Perhaps I am merely lucky, insulated from the world of aggressive and self-righteous religion, so I will not claim this as indication of a national trend. I am extremely pleased to note, however, that I am hearing more and more from and about atheists, particularly in the media. It is true that I get my news primarily from NPR, and if ever there were an atheist-friendly news source, it is that. Regardless, over this holiday season, I have heard a good many stories about atheist and non-religious holiday celebrations, told with the same interest and fairness as any other story from NPR. I have heard commentators and contributors casually mention their own atheism, agnosticism or general apathy toward religion.
This year's War on Christmas (instigated, as it is every year, by everybody's favorite asshole, Bill O'Reilly) ended with an extremely favorable outcome: the Washington state Capitol building was so flooded with requests for new holiday displays that the governor had to suspend all pending requests due to lack of bureaucratic resources and physical space. This is great news for atheists because it demonstrated, in a very vivid way, how and why keeping church and state separate is best for all parties. Bill O'Reilly does not understand, although Megyn Kelly does a top-notch job explaining it to him - I think that his foolishness here allows the Fox viewing audience to have the whole thing explained clearly and plainly - as always, education is good for atheists, bad for theists.
As I have mentioned, I am lucky. In my family and circle of friends, without actually counting or making a list, I would estimate that a full third are atheist, agnostic or non-religious. I realize that this is far above the national average and I know that my experience may not be typical. I am convinced, however, that atheists have made great strides this year. From the above-mentioned War on Christmas to the generally well received atheist billboards and bus ads, from Elizabeth Dole's backfiring anti-atheist campaign to the general bad press that Obama's nod to Rick Warren has gathered, from the success of atheist authors to the laughing stock that was Expelled, I think it is safe to say that atheists had a pretty good year.
And for those who are curious about the "atheists' agenda," it is nothing more (or less) than general acceptance of non-religious people. Atheists don't want the world to stop wasting their time and money in churches, (although that would be nice) we just want to be as trusted with a government office as someone who believes in magic underpants or a 6,000-year-old Earth. We want the Americans who believe that the apocalypse is nigh to respect the views of us who don't and stop trying to push things along. We want the religious charities in Africa (good!) to cease their abstinence-only policy and ban on condom distribution (bad!) to help stop the spread of AIDS. We want homosexuals to have the right to marry. We want science to continue to push forward and not be held back. These are simple things. Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Mormons, Scientologists, Muslims, Baptists, Jews, Lutherans, Hindus, Heaven's Gate-ers - keep on spending your Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings in churches, mosques, synagogues and spaceships. Keep on giving money away. Let the government protect your right to meet and the right of the church across the street's right to meet and the other church's right to meet. But please recognize the difference between church and government and let the government do its job.
Although he is not our atheist pope, or the savior of the godless, I believe we atheists owe a great debt of gratitude to Richard Dawkins for waking us up and making so much noise. No disrespect to the millions of lifelong atheists, but without Dawkins, we might all be muttering quietly amongst ourselves. Perhaps he was not the catalyst and merely the loudest man on the crest of the wave. Regardless, I am glad that his Out Campaign seems to be gaining traction.
Slate just published a great story debunking the recent myth-turned-fact that the poor economy has made Americans turn to churches in droves.