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David Silverman

Following is a Q&A between Religion Transcends and the new president of American Atheists, David Silverman.*

Q. I cover several religious holidays on Religion Transcends. What do Atheists do during holiday seasons?

A. The reason for the season is the season itself.  The Winter Solstice has been observed with celebration since man first figured out that it was the shortest day of the year.  After all, what better reason is there to celebrate?

Q. Do you celebrate any other “observances” that could be considered holidays?

A. As you know, the term atheist is very broad.  Some atheists, especially Secular Humanists, celebrate HumanLight, which is a festive solstice celebration with most of the traditional trappings.  Some, like myself, huddle in the corner until the whole season passes.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about Atheists/Atheism?

A. That we are few in number.  Most polls show the nonreligious people hovering at around 15%, which is more than Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, combined, and doubled.  The problem is that most of these atheists are closeted, at least to some extent, and as a result most religious people think we are an insignificant minority.

A portion of that comes from the problem within the secular community.  If you as a Methodist his religion, he’ll say “Christian.”  if you as a Lutheran, he will also say “Christian.”  Presbyterian? Christian.  But if you ask an agnostic, which is a type of atheist, he’ll say “Agnostic”.  The same goes for Secular Humanists, Brights, and, rationalists.  But they are all atheists!  So again, we are perpetuating the misconception that atheists don’t exist by avoiding the A-word.

Q. Were you surprised by the results of the recent Pew Forum survey?

A. I was not at all surprised.  As an atheist, I get challenged on my religious knowledge all the time, usually beginning with “have you ever read the bible?” and moving on from there.  Religionists tend to quiz me to see if I know what I am talking about, and this happens very often.  As a result of interactions like this, atheists are more incented to research the religions in which they do not believe, which in turn leads to a firmer atheism.

On the other hand, religious people are typically discouraged from learning about other faiths, and very often they know very little of their own.  Most have not read their bible, and as a result live a life of obedient ignorance — which is exactly what the religious leaders want.

Q. “Hard-liner” Atheists (or aggressive Atheists as some might say) like Richard Dawkins often don’t just lack a belief in God. They also tend to take issue with/aim at organized religion. In light of that, are Atheists open to learning about religions? Is there something positive to be gained by understanding what religious folk believe?

A. There is no more value in learning about Christianity [for example] than there is in learning about any other Greek mythology, and Greek Mythology is better literature.  Once religion is understood, there is nothing more to gain, and no great lessons to learn.  Really.

*David Silverman has been an atheist since he was six years old.  After a Jewish upbringing, he became an “out-and-proud atheist,” debating other students in college, one of whom he married.  He became an activist in 1996 and was soon named NJ state director for American Atheists.  Several years later, he was named national spokesperson, and eventually vice president.  Now, as president, he has grabbed the reins of the organization he loves and hopes to one day adequately fill the shoes of its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Created by Religion Transcends, 2010

Atheists and Agnostics appear to know more about religion than members of large religions throughout the United States, according to a new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, released this morning.

The Pew Forum recently surveyed more than 3,400 people about 32 religious knowledge questions to see how much Americans know about religion. On average, Americans answered 16 of 32 questions correctly. Atheists/Agnostics did the best, answering 20.9 questions correctly on average. Hispanic Catholics did the worst of the groups surveyed, answering 11.6 questions correctly on average. Here’s the breakdown:

Religious Knowledge by Group (chart created by Religion Transcends with info from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)


The questions were a mixture of Biblical knowledge and knowledge of world religions. Jews and Atheists/Agnostics did far better on questions about world religions than other groups surveyed. Mormons scored best on knowledge of the Bible, with white evangelical Protestants coming in second on Bible knowledge.

So what did they get right?

  • 89% of respondents knew public school teachers cannot lead class in prayer.
  • 82% knew Mother Teresa was Catholic.
  • 71% knew Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

What did they get wrong?

  • Only 47% knew the Dalai Lama is Buddhist.
  • Only 27% knew most people in Indonesia are Muslim.
  • Only 23% knew public school teachers CAN read from the Bible as an example of literature.

What other factors are involved?

  • College graduates did better than respondents who only had some college or high school or less.
  • Those who took a religion course in college did better than those who did not.
  • When it came to race, white respondents did better than black respondents or Hispanics.
  • Men did better than women.
  • Respondents in the South answered fewer questions correctly than respondents in all other regions of America.
  • Respondents aged 18-29 answered fewer questions correctly than respondents in older age groups.

What does all of it mean?

Frankly, when it comes to knowing our neighbors in terms of their religious beliefs, Americans in general are doing a poor job – particularly when it comes to knowing about religions other than their own.

Regardless of your religious belief or non-belief, take some time to understand what people around the world believe about God. Understanding leads to the development of relationships and tears down walls of fear, intolerance, and hatred.

Not sure where to start?

Take the quiz about religious knowledge on the Pew Forum site. Then return to Religion Transcends and click on “Religion Overviews” in the top navigation to learn about a religion other than your own. Want more? Check out news from those religions in the “religion posts” drop-down menu in the left navigation.

Have a question about a religion? Post it as a comment on this post.

Created by Religion Transcends, 2010

The following overview of Atheism was written by Religion Transcends writer Jackie Walker for the Summer 2009 issue of Relate magazine. Relate’s mission is to inspire teen girls to pursue their dreams with confidence and to teach them to be an example for others in their speech, life, love, faith and purity. Religion overviews may have Christian overtones to make the content relatable for the Christian teen audience.

