In today’s secular America, it feels like atheism (the lack of belief in a divine being) is extremely prevalent.
But you may be surprised to learn that, according to the most recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, only about 3% of Americans actually identify as atheist.
That said, there are many more Americans who could perhaps be termed “practical atheists”: though they may profess an intellectual belief in the existence of a divine being, that belief does not really have much of an impact on their lives. In this category might be put the “nones”—those individuals not affiliated with any church or religion—who now make up 20% of the U.S. population, and represent a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30.
Interestingly, however, in a celebrated 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College (see the video below), famed author David Foster Wallace (who himself had a complicated relationship with religion) told those gathered that atheism itself doesn’t really exist:
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already—it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”
This article continues at [Intellectual Takeout] Famous Author: ‘There Is No Such Thing as Atheism’