. While numbers vary, all scholars note that atheism, whether self-defined or viewed as just lack of religion, is a growing phenomenon among younger Americans.
Still, atheists remain ranked as America’s least trusted minority group. According to a 2010 survey, most Americans would not approve of their children marrying an atheist. Other studies have shown that bias against atheists is higher among Republicans than among Democrats.
But Silverman believes that if Republicans overcome these sentiments they will find plenty of common ground with atheists. Many libertarians, a growing force among conservative Republicans and an increasingly powerful electoral bloc, share atheists’ disdain for government-sponsored religion. “There’s a big chunk of atheists that could be interested in the Republican Party but are not doing so because of the influence of the Christian right,” said Silverman, who described himself as a fiscal conservative who votes Democratic because of the Republican views on church and state.
Silverman is one of several speakers for atheists in America, and his organization is one of at least five groups that represent irreligious Americans. But last year he gained the status of an Internet icon after an astonished facial expression that he made during a heated interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly turned into a popular Internet meme titled “Are You Serious?”