Imagine a world with no religion:

No churches, no temples.

No nuns, no crosses, no Sunday morning services.

No Creator, no religious leader to set an example.

No prayer.

No Bible, no Koran.

No angels, no Heaven.

No Buddha, no Jesus, no Muhammad.

No Christmas, no Hanukkah.

For several teens in your schools and neighborhoods, this is life. Maybe they’ve never heard about God. Maybe their parents don’t want them to hear about God. Or maybe they used to believe in God but now they want nothing to do with religion. It’s likely you know many teens who just aren’t sure what to believe. And since they may be your best friends, your sisters, your classmates – it’s best to understand why they think the way they do. Maybe then you’ll be able to open up to them about what you believe.

What is an Atheist?

People who do not believe in a higher power are called Atheists, from the Greek word “atheos” which means “without god.” Atheists can be broken into two types:

1. Those who strongly state there is no God: Some Atheists in this group actively attack religions; others have examined religion and simply think it’s untrue.

2. Those who haven’t found a god they would believe in: Atheists in this group have looked at multiple religions and decided there is no particular god they believe is real.

Many Atheists believe humans can’t prove that God exists, that prayer works, or that Scripture is from God. They may also believe that religious people waste their money on churches instead of hospitals or are responsible for starting wars. Some Atheists do acknowledge the good works of many religious people.

Agnostics are similar to Atheists. An Agnostic is someone who isn’t sure whether there is a God and who doesn’t think we can really figure that out. In other words, Agnostics aren’t sure that Atheists or religious people have it right.

Most Americans believe in God

In the United States, how many people claim to believe in God? Here’s what the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life discovered when they polled Americans in 2008:

-71% are certain God exists

-21% are fairly or not too certain

-4% actively say they don’t believe in God

-3% didn’t know or refused to answer

When claiming religious belief or lack of religious beliefs, only 1.6% of Americans said they were Atheists. If these numbers are correct, there are around 15 million Atheists in America. But American Atheists, an organization for Atheist rights, claims on their website that the number is probably closer to 50 million Americans – many just don’t want to admit to they don’t believe in God.

What do Atheists care about?

Among the arguments and ideas most important to Atheists are the following:

-Science: Most Atheists reject anything that can’t be proven by science or with evidence. They might say, “Think there’s a God? Prove it!” Many Atheists believe that if we can prove God and Heaven don’t exist, then we can make the best of life here on Earth.

-Morals: Many Atheists say it’s still possible to do the right thing without religion. Atheists can still be moral and responsible and treat humans with respect.

-Equality: Some Atheists want equality between religious people and those who don’t follow a religion. In other words, they oppose “special privileges” for religious people, like being allowed to hang the Ten Commandments in a courtroom.

Where does Darwin fit in?

Some Atheists point to the ideas of Charles Darwin as proof that there is no God. Darwin was a scientist known for his theories of evolution and natural selection; this year marks Darwin’s 200th birthday. Born in 1809 in England, Darwin initially believed God created the world. But after sailing around the world collecting fossils and studying plants and animals, Darwin came up with a new idea: Each creature was not created separately but evolved from one type of creature. Darwin might say:

-A higher power didn’t create humans and monkeys. Rather, both humans and monkeys probably evolved from the same type of animal over time.

-Let’s say humans were originally born with 11 toes. A higher power didn’t create humans with 11 toes, only to later remove a toe. Instead, as each new human was born, her eleventh toe would appear smaller, the next human’s eleventh toe even smaller, until eventually no humans were born with an eleventh toe.

Darwin’s findings were published in a book called On the Origin of Species (for short); the book is 50 years old this year.

Darwin himself didn’t use his theories to prove there is no God. However, after his death in 1882, Atheists and others sometimes use his ideas to prove there is no God. As of early 2009, the Catholic Church now believes Darwin’s theories are probably correct. Still, most people who believe in God also believe that God played some (if not the whole) part in creating the world.

Do Atheists hate religion?

No, Atheism doesn’t mean hatred of God or religion. However, many Atheists have decided they don’t believe in God because they believe if there were a God, he wouldn’t allow evil in the world.

And yes, some Atheists do dislike religions. Perhaps today’s most popular, outspoken Atheist is Richard Dawkins, a British scientist who focuses on Darwin’s theories and actively attacks religious ideas. In his best-selling book The God Delusion, Dawkins wrote that God is bloodthirsty, unforgiving, jealous, a racist, and a bully (which of course ignores the parts of the Bible that describe God as loving, just, and merciful). Another of today’s popular Atheists, Sam Harris, says religions don’t allow for science and life in other places of the universe. While you may hear about Dawkins and Harris on TV, remember that not all Atheists despise religion. Unfortunately, Dawkins and Harris are just the two who have received the attention of the media.

Find other religion overviews on

Created by, 2009

Ever heard of “de-baptism”?

According to Religion News Service, Britain’s National Secular Society offers certificates of de-baptism for people who have been baptized as Christians and would like to remove themselves from the faith.

The society also supports the production of “There’s Probably No God” banners on British busses. Produced by the British Humanist Association, the busses made headlines just weeks before NSS began printing their certificates.

Learn more about NSS and the certificate initiative.

What do you think? If someone doesn’t believe in God, wouldn’t that imply they don’t believe the act of baptism was valid? And if that’s the case, would de-baptism be necessary? Or is this a way for the anti-religious to publicly separate themselves from religion?

Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.