The latest atheist attention grab is taking place in the south. Billboards will be placed in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Smith, Arkansas with a picture of a girl writing her annual letter to Santa Claus pleading, "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I'm too old for fairy tales." In an article about the stunt, David Silverman is quoted as saying,
Today's adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It's OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it's definitely OK to tell your children the truth.
Despite the presumptuous implication that Southerners need Silverman and co. to tell them what they are and are not obliged to do with respect to the God debate, the group seems to have no problem implying that we are obliged to give a strong voice to atheism. When responding to the fact that no one owning advertising space in Jackson, Mississippi was willing to work with their organization they complained,
The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South.
The article speaks of the rise of atheism in America, but is this rise as dramatic as we're being told? According to Pew Research data, "2.4% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity." The problem with this is that a lot of them don't know what the term even means since the same study showed that,
Although the literal definition of "atheist" is “a person who believes that God does not exist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 14% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. That includes 5% who say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. (emphasis mine).
So the actual number of atheists, despite what some people call themselves is less than 2.4 percent. Also consider that "38 percent are ages 18-29" and the lower half of that demographic may or may not remain in the atheist camp. In short, they make up a small, but very vocal minority.
Nevertheless, the representation of that minority in pop-culture is astonishing. Whenever we see them portrayed in fictional television or movies, atheists are hip, smart, witty, attractive and always win the "argument."Meanwhile, the Christian is often depicted as the uneducated redneck with one tooth in her head. Such is the case in the famous "atheist clip" from the Netflix original Orange is the New Black (I do not recommend watching this clip - I only linked it as evidence).
My advice, for what it's worth, is for Christians to be aware of the fact that these sorts of drive-by cultural prompts are more powerful than lectures from atheist professors and we should take them seriously. However, we should not play into the mistaken belief that atheists are falling out of every window. Nevertheless, atheists have become "evangelistic" for their cause. Of the New Atheist movement, Scott Stephens writes,
By comparison, the "New Atheists" look like sensationalist media-pimps: smugly self-assured, profligate, unphilosophical and brazenly ahistorical, whose immense popularity says rather more about the illiteracy and moral impoverishment of Western audiences than it does about the relative merits of their arguments.
And in that sensationalist way, they are running an ambitious outreach program that is aimed at this generation.
In closing, since the article references the secularization of the UK, here is one of my favorite quotes from William Lane Craig on atheism across the pond:
I wonder if something culturally significant is going on here. Several years ago, I asked the Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge why it is that British society is so secular when Britain has such a rich legacy of great Christian scholars. He replied, “Oh, Christianity is not underrepresented among the intelligentsia. It’s the working classes which are so secular.” He explained that these folks are never exposed to Christian scholarship because of their lack of education. As a result there is a sort of pervasive, uninformed, village atheism among them. I wonder if something like this could be happening in the States. I was surprised to see the number of blue collar folks from the community buying Harris’ book and thanking him for all he has done. They didn’t seem to have any inkling that his views had just been systematically exposed as logically incoherent. The intelligentsia have almost universally panned Harris’ recent book (read the reviews!). Yet it is lapped up in popular culture. Wouldn’t it be amazing if unbelief became the possession mainly of the uneducated?