Atheism trending across the nation

            In recent years, the number of students who identify themselves as atheists has grown, spurning a steady increase in the number of atheist groups on college campuses.  

            In 2007, there were 80 student groups affiliated with the Secular Student Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed in 2001 with the goal of providing high school and college students with the tools to explore the value of scientific reason, secularism and humanist ideals. The SSA provides affiliated groups with resources such as guest speakers and leadership training. Today, there are 407 atheist groups associated with the SSA, according to the SSA official website; an increase of about 500 percent since 2007.

            The growth of atheist groups at universities is very noticeable in America, but in other countries the numbers have been higher for a long time. According to a study published by adherents, a website that contains numerous statistics regarding all religious groups, atheists and agnostics are the fourth biggest religious group in the world, but only make up about 15 percent of people in the United States.

            But why are these groups suddenly so common? There are several theories surrounding the issue.

In “The God Delusion” by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the author claims that family upbringing has been a major reason for atheists to stay quiet about their beliefs. He believes that children want to satisfy their parents and therefore adopt similar religious beliefs.

Mike Stiner, a recent Rochester College graduate in the field of Christian ministry, believes that family life has contributed to the increase in college-aged atheists, but for different reasons.

            “I think it has to do more with the pain and hurt kids feel from the alienation they feel from having different beliefs than their parents,” Stiner said.

            Stiner has been involved with Elevation church for several years.

            “Elevation is different than your normal church; we get a lot of different people, even atheists,” Stiner said.

            Stiner said he has seen young people come into the church who are pressured by their parents to adopt the same exact religious beliefs as them. Because of this, Stiner said, they feel the need to rebel and end up questioning their beliefs entirely.

            “I am not surprised by the recent increase in young people who identify themselves as atheists when they have nowhere else to turn,” Stiner said.

            Oakland University hasn’t been immune to the growth of secular groups. OU houses it’s very own student-run atheist group on campus.

            The group, known as Atheists at OU, was formed in 2011 by Jamie Wall (a student at the time) and Todd Shackleford (the group’s faculty adviser), according to an article from the OU news bureau

            Since its formation, the group has grown in numbers and reputation. The group hosts several events throughout the school year.

            Shannon Wilson, the group’s treasurer, believes that many people have inaccurate ideas about what atheist groups are all about.

            “We have a lot of social events off campus such as trips to the zoo and cider mill,” Wilson said.

             The group also holds weekly meetings.

            “Our meetings are rather casual, it is just a friendly place to meet like-minded individuals,” Wilson said.

            Wilson believes that many people view the group as negative because of the lingering distrust that some people have for atheists. There are many misconceptions about the idea of atheism, and therefore some people just view it as a bad thing, she said.

            “We try to provide a safe place for like-minded students to speak freely about their views,” Wilson said.

            Wilson attributes the growth of atheist groups to a generation of young people who are not afraid to view the world with an open mind. As the exposure grows, the stigma will disappear, she said.

            Whatever the cause, the spread of atheism is evident in the United States, particularly on college campuses. If recent trends continue, then the number of SSA affiliated groups on campuses will surpass 500 in just a few years. Many advocates are very optimistic about the future of this trend, and see a pattern of growth for the cause.

            “With more young adults becoming educated and surrounded with different theologies, not only is secularism on the rise but acceptance is as well. I think we can only go up from here,” Wilson said